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World U.S. abortion bans: A state-by-state guide for Canadians

An abortion-rights supporter takes part in a protest in St. Louis on May 30, 2019.

The Associated Press

Abortion rights in the United States are at a precarious point. Emboldened by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court and a President openly opposed to abortion, Republican-governed states have been passing some of the strictest limits on a woman’s right to choose that the country has seen in generations. Pro-choice groups are fighting back in court, potentially bringing the Roe v. Wade case to a historic legal test – a test anti-abortion advocates are hoping it will lose.

In Washington, the Trump administration and Democratic hopefuls for the U.S. presidency are staking out sides of a polarizing issue ahead of the 2020 election. In the affected states, some of the country’s biggest companies are reconsidering whether they can continue doing business there. And in Canada, the debate south of the border has reawakened concerns about how accessible abortion is here.

Here’s a primer on what you need to know.

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Abortion bans by state

Montgomery, Ala., May 15: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signs a bill that virtually outlaws abortion in the state.

Hal Yeager/Alabama Governor's Office/The Associated Press

Near-total bans

So far, an Alabama abortion ban, signed into law on May 14 and set to take effect in November, is the most restrictive in the country. Virtually all abortions will be outlawed, even in cases of rape or incest: The only exceptions are if the mother faces “a serious health risk,” if the fetus has a “lethal anomaly,” or in ectopic pregnancies, where the embryo attaches outside the uterus. An unauthorized abortion is a felony that could put the provider in prison for up to 99 years. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood are suing to block the law in a federal court.

‘Heartbeat’ bills

Many of the recent bills ban abortion as soon as an embryo’s first cardiac rhythm can be detected. That can happen five-and-a-half to six weeks after gestation, a point at which the embryo has only a cluster of electrically pulsating cells and not a heart per se, and when the mother might not even be aware of pregnancy. That’s far earlier than the precedent set by the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion up until the fetus is deemed “viable," generally at 24 to 28 weeks. Various states have tried to pass heartbeat bills before, but they’ve usually been blocked by the courts. Here’s where the most recent bills stand:

  • Signed into law, but facing court challenges: Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio
  • Passed, but blocked by federal or state judges: Iowa, Kentucky
  • Still working through state legislatures: South Carolina, West Virginia
  • Introduced in legislatures in 2019, but defeated: Florida, Texas

Lowering term limits

The Republican governors of Arkansas and Missouri signed bills this year to set new prohibitions on abortions after 18 and eight weeks, respectively, though an Arkansas judge granted a temporary restraining order before the state’s law was due to come into effect on July 24. Missouri health officials also refused to renew the license for the state’s only abortion clinic, though a court injunction allows it to keep operating for now. Utah also passed an 18-week limit but a federal injunction blocked it from being enforced.

‘Trigger’ laws

Some states are planning further ahead with bills that would immediately enact abortion bans if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade or a constitutional amendment makes such bans lawful. Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota and North Dakota already have “trigger” laws on the books, and Oklahoma and Tennessee are considering them.


Roe v. Wade explained

Washington, 1989: Norma McCorvey, left – known by the legal alias Jane Roe in the 1973 court case Roe v. Wade – holds hands with her attorney, Gloria Allred, as they leave the Supreme Court, which was hearing arguments about a Missouri abortion case. Ms. McCorvey died in 2017.

J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

The legal foundation for abortion in the United States is Roe v. Wade, a 1973 challenge to Texas law in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that denying people the right to make choices about their pregnancies violated a right to privacy. Unlike Canada’s R v. Morgentaler decision in 1988, which struck down all abortion restrictions throughout pregnancy, Roe v. Wade created a tiered system where governments could impose some limits based on trimesters, or the three-month periods of fetal development:

  • First trimester: “the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgement of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.”
  • After the first trimester but before the point of “viability”: “the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
  • Past the point of “viability”: “the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

Since the 1970s, social conservative opposition to Roe v. Wade has gotten vocal and organized, and become deeply entrenched in the Republican Party. State governments have sought to weaken Roe v. Wade, and activist groups have pressed Washington to appoint judges who might eventually overturn it. This includes the conservative Federalist Society, a network of lawyers whose executive vice-president, Leonard Leo, advised U.S. President Donald Trump in his decisions to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court. The appointment of those judges, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and the retirement of moderate Anthony Kennedy tipped the court’s balance in a more conservative direction. Now, Republican governors are seizing the moment to pass strict abortion bans that they know will be challenged – in the hopes that the Supreme Court will eventually rule in their favour.


