On June 24, the United States Supreme Court overruled Roe v Wade, a landmark case upholding abortion as a constitutional right. 

Following the Court’s reversal of the ruling, individual states are permitted to establish their own abortion legislation.

In total, 44 states have already placed explicit bans on abortion after a specific point of the pregnancy is reached. 

The Varsity discussed the implications of Roe v Wade’s reversal with Canadian legal academics. 

The study of reproductive rights at U of T

The U of T Faculty of Law offers the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Program, which provides students with legal knowledge to advocate for reproductive rights. In an email to The Varsity, Rebecca Cook — co-director of the Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program at U of T — provided more insight on the division’s work.

Cook explained that the program supports a group of Reproductive and Sexual Health Law fellows and conducts legal research on reproductive rights. 

The program invites scholars, predominantly from the Global South, to share legal developments on the Reproductive Health Law blog. 

Cook shared a few ways members of the U of T community can advocate for reproductive rights: “There are many ways to advocate for reproductive rights, whether it is through improving access to services, improving our understanding of how the exercise of reproductive rights is essential to ensuring equal citizenship stature, and ensuring that Canada’s foreign policy continues to promote reproductive rights around the globe.”

University of Ottawa’s webinar

On July 21, the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law organized a webinar to discuss the implications of the American developments on reproductive rights. Cook took part in the discussion as one of the legal experts on reproductive rights.

Joanna Erdman — from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University — discussed the global impact of the Roe v Wade reversal and focused on its implications in Canada. 

Unlike the American courts, Erdman believes that the Canadian government has assured Canadians of its willingness to uphold reproductive rights. As support, Erdman referenced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent reaffirmation to protect reproductive rights in Canada. Moreover, she cited observations of advocacy for reproductive rights in the Canadian media.  

However, Erdman cautioned that barriers to reproductive resources still exist in Canada. The first obstacle that Erdman identified is the lack of information about how and where to get an abortion. 

The second barrier relates to the stigma surrounding abortions. Erdman remarked, “People don’t know about abortion because people don’t talk about their abortions… This led me to reflect that, perhaps, we too talk too much about abortion rights and abortion law and policy and we don’t talk enough about the blood and guts of abortion.” 

Erdman listed the inaccessibility of abortion services as the last barrier. Women experiencing financial instability or residing in rural areas must confront additional challenges in their attempts to get an abortion. 

Vanessa Gruben — from University of Ottawa Faculty of Law — centred her discussion on how an abortion ban affects different types of health care. 

She noted that the reversal of Roe v Wade allows American states to limit abortion from the point of fertilization, meaning, beyond abortion procedures, the use of certain prescription drugs — capable of affecting a fetus, embryo, or fertilized egg — may also be impacted. 

Due to these restrictions, Gruben believes that many Americans may enter Canada to access reproductive health care. 

According to Gruben, emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B, could potentially be banned in certain states. She said, “State laws which criminalize abortion from the moment of fertilization… could therefore extend and [ban] emergency contraception.” 

Gruben believes that states restrictively regulating abortion procedures may prevent medical treatment for individuals experiencing a miscarriage, as well: “Care providers might be reluctant to provide medication in the context of a miscarriage because some of the drugs that are used are the same as those used to induce a medication abortion.” 

If an individual fails to receive appropriate miscarriage treatment, they may face health complications, including hemorrhaging, infections, and sepsis.

Gruben advises that assisted reproduction — such as in vitro fertilization or other forms of fertility care — may also suffer in America now. “Where individuals have completed their family building project, they may choose to either destroy unused embryos or donate those embryos for research purposes,” said Gruben. However, these procedures may violate bans that criminalize abortion from the moment the egg is fertilized.