It’s been nearly a week since the United States Supreme Court officially struck down its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — a ruling that guaranteed a woman's right to get an abortion across the U.S. — leaving many Canadians wondering what that decision could mean north of the border.
Simcoe-Grey MP Terry Dowdall told CollingwoodToday.ca this week he’s not concerned that what has happened in the U.S. will happen here.
“The Conservative government is not going to introduce any legislation to regulate abortion. We’re not bringing it up,” said Dowdall.
“At the end of the day, it’s the decision of the individual. If someone’s religious belief states that they (don’t believe in abortion), I don’t think we should ridicule those individuals either,” he said. “That’s where my frustration lies. It’s just more division.”
Dowdall, who has two daughters, said he is pro-choice and believes the decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should remain with the individual.
“I think it’s an emotional moment when people have to make that decision,” he said.
Canadian women have no specific legal right to abortion, as there is currently no legal framework governing abortion, although abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, when the Supreme Court decided in R. v. Morgentaler that a law criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional.
Today, abortion falls under provincial health-care systems as a medical procedure, meaning access to the procedure varies considerably from place to place.
Many Tory MPs, however, oppose abortion and have brought forward different private member’s bills over the years to try to tighten access, with the most recent bill being brought forward in June 2021, when 81 out of the party’s 119 MPs voted in favour of a proposed bill from Conservative Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall to ban sex-selective abortions that she claimed targeted girls.
That bill was defeated by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois.
Dowdall voted in favour of the bill. When asked about his position, he said his vote was based on sex-selective abortion only.
“I think a woman is just as valuable as a man. That particular stance wasn’t about abortion itself, it was about, should you be allowed to choose one (gender) over another,” he said. “I don’t think that’s right.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court draft document was leaked May 2, a list began circulating on social media of MPs who had voted in favour of the bill, alleging they were “anti-abortion.
”I’m disappointed that people are following trolls with this list, because it’s not true,” said Dowdall. “We’re Canada. We’re not the United States. In this country, it’s done. It’s put to bed.
Dowdall acknowledged his offices have had multiple calls regarding the matter, and finds himself frustrated at the state of political discourse overall.
“I hate when people automatically assume. I don’t think a vote on this would ever come (to Canada), but if it did, there would be some religious people who might be upset but... (I believe) each person has to make their own decisions with their body,” he said.
During Monday’s (June 27) Collingwood council meeting, Coun. Steve Berman said he planned to put forward a notice of motion on the issue of Roe vs. Wade being overturned. He is currently working with town staff to draft the wording of a motion which is planned to come before council in the coming weeks.
“This is arguably one of the scariest and most despicable things I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Berman. “If you think this doesn’t affect Canadians, and if you think this could never happen in Canada, you’re wrong.”
“If you think addressing this at our council table is not within our municipal purview, it is certainly within our purview as human beings,” he said.
When reached for follow-up comment, Berman said he is still working on the wording of a motion to be considered by council, but he’d like to put forward something “with teeth," that is "actionable and includes zero lip service.”
“I want to do something, but I don’t want to do something if it’s just rhetoric,” Berman told CollingwoodToday.ca. “It’s hard to write a motion on something that I don’t think should need to be said.”
Berman said he’s open to hearing feedback from the public on the motion, but also encourages the public to contact their local MPP and MP with their concerns.
Abortion became an issue for former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole during last year’s election campaign. His platform included a pledge to protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers from having to perform procedures they found objectionable.
During the 2021 federal election, the Liberals made a series of promises to improve abortion access in Canada, including regulating access under the Canada Health Act. A mandate letter for federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos calls on him to reinforce compliance under the Act, develop a sexual and reproductive health rights information portal, and support youth-led grassroots organizations that respond to the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people.
Under the majority Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, the House of Commons passed a law in 1990 that would have made it a criminal offence to induce an abortion unless a physician deemed that the woman's life or health was likely to be threatened otherwise. That bill was defeated in the Senate, where the vote came to a rare tie and no government has since attempted to legislate on the issue.
In the Morgentaler decision, the Supreme Court did not explicitly state that access to abortion is a fundamental right — and no other Canadian court has said so since.
Meanwhile, when a leaked copy of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade was released in May, reporters asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether he would consider putting legislation on the table to enshrine such a right. He left the possibility open, but said his government wants to prevent a situation where rights are rolled back by future governments or court decisions.
"Maybe it's legislation, maybe it's not legislation, maybe it's leaving it in the hands of the Canadian Medical Association that has ensured governance over these procedures for a long time," Trudeau said at the time.
With files from The Canadian Press and Nikki Cole, BarrieToday.com