RE-CONSIDERING ABORTION 30 YEARS AFTER MORGENTALER
American Supreme Court nominations always bring the issue of abortion to the forefront of political debate, highlighting the complicated, thorny, and muddled landscape of abortion rights worldwide.
In the U.S., while the fury of sexual assault allegations surrounding Brett Kavanaugh remain at the centre of the controversy over his confirmation, the vacant seat on the Supreme Court represents the fifth and potentially decisive vote over the future of Roe v. Wade. If Kavanaugh himself has stated that Roe is an “important precedent”, many believe he poses a threat to the future of abortion rights.
In Canada, by contrast, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision — the Supreme Court decision that struck down existing abortion laws as unconstitutional. Since then, there has been no fundamental challenge to the tenets of the Morgentaler decision: that access to abortion is a matter of life, liberty, and security of the person.
Not only have legal decisions further affirmed legal abortion access, but conservative parties in Canada — as
opposed to their American Republican counterparts — have also been reluctant to touch the controversial issue.
How are we to make sense
of these two contrasting stories of abortion politics? Has the pro-choice movement’s vision of universal access to abortion care been realized? Or should we be preparing for an onslaught against the legal status of abortion rights?
The answers to these questions are more complicated than you might think.
In Canada, the barriers to abortion are much lower today than prior to 1988 and there has been no significant legal backtracking of abortion access. In just the past five years, activists have successfully established abortion care on PEI, extended medical coverage for in-hospital abortion care in New Brunswick, and guided the “abortion pill” (Mifepristone) through its approval by Health Canada.
This forward moving trend has also been reflected at the global level. In Ireland, years of activism coalesced around the memory of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died from complications following denial of abortion care in 2012. Thousands of Irish abroad travelled #hometovote in the 2018 referendum; as a result, Ireland has gone from almost completely banning abortion to planning to make abortion accessible and free in the span of a few months.
However, these victories are far from telling the complete story. As many keen political bystanders might observe, the debate over abortion — as well as women’s larger reproductive lives and choices — remains alive and well.
THE DEBATE OVER ABORTION ... REMAINS ALIVE AND WELL.
Dr. Henry Morgentaler raises his arms in victory at a news conference in Toronto on Jan. 28, 1988.