Republicans vs. Democrats

Jan. 18, 2019: Anti-abortion activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington, where U.S. President Donald Trump spoke via video.

Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press

Trump: As a celebrity businessman, Mr. Trump described himself as pro-choice as recently as the late 1990s, but that changed as he laid plans for the presidency in the mid-2010s and began courting the social conservative vote. As President, he claims to be strongly opposed to abortion except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life.

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Pence: In Washington, the most vocal champion of anti-abortion policy is Vice-President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian and former Indiana governor whose administration sought to ban abortions deemed discriminatory based on sex or disability. He was the first vice-president ever to speak at the March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington.

Democrats: With a presidential election coming up next fall, several of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination are speaking out against the state bans and Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on the issue. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren are pressing to have Roe v. Wade’s status enshrined in federal law, while Senator Kamala Harris has proposed barring states with histories of unconstitutional abortion laws from passing new restrictions without federal approval.


Big business vs. state laws

Los Angeles, April 22: Disney CEO Bob Iger arrives at the premiere of Avengers: Endgame, which was partly filmed at a studio in Georgia's Fayette County.

The Canadian Press

In the outcry against the U.S. abortion bans, businesses that operate in the affected states are reconsidering whether they want to continue doing so. Georgia, for instance, is a major hub for film and television because of lucrative tax incentives, but major studios and networks have said they might reconsider that if the law comes into effect. Chief among them is Disney CEO Bob Iger, who, when asked by Reuters if the company would keep filming in Georgia if the law is implemented, said:

I rather doubt we will. I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard. Right now we are watching it very carefully.

Other companies that have voiced concern about the Georgia law include NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia (the owner of HBO and the Warner Bros. movie studio), AMC and Netflix, which is working with civil-rights groups to help fight the law in court.


Abortion in Canada: The basics

Toronto, 1988: Henry Morgentaler raises his arms in victory after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Criminal Code’s abortion provision to be unconstitutional.

Blaise Edwards/The Canadian Press

The law

Canada has had legal, medicare-covered abortion at all stages of pregnancy since 1988′s ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler. Whereas Roe v. Wade hinged on privacy rights, the Morgentaler case focused on Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person. Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government tried twice to craft new laws that would regulate abortion and still meet the top court’s criteria, but both failed.

The reality

If you’re worried about provinces banning abortion one by one, as U.S. states are doing now, it doesn’t quite work like that. The Criminal Code is in Ottawa’s jurisdiction alone, unlike in the United States, where each state has its own criminal laws.

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That said, provinces still have a lot of sway over how abortion is provided because, under the Canada Health Act, they’re the ones responsible for funding and supporting clinics – and they haven’t been doing it equally well. Prince Edward Island, for instance, spent 34 years as the only province that wouldn’t allow surgical abortions, until a court challenge pressured the government to change its policy in 2016. Access in provinces such as Nova Scotia, where more than 50,000 people lacked family doctors in 2018, can be difficult for those not able to travel to other provinces for treatment.

As for patients who want the abortion pill instead of a surgical procedure, getting a prescription for Mifegymiso can be time-consuming and inconvenient process, according to a Globe and Mail analysis: Two years since the drug was introduced in Canada, many doctors won’t prescribe it, and to reach clinics that do provide it, patients often have to travel several hours at their own expense.

Abortion clinic accessibility

across Canada

Abortion clinics are mainly located in large urban centres, meaning women who live outside those areas must travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to access the service. This map illustrates driving times to abortion clinics from cities across Canada.

LEGEND

Population centres*

by driving distance to

an abortion clinic

Areas within

driving range to

an abortion clinic

2-hour drive

Longer than 2-hours

6-hour drive

Longer than 6-hours

*With 30,000 people or more

WESTERN CANADA

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Prince

George

Grande

Prairie

Alta.

Fort McMurray

Campbell

River

Sask.

Lloydminster

Man.

Courtenay

Lethbridge

Medicine Hat

EASTERN CANADA

Nunavut

N.L.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

Thunder

Bay

N.S.

N.B.

Kingston

Sault Ste.

