When Julia Santana Parrilla needed an abortion, she was treated in a way that you’d expect for any standard medical procedure. Paperwork was presented for her to sign, then she had an ultrasound and saw a counselor, who was informative and left her feeling comfortable for the next step. Nobody guilted her or tried to talk her out of it. She was administered medication via a needle, and she took the rest of the drug that would help her to miscarry at home, completing the process of a medical abortion.
“When I walked out of there, I very much had a sense of ‘Huh. that was easy.’ For the rest of the day, it was definitely painful—it’s a full day of your body doing its best to undo the work it had started. But the clinic visit was a breeze.” It helped that a friend who had recently been through the process took the time to explain every step beforehand, so Santana Parrilla says she knew what to expect.
The relatively uncomplicated treatment she received that day, however, is not emblematic of the difficulty many are met with across Canada when they attempt to access abortion services. Santana Parrilla, who runs the Instagram account So, I Had an Abortion—which aims to reduce stigma—points out that she had access to a feminist doctor in Vancouver, and she didn’t have to pay the indirect costs many face when they seek abortions in Canada, such as travel and accommodations, time off work and childcare.
As the federal election approaches, many fear that these challenges around abortion access will worsen under a new government. The anti-choice sentiments rampant in the U.S. are present in Canada, too: New Brunswick, for example, does not fund abortions outside of hospitals, and the only abortion clinic in the province announced this week that it’s going to have to close if the provincial government won’t step in. It’s bad elsewhere, too. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has a long history of anti-abortion sentiment. And in B.C., seen by many outside the province to be an untouchable bastion of left-leaning ethos, obtaining an abortion outside of its two major cities can be just as rough as in other rural parts of Canada. And everywhere, anti-choicers are haranguing people outside of abortion clinics and handing out “treat bags” to families containing plastic fetuses, and groups like We Need A Law and It Starts Right Now are exerting political pressure calling for restricted access.
It’s going to take a strong stance from our federal leaders to improve and safeguard our reproductive rights. Before you go to the polls, read what each party has to say on the record about abortion access in Canada:
The Conservative Party of Canada
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer has a long history of anti-choice voting (billed a “perfect record” by Campaign Life Coalition) and he identifies as “pro-life.” He has repeatedly said he will not reopen the debate, though, and has said he will vote against attempts to restrict reproductive choice. That said, Scheer has previously said that Conservative MPs will be allowed to introduce legislation restricting access, and anti-abortion activists are running as members of his party, promising to end abortion via legislation. Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for the Campaign Life Coalition, told the CBC there are as many as 70 anti-choice Conservatives running across the country. At the 2018 Conservative Party of Canada convention last year, members tried to scrap a resolution in the party handbook promising that it would not reopen this issue. The vote? Marginally defeated, 53-47. While he tells media outlets that his party will not reopen the debate, Scheer has told anti-choice groups during the Conservative leadership contest that “I’ve always voted in favour of pro-life legislation … I can assure you that I support the right of individual MPs to speak out and bring, introduce matters that are important to them.” The Conservative Party’s director of communications, Cory Hann, did not respond to FLARE’s requests for an interview.
Read this next: Everything You Need To Know About America’s Abortion Bans
The Green Party
Longtime party leader Elizabeth May told the CBC she could not and would not whip votes or tell her MPs what to do when it came to this or any issue, which led some to question as to whether she would support people’s rights to access abortion services. This line of thinking was quickly corrected for the record, though, by spokesperson Rosie Emery, who sent FLARE a statement on the issue confirming that all members of the party must support abortion rights. In the leadership debate on October 7, May said anyone who wants to run as a Green needs to be pro-choice. The Greens backed up their promise and dropped a candidate that day for expressing anti-choice beliefs online. Two party members who have also espoused anti-choice views in the past and later developed a convenient case of apparent amnesia about it are still running though. According to Emery, they have “clarified their positions.” That said, the party says it’s committed to improving access in rural areas, and improving healthcare for trans people. When asked if women’s right to choose extends to other people with uteruses, Emery said, “We would ensure that reproductive health care would be extended to all Canadians wherever they live.” She says the party would “negotiate the Canada Health Accord to prioritize expansion of mental health and rehabilitation services, reduction in wait times, access to safe abortion services and access to gender-affirming health services.”
The Liberal Party of Canada
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has always been vocal in his support for “a woman’s right to choose,” but his actions have not always been as strong as his words. In the past, he said he felt personally opposed to abortion, even while publicly supporting that right. But last week, he told reporters that he has “evolved” that line of thinking, and no longer thinks men should have anything to say on the issue. Under his leadership, access to abortion in Canada hasn’t improved, though, and in some areas, it’s worsening. “We know there is still more to do to ensure all Canadian women have access to safe and legal reproductive and abortion services—and that’s why we will continue to work with the provinces and territories to remove barriers to these services across the country,” said spokesperson Eleanore Catenero in an email to FLARE, adding that the party’s platform “commits that we will work to ensure that sexual and reproductive health medications like Plan B and Mifegymiso are covered under national pharmacare.” Trudeau has said many times that anyone running as a candidate for the Liberals must “defend a woman’s right to choose.”
The New Democratic Party
In the federal leaders’ debate on October 7, Scheer and Trudeau got into a squabble during a portion that was supposed to be about affordability and income security more generally. (There was no dedicated time in the debate to discuss abortion.) NDP leader Jagmeet Singh interrupted them, with some difficulty, and said “A man has no place in a woman’s right to choose. Let’s be clear on that.” Binary language notwithstanding, Singh says he has always been pro-choice and has not shied away from saying so. In order to run as an NDP candidate, spokesperson Mike McKinnon said that people must be pro-choice. If someone is found to be anti-choice, they “would immediately be removed.” “We are committed to making sure that all Canadians have access to safe abortions,” Victoria candidate Laurel Collins told FLARE over the phone. “We know, across Canada, that many people don’t have access to abortion services. There are provinces that are refusing to cover the cost of surgical abortions outside of hospitals, and it’s especially bad in rural areas and in the north.” Collins says the party is committed to enforcing the Canada Health Act to make sure provinces make these services are available everywhere. If provinces don’t cooperate, “the NDP will step in federally,” she says. The party also promises a national pharmacare program which would make sure abortions are easily accessible at no cost. She notes that trans men and non-binary people also need access to abortions, not just cisgender women. “The NDP has long stood up for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. This fight is usually talked about in terms of a woman’s right to choose, but it’s not only women who are impacted by this issue.”
The People’s Party
Back in May, People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier tweeted that people shouldn’t be able to get late-term abortions without “reasonable motive” and going so far as to label these abortions “infanticide.” When he told journalists he would permit any MP to present a private member’s bill and have a debate about abortion, he said, he was attacked by “talking heads.” “Do they all believe that these murders are morally defensible?” he wanted to know. Party spokesperson Martin Masse said in an email to FLARE that “PPC candidates are free to hold any position they want. A PPC government will not reopen the issue, but PPC MPs will also be free to present private members’ bills on the issue and to vote according to their conscience.”