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Thousands of Anti-abortion activists march down Elgin St. in Ottawa during the National March for Life on Thursday, May 13, 2010. (Darren Brown/The Canadian Press/Darren Brown/The Canadian Press)
Thousands of Anti-abortion activists march down Elgin St. in Ottawa during the National March for Life on Thursday, May 13, 2010. (Darren Brown/The Canadian Press/Darren Brown/The Canadian Press)

U.S. abortion controversy a reminder issues persist north of the border, too Add to ...

Planned Parenthood's recent problems in the U.S. have once again ignited debates over access to abortion services and how they should be funded. Although the controversy hasn't travelled to Canada, it is a reminder that problems with access to abortion persist in Canada, according to the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health.

Controversy erupted in the U.S. last week after an anti-abortion group called Live Action released a video of a Planned Parenthood employee telling a man posing as a pimp how to obtain abortions for underage prostitutes. Planned Parenthood fired the employee for the transgressions, which it says goes against the organization's policies, but the matter is helping fuel support for a U.S. bill that would block government funding to organizations that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.

The problem, according to Planned Parenthood's supporters, is the organization also provides other important services for women, such as testing for sexually transmitted infections, providing contraception or help with family planning for women who otherwise might not be able to afford it.

"There is, I would say, a great deal of concern and empathy [for Planned Parenthood in the U.S.]" said Jane Gauthier, interim executive director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, formerly known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada. "I think it would be horrendous to cut the funding."

The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health is pro-choice, but is not an active lobby group. Planned Parenthood branches in Canada can refer women to places where they can obtain an abortion.

In Canada, the debate over abortion is often more muted than it is south of the border. But members of pro-choice organizations here warn there are still vocal opponents and geographical disparities that mean some women across Canada can't access abortions.

For instance, no hospitals on Prince Edward Island provide abortions and women must travel to a private clinic in Fredericton or a hospital in Halifax.

Ms. Gauthier also highlighted the fact many women in remote or rural areas don't have access to abortion services because of where they live. Many women must also pay out-of-pocket for contraception if they aren't covered by a medical plan, which could be a significant financial burden for some, she said.

Although there is still vocal opposition to abortion in Canada, Ms. Gauthier said she is optimistic that Canada will not experience the type of issues that are unfolding in the U.S., with lawmakers trying to cut off funding for groups that provide abortions.

"I think we are a little more protected and aware and I hope that's not wishful thinking on my part," Ms. Gauthier said.

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