Marie

North Bay

Sudbury

Leamington

Windsor

Travel estimates use historic traffic data provided by HERE Technologies. Actual travel times may vary.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

HERE TECHNOLOGIES; STATISTICS CANADA

Abortion clinic accessibility across Canada

Abortion clinics are mainly located in large urban centres, meaning women who live outside those areas must travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to access the service. This map illustrates driving times to abortion clinics from cities across Canada.

LEGEND

Population centres*

by driving distance to

an abortion clinic

Areas within

driving range to

an abortion clinic

2-hour drive

Longer than 2-hours

6-hour drive

Longer than 6-hours

*With 30,000 people or more

WESTERN CANADA

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Prince

George

Grande

Prairie

Alta.

Fort McMurray

Campbell

River

Sask.

Lloydminster

Man.

Ont.

Courtenay

Lethbridge

Medicine Hat

EASTERN CANADA

Nunavut

N.L.

Que.

Ont.

PEI

Thunder

Bay

N.S.

N.B.

Kingston

Sault Ste.

Marie

North Bay

Sudbury

Leamington

Windsor

Travel estimates use historic traffic data provided by HERE Technologies. Actual travel times may vary.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

HERE TECHNOLOGIES; STATISTICS CANADA

Abortion clinic accessibility across Canada

Abortion clinics are mainly located in large urban centres, meaning women who live outside those areas must travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to access the service. This map illustrates driving times to abortion clinics from cities across Canada.

LEGEND

Areas within driving range

to an abortion clinic

2-hour drive

6-hour drive

Population centres* by driving

distance to an abortion clinic

Longer than 2-hours

Longer than 6-hours

*With 30,000 people or more

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

B.C.

Prince

George

Grande

Prairie

Alta.

Fort McMurray

Campbell

River

Sask.

N.L.

Lloydminster

Man.

Que.

Ont.

Courtenay

PEI

Lethbridge

N.S.

Medicine Hat

Thunder Bay

N.B.

Sault Ste. Marie

Kingston

Sudbury

North Bay

Travel estimates use historic traffic data provided by HERE Technologies. Actual travel times may vary.

Leamington

Windsor

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: HERE TECHNOLOGIES; STATISTICS CANADA

Where Canada’s leaders stand

Ottawa, May 30: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive at a news conference.

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Federal government: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a long-time supporter of abortion rights, and required new candidates in 2015′s election to uphold the party’s official pro-choice position. He’s criticized the recent U.S. bans as “backsliding” and, on May 30, he confronted Mr. Pence about it during an official visit to Ottawa, saying there was “a significant amount of concern” among Canadians on the issue.

Federal opposition: Like his predecessor Stephen Harper, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said he wouldn’t reopen the issue. But the party’s official policies have also affirmed abortion as an issue of conscience that MPs are free to vote on as they wish. Mr. Scheer’s MPs came under fire from the Liberals in May, when several of them attended the annual March for Life in Ottawa.

Provincial governments: Debates about a woman’s right to choose have been quietly warming up in the Ontario legislature, where Progressive Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff told an anti-abortion rally in May that “we pledge to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.” Premier Doug Ford has ruled out reopening the abortion debate, but has defended his MPPs’ right to share their opinions. And in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney, a social conservative who vocally opposed abortion rights as a young activist and federal MP, came to power with support from anti-abortion groups in the province – though he has promised his United Conservatives won’t introduce legislative restrictions on abortion. Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor also wrote a letter to provinces in July urging them to remove barriers to abortion access, though health officials in New Brunswick and Ontario rebuffed her request.


Abortion in depth: More reading

Access in Canada

How doctors’ reluctance and long-distance travel stop many Canadians from getting Mifegymiso

Federal Health Minister tells all provinces to fund abortion care

National regulator denied offer to give Canadian physicians training on abortion pill

Dawn Fowler: Increasing access to the abortion pill in Canada starts by properly training our doctors

Jessica Leeder: I wanted an abortion in Nova Scotia, but all around, barriers still remained

Access in the U.S.

The Globe in Alabama: How abortion law is dividing the home of the civil-rights movement

Elizabeth Renzetti: The chipping away of U.S. abortion rights should be a wake-up call for us all

Rosemary Westwood: A singular moment for abortion rights in the U.S.



Compiled by Globe staff

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With reports from Associated Press, Reuters and Globe staff

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