FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

The right to have an abortion: Leave my uterus alone!

The right to have an abortion: Leave my uterus alone!

“Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction to carry a foetus to term (…) is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of her security of the person” (Morgentaler ruling, 1988). Why is it that still today in 2022, access to abortion services is an important and crucial women’s rights issue when it was completely decriminalized in 1988 in Canada?

Every year, over 20 million abortions across the world are done in unsafe conditions for women. Whether through self-induced abortion or clandestine induced abortion, five million women are hospitalized due to complications. Among these women, approximately 47,000 will die as a result. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that to stop women and young girls from making a free choice puts their physical and mental health and overall safety at risk.

Each woman has the right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term or not: my uterus, my choice. It’s a question of equality, dignity, freedom and rights. After making a well-thought out choice, the majority of women who decide to terminate a pregnancy live well with their decision. They evaluated their own ability to take care of a child at that specific time of their life. They have the right to choose. Otherwise, being forced to carry a pregnancy to term can generate psychological distress in the mother and the child.

Contrary to what people who oppose abortion rights will say, access to the service does not constitute an incentive for women to have the procedure done. It also does not impact the birth rate, according to studies done. Let’s look at the Netherlands for example. Abortion services are very accessible and they have the lowest rate of abortions in the world.

Healthcare professionals have a role to play when it comes to abortion information, education, access and the actual process

Their role is important when it comes to birth planning, including pregnancy termination services, and they can help to adapt the services to their patients’ needs. For healthcare professionals, it is also important to ensure access in regions throughout Quebec. We must safeguard access to adapted services to help terminate or carry a pregnancy to term, according to a woman’s will.

For example, in general, nurses play a role in giving out information about family planning and helping women discuss their concerns and the various contraceptive methods so they can make an informed decision. In some circumstances, nurses may also prescribe hormonal contraception, an IUD or emergency oral contraceptive treatment (the morning-after pill). They can also inform their patients about the various resources available if they want to get an abortion. Healthcare professionals may also be called on to support these women through these steps and thus facilitate abortion access. During an abortion, healthcare professionals accompany the person before, during and after the procedure, providing psychological and clinical support. For example, nurses who practice in this field can assess the patient’s state of health before the procedure. These professionals can also provide the monitoring and follow-up required during and after the procedure in collaboration with other members of the care team.

History: the FIQ and this issue

Given the role healthcare professionals play in access to family planning care, the FIQ (FIIQ at the time) was a forward-thinking organization. Starting in 1987, while abortion was still considered criminal in most situations, 900 delegates voted in favour of women’s right to make a free choice and tasked the Status of Women Committee with analyzing the issue. They then supported two recommendations:

  • To offer all women access to full, free services.
  • To decriminalize abortion by repealing sections 251 and 252 in the Canadian Criminal Code.

In 1988, the Status of Women Committee created a pamphlet on abortion entitled “Nurses facing abortion” in order to get people thinking and talking. This pamphlet came out at the same time as Bill C-43. The committee was then asked to send postcards to the three Federal party leaders at the time: Bryan Mulroney (Conservative Party), John Turner (Liberal Party) and Ed Broadbent (New Democratic Party).

In the years that followed, and to this day, the Federation has been involved in the fight for women’s health, whether that be through the Coalition sur la santé or the Comité de veille sur le droit à l’avortement.

When it comes to abortion, how does Canada differ from the United States? 

Due to the political situation in the US, wherein the Supreme Court could overturn the Roe vs. Wade ruling from 1973, we have no choice but to look at the situation in Canada. For Americans, the end of Roe vs. Wade would mean that abortion would no longer be a right protected by the federal government. Each state would be free to prohibit or allow it. That would threaten women’s rights and would set us back 50 years. 26 states would likely prohibit abortion, and several under any circumstances. After this announcement, there were several demonstrations in the United States and Canada. Women demand to be able to choose for themselves and denounce the huge impact it would have on women’s health, especially with the anticipated increase in dangerous clandestine abortions.

In Canada, the right to have an abortion is protected by four legal rulings that are founded on the right to equality, the right to safety and the right to freedom. These rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Criminal Code is the same for each Canadian province. This means that it would be impossible for provinces to differ when it comes to the legality of abortion. However, while it is considered a legal act, it is still difficult for some women to access abortion services in several regions. There is a big gap in this regard and Canada and its provinces could do better, a lot better.

Unfortunately, we are not immune to anti-choice movements that want to limit access to, or even, take away the right to have an abortion. If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, it could strengthen these movements on our side of the border. All of this is why Canadian women will forever have to repeat:

Leave my uterus alone!

Valérie Fortier
Comité Condition féminine