With less than a week remaining in a federal election campaign that has once again seen abortion rights emerge as a key issue of debate, a new report released today by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute looks at the range of contemporary challenges to abortion access and reproductive health services in Canada, with a specific focus on southern Alberta.
In Political Challenges and Digital Frontiers: Reproductive Health and Services in Southern Alberta, authors Carol Williams, Katelyn Mitchell, and Carly Giles contend that political concerns are just one of numerous challenges faced by those seeking access to abortion information and services.
“With recent state legislative changes in the United States that amount to near-total bans on abortion, the election in Alberta of a number of politicians who self-identify as anti-abortion, the only freestanding abortion clinic lacking federal medicare funding in Fredericton, New Brunswick set to close, and the ambiguous positions of some federal leaders, Canadians are rightly concerned that reproductive rights are under political threat,” says Carol Williams, a professor of Women & Gender Studies at the University of Lethbridge. “But it’s also important to remember that other barriers, including a lack of regional service providers, financial barriers, and a knowledge deficit already combine to make meaningful access almost theoretical for many of those seeking abortions.”
The report points to the fact that there are only three abortion providers in Alberta—and none outside of the two major cities—making “abortion travel” and its associated costs a necessity for many who have made the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Compounded by the stigma often associated with abortion and a lack of complete and accurate information about reproductive choice, this means many Albertans simply are unprepared to make informed decisions about care options. This is highlighted by the fact that Crisis Pregnancy Centres, which claim neutrality but downplay or misrepresent abortion as an option, outnumber abortion providers in Alberta by almost seven to one.
The report stresses the importance of accessible, fact-based information about abortion among other services, especially given the rise of false or inaccurate information available online and promoted through social media by anti-abortion organizations—much of it now aimed at audiences outside of traditional faith-based constituencies, most notably young men.
“It is significant that many Albertans hesitate to openly discuss reproductive health and education as result of anti-abortion activists taking command of the debate around public health matters,” Williams says. “These organizations have politicized pregnancy to such an extreme that youth seeking unbiased counselling on issues of intimacy or reproduction may fear to do so.”
The report recommends a number of changes, including improvements to Alberta’s Career and Life Management (CALM) curriculum to present a more balanced view of reproductive choice, improved provision of comprehensive abortion information on Alberta Health Services websites, policies that set acceptable standards for the availability of abortion providers and medical abortion in communities outside the major cities, and requirements for medical professionals who refuse to offer abortion services to more consistently and effectively refer patients to willing providers.
Parkland Institute is a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. Political Challenges and Digital Frontiers: Reproductive Health and Services in Southern Alberta is available for download on Parkland’s website.