To the children of Phoenix, Arizona who gathered around their TVs in the early 1960s, she was the cheerful host of a syndicated show called Romper Room, known simply as Miss Sherri.

But when she made headlines for a desperate search for an abortion that would take her halfway around the world, she would land in the history books as Sherri Finkbine, a freshly minted pioneer of a fight still being fought, six decades later.

The looming fall of Roe v. Wade, the law that protects abortion access in the United States, has prompted questions about whether Americans might travel north for the procedure. While abortion is likely to remain accessible in some areas that pass their own local laws, providers in Canada say that some residents of border states may travel to this country, in which case, providers say, they’d be ready.

But it wouldn’t be the first time people have been forced to cross international borders in search of potentially life-saving services.

Finkbine helped put the issue on the global map. Her story by Ella illustrates just how long women have been getting on plans and trains and crossing time zones in order to get safe access to abortion. While the concept of traveling for an abortion has never fully faded, it’s back in the spotlight, thanks to a leaked draft of a US Supreme Court decision that suggests the right to abortion in the US will soon be struck down.

While international refugees in the past have included Japan, Sweden and the UK, this time it may well be Canada that is closest.

In Finkbine’s case, she was in the early days of pregnancy when she mistakenly took pills for morning sickness that contained thalidomide — a drug that had recently been linked to devastating birth defects. Her doctor de ella recommended a therapeutic abortion, the only kind allowed in Arizona at the time.

But when she spoke to a newspaper about the dangers of the medication, it failed to protect her identity and the resulting controversy prompted the hospital to cancel the procedure.

Finkbine, already a mother of four, tried to go to Japan, but was denied a visa. Then, she and her husband de ella traveled to Sweden, a country that made legal abortions on some medical grounds starting in 1938, where she was able to get a safe and legal abortion.

While those who could afford it have long traveled to international safe havens, there is also a long history of people crossing the Canadian-American border for access to abortion — but that traffic typically flowed south.

Before 1988, when the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the country’s abortion law, in what was known as the Morgentaler decision, many women went to the US seeking abortions.

People in Toronto went to Buffalo, in Windsor they went to Detroit, and in British Columbia they headed to Washington State, recalls Carolyn Egan, the spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics.

“I mean, many had never been out of the country before. And they did have to pay,” she says. “It was very stressful; there was no two ways about it.”

“But at the same time, it was, ‘thank heavens’ that there was some place to go.”

Abortion will likely remain accessible in US states that create their own laws, and the states that do away with it entirely are predominantly in the southern half of the country, making it unlikely that they’d travel as far as Canada, she said.

But there are some border states, including Michigan, where the procedure may be outlawed, she added, and where women may see Canada as an option.

In Winnipeg, the Women’s Health Clinic already sees the odd American, says executive director Kemlin Nembhard. People without a health-care card do have to pay, at a rate that starts at roughly $500.

The clinic is devoted to providing services to anyone who needs it, and also often sees patients from other parts of the province and country.

As a publicly funded clinic, it gets a set amount of money for abortions every year, but typically does between a quarter and a third more than it is funded for, she said. The stopgap is made up through fundraising and other services that it provides.

So while it’s committed to making sure anyone who needs an abortion can get one, safely and without judgment, an influx of people from another country would “definitely” put pressure on the system, she added.

“While we would never turn people away, we will also very much stand toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder with our sisters both at the border, to help them fight this and make sure that access to safe abortion care is available there.”

It’s worth pointing out, advocates say, that Finkbine, the TV host who helped shine a spotlight on the need to travel for an abortion, was able to do so because she had the money.

Like her, the women who will be able to travel to Canada, or even to other parts of the US, to access safe abortion services will also be those who have the financial means to do so.

“It would be possible for some Americans to come here, especially when we have some private clinics,” says Shannon Stettner, an abortion historian based at the University of Waterloo.

“But of course, it’s going to be the Americans who can afford to travel.”

The people most affected by this will be those who are poor or otherwise marginalized, and will find themselves with few options for safe care, she said.

“When you limit access to abortion, you don’t prevent an abortion from happening,” she said. “You prevent a safe abortion from happening.”


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