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Opinion: Overturning Roe v. Wade is an attack on reproductive rights everywhere

The tense political climate surrounding reproductive rights in the US affects access to safe abortions — even for Canadians
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IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY
IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

On May 2, Politico released a leaked draft opinion that suggested the Supreme Court overturn the results of the Roe v. Wade trial. Since then, the American people have been split into two groups — those who support Roe v. Wade and those who do not. While some may argue that the risk this case poses for the basic human right of abortion accessibility is a problem for the US alone, it will have detrimental consequences for Canadians as well. 

In 1973, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the restrictive state regulations on abortion. Norma McCorvey — under the alias of Jane Roe — challenged Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County in Texas. Roe’s lawyers argued that her inability to receive an abortion both within Texas and other states was an infringement on her constitutional rights because it violated her right to privacy. But Wade maintained that the state had the right to regulate abortion. 

The Supreme Court balanced both sides by ruling that women had an absolute right to abortion until the end of the first trimester, after which states could regulate abortion access. Although this landmark case may have been challenged many times, it has never been placed in a position to be overturned — until now. 

Abortion as a human right

Abortion is a fundamental human right because it ensures a person’s right to health, safety, and life. While Canadians may not fully understand the current state of reproductive rights in America, the reality is that overturning Roe v. Wade will set back human rights in North America by several decades.

Some may argue that banning or setting strict regulations on abortion would prevent people from seeking abortions. However, there is little evidence to support the notion that abortion bans decrease the rate of abortion. Conversely, evidence suggests that abortion bans actually drive women to seek out unsafe abortions. 

People may also argue that overturning Roe v. Wade will not result in abortion being banned entirely. And yet, over 13 states have ‘trigger laws’ in place so that when Roe v. Wade stops being a federal law, abortion will be criminalized throughout America — including along the Canada-US border. 

The political culture surrounding reproductive rights in America fails to consider what it is like to be the person seeking an abortion. The ignorance that politicians have towards the reality of abortion is demonstrated by how quickly laws criminalizing, banning, and strictly regulating abortion are suggested and created.

In North America, the cultural norms developed by patriarchal influences heavily impact laws surrounding reproductive rights. Gender norms and inequality remain the biggest barriers to reproductive rights. These harsh societal norms regulating abortion will prove to be dangerous, as people will inevitably still seek out abortions even if they become illegal.

What ‘pro-lifers’ fail to consider is that people need access to abortion to protect themselves from social, medical, and economic strife. If we must value all life, why is the safety of women not being considered in issues related to abortion accessibility? 

However, the harm that criminalizing abortion poses to many women is not the only case of pro-life hypocrisy; several politicians who claim to be pro-life also support unrestricted gun laws and low wages. Republican policies that encourage citizens’ access to military grade weapons or fail to support families who cannot afford crucial healthcare are both examples of a deep-rooted ignorance regarding the value of life. Thus, by banning access to abortion, these supposed pro-lifers aren’t advocating for the preservation of life, but are rather reinforcing a patriarchal need to control women’s bodies. 

Why this matters in Canada

The United States, however, is not the only country that would feel the impact of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. If abortion becomes illegal in America, then many people seeking an abortion may turn to Canada. This influx of people in need of an abortion will inevitably strain our healthcare system. 

Besides, Canada’s abortion legislature makes it difficult for women seeking a late-term abortion to receive one and, as such, resorting to services in certain states in America is currently the easier option. If abortion becomes illegal in the states, then Canadian women may struggle to get a late-term abortion. Furthermore, Canadian websites that sell abortion pills to Americans may face criminal charges if abortion becomes illegal in America.  

Because of this dependency that exists between both countries, overturning Roe v. Wade would place strain on both sides of the border. Thus, criminalizing abortion altogether in America will hurt not only Americans, but also Canadians. 

Although political leaders like Justin Trudeau reassure Canadians that abortion will not be criminalized, we must recognize that abortion is still not a guaranteed right in Canada. R v. Morgentaler — the Canadian equivalent of Roe v. Wade — is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalized abortion. 

Although this case was significant for reproductive rights in Canada, it falls short in that it did not make abortion a fundamental constitutional right in case law. This ruling makes abortion a very precarious and unsettling subject because no Canadian is ever guaranteed the right to an abortion. 

What’s worse is that the rising tension surrounding reproductive rights in America only further encourages Canadian anti-abortion groups to fight against access to abortion in Canada. The anti-abortion rhetoric south of the border appears to have seeped into the Conservative Party of Canada’s attitude towards abortion. The party’s policy has made it clear that it “supports conscience rights for doctors, nurses and others to refuse to participate in, or refer their patients for abortion, assisted suicide, or euthanasia.” This approach by a major political party further hinders access to abortion in Canada.

At the end of the day, a woman’s body is her own to make decisions about; no laws or policies should prevent her from making the best decision for her health, her present situation, and her future. Yet, while the dissolution of Roe v. Wade is a significant event, the struggle for a woman’s right to control her body lies beyond this trial; we should understand that the overturning of Roe v. Wade is merely another example of the deep-rooted issues that stem from patriarchal values. 

The only way to ensure progress is to provide women with a seat at the table during the creation of policies and laws — until authority figures pull up a chair for women, there will never be true progress. 

Jasmin Akbari is a third-year industrial relations and human resources, digital humanities, and writing & rhetoric student at Woodsworth College.