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What abortion law changes in the states mean for Canadians

Halifax Today with Martha Paynter 19 May 2019

Although abortion rights are protected in our Constitution, many are worried that Canadian abortion laws will be changed by conservative lawmakers.

“We have seen increasing election of Conservative governments across the country,” says Martha Paynter, a registered nurse based in Halifax who fights for reproductive freedom.

Although governments can’t explicitly change abortion laws, Paynter thinks they are starting with small issues.

“They’re certainly doing their best to undermine reproductive justice in other ways,” she says. “Things like Doug Ford’s actions to destroy quality sex education in Ontario, that’s one of the first steps to undermining bodily autonomy.”

Paynter stresses that abortions in Canada are primary health care, meaning they’re provided by doctors and nurse practitioners, not by specialists.

“Abortion is not a criminal matter at all, it is health care,” she tells NEWS 95.7’s The Todd Veinotte Show.

The Atlantic provinces specifically have seen lots of improvements to abortion access in recent years.

“Like the introduction of abortion in PEI, surgical and medical, in 2017,” says Paynter, who also founded the Women’s Wellness Within program, which provides support to pregnant people and new mothers who are incarcerated.

Medical abortions themselves were also new to Nova Scotia only a few years ago, which allow women to take a pill up to nine weeks gestational age.

“We’re still getting used to how that will transform the landscape for abortion care in this province,” says Paytner.

Surgical abortions on the other hand can be performed up to just under 16 weeks into pregnancy.

But Paynter wants pregnant people to know their bodily autonomy doesn’t end after 16 weeks.

“It’s largely because of providers’ skills and what they’re able to do and what the technology is able to do,” she explains. “So we really need to be working on improving providers skills, and making it a very integral part of primary care education, so that this is normalized as part of our health care training.”

Another important change in Nova Scotia is a self-referral number (1-833-852-0719) that was introduced in early 2018.

“Anyone can call this number,” Paynter says. “And you will be supported to book a medical or surgical abortion, depending on what you want and what you’re eligible for.”

She thinks other provinces should consider this model, as not all doctors are comfortable referring patients to abortion services.

New Brunswick only revoked its “two doctor permission” law in 2014, but that province now has self-referral as well.

More recently, doctors in Ontario tried to deny abortion referrals to patients.

“Physicians wanted to be able to refuse to even refer patients to someone who would help them get abortion services,” Paynter says, but the Ontario Court of Appeal denied their request.

Overall, Paynter says states like Alabama — which is close to passing legislation that will outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest — are turning uterus-owners into second-class citizens.

“Without the ability to govern our bodies, and be in control of our reproduction, we simply cannot participate fully in social, political and economic spheres,” she says, “It’s a major action by the state to control the individual.”