Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford pledged Wednesday to maintain abortion access in the province, while the other three main parties said they would expand it if elected in June.
The party leaders faced questions about the issue on the campaign trail in the wake of a leaked draft ruling from the United States Supreme Court that would strike down the right to legal abortions in that country.
Ford, who is seeking re-election, said he would maintain the status quo, but dodged questions about whether or not he welcomes anti-abortion views among members of his caucus. In 2019, three members of his caucus attended an anti-abortion rally at the legislature.
“We’re not changing anything in Ontario,” Ford said during an appearance in Brampton, Ont. “We’re keeping it exactly the same.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she would increase access to abortion in northern and rural parts of the province by investing in healthcare facilities and staffing in those regions.
“Every woman, every person who needs abortion services should be able to get those services without any worries, without any trouble and without any lengthy waits that would prevent them from having a safe procedure,” she said.
“We need to make sure that the services are there in every part of Ontario for women who need them.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said he would protect and enhance access to safe abortions. His party said it would invest $15 million to enhance access to women’s health services, including abortion services if elected.
“These are rights that cannot be taken for granted,” Del Duca said.
“They are friar. There are always those in society who are prepared to try to move us backwards in this regard.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he would expand the number of women’s health clinics and abortion clinics in Ontario.
Abortion is decriminalized in Canada because of a 1988 Supreme Court decision here.
Trudeau promises to protect abortion access in Canada but isn’t clear yet on how
Access to safe and legal abortions will be protected in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
But the Liberal government is not yet clear on exactly what that will mean in action.
A leaked draft ruling from the United States Supreme Court that would strike down the national right to legal abortions in that country put abortion back on the front burner in Canada this week.
Conservative MPs, warned off by their party leadership from commenting on the US situation, are going out of their way to avoid the discussion. But Liberal MPs, who have long used abortion as a wedge issue against the Tories, were lining up to talk to reporters about it both before and after their weekly caucus meeting in Ottawa Wednesday.
On his way into that meeting, Trudeau said his government will never stop defending and protecting the right to safe and legal abortion in Canada.
“The freedom of a woman to choose belongs to her and her alone,” Trudeau said.
And, he said, he has already directed Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Status of Women Minister Marci Ien “to look at the legal framework” around abortion services to ensure “that not just under this government, but under any future government, the rights of women are properly protected.”
The ministers were told to pursue that objective in their mandate letters in December and Duclos said Tuesday the results of that work are imminent.
During the election, the Liberals promised to introduce regulations under the Canada Health Act to ensure abortion services were clearly medically necessary and to be publicly funded.
Questions have arisen about whether the Canada Health Act is clear enough about what provinces are required to do in providing abortion services.
Following the caucus meeting, Families Minister Karina Gould said the plan is to use regulations to provide that clarity.
But House Leader Mark Holland said “it’s too early to hypothesize” what the government may do to protect access to abortions in Canada, including going further than regulations and using legislation to do it.
“I think we need to take a step back and make sure we do it right and that it’s not reactionary,” he said.
“I don’t have an immediate comment on what form that may or may not take, other than to say this government is prepared to do everything to ensure those rights are protected.”
The NDP says the Liberals need to do more than talk about protecting the right to choose and ensure women can access abortions everywhere.
“Right now, what we’re up against in a real and concrete way for women in Canada is a serious concern about access,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday.
“Women cannot get access in many communities. Rural communities, Indigenous communities, it is impossible to find anything locally so there are folks — women are driving hundreds of kilometers. Sometimes it requires a three-day trip to get an abortion,” he said.
“And while the Liberals are caught up in fighting the Conservatives over the right, neither of them have done anything to meaningfully expand access.”