People walk up Constitution Avenue headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court while participating in the 47th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 24, 2020. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

U.S. abortion appeal could spark Canadian debate

By 
  • January 26, 2022

The landmark  Roe v. Wade decision that struck down American abortion laws turned 49 years old Jan 22, but pro-life activists north of the border are hopeful it won’t hit 50.

And should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the latest legal challenge, Canadian pro-lifers are hoping it could bring change at home where there has effectively been no abortion regulations since 1988.

The Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is considered the most consequential abortion rights legal showdown in years — and a point-blank challenge to Roe v. Wade. In 2018, Mississippi passed the Gestational Age Act, which bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except for medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormalities. Jackson Women’s Health, the only remaining abortion clinic in the state, launched a legal challenge immediately. The case has wound its way through the American court system and made it to the Supreme Court where on Dec. 1 oral arguments were heard.

A decision is expected by the end of the court’s 2021-22 term. Historically, the court’s most significant decisions are made in June.

Nicole Scheidl, executive director of Canadian Physicians for Life (CPL), has spoken with experts about the case and these interactions give her hope.

“They were all very hopeful and thought there was more of a chance of it being overturned than not,” said Scheidl. “It seems like the court will return the issue to the states.”

While overturning Roe v. Wade would create seismic waves in the U.S., what could its repeal mean for Canada? One of CPL’s five resolutions for 2022 is to “mount a uniquely Canadian response” to this anticipated event.

“This will cause a cultural conversation about abortion in Canada, and I think there has to be a cultural conversation about abortion in Canada,” said Scheidl. “We don’t have an abortion law in this country, and abortion is done right up until the time of birth, and many people don’t know about that. Conversations will bring this issue more to the front of mind for Canadians.”

Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, says Roe v. Wade or other abortion-related news headlines gives the centre the opportunity to engage with Canadians about the issue.

“Each of our staff has had one-on-one conversations with thousands of Canadians, and Canadians, when confronted with the truth, are very open to changing their minds,” he said. “What Canada needs is people who are willing to get out there and speak to their peers about the issue.”

Jeff Gunnarson, national president of the Campaign Life Coalition, told The Catholic Register via email that Canada’s task post-Roe is “to keep the momentum going.”

“Canada is loath to discuss abortion, but it will be difficult to ignore the pro-life blossoming occurring across the United States, and it is imperative our pro-life movement keep the topic alive and make it a common kitchen table discussion across our nation,” said Gunnarson. “Hearts and minds will then begin to change more rapidly as they see large swathes of the U.S. criminalize what abortion really is: child murder.”

Gunnarson would also like a Roe v. Wade overturn to put the Supreme Court of Canada’s “similarly destructive” 1988 R v. Morgentaler decision back in the national conversation.

This edict legalized abortion for any stage of a women’s pregnancy. Abortion was considered a crime under Section 251 of Canada’s Criminal Code — illegal with no exceptions until 1969. That year Pierre Trudeau added an amendment to allow doctors to perform abortions if the health or life of the woman is at risk.

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