Dee Dwyer for NPR
MONTREAL — Kemlin Nembhard, chief of the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, Manitoba, says there’s no way to plan for a post-Roe world. No sign of the number of Americans who may seek abortion services in Winnipeg, just over an hour’s drive from the U.S. border, now that the Supreme Court ruled Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Are people going to come up north? Or are they going to go to another state? We don’t know,” she said.
The clinic has already seen patients from neighboring North Dakota, which has had a ban on triggering ready to go into effect once the Supreme Court overturns Roe. Canadian clients come from across a vast region, some driving up to 10 a.m. or flying in from remote northern communities for abortion services.
Canadian researchers and abortion advocates say they expect most Americans from states that ban abortion to go to neighboring states that allow it. But, says Nembhard, even a relatively small number of people coming to Canada could strain capacity in some areas.
“Each year we actually provide about a quarter to a third more abortions than we receive funding for,” she said. “In reality, if the people of North Dakota, people who wanted access to abortion, or even if there were a whole bunch of northern states, okay, coming to us, there was no there was no way to meet that need.”
National Abortion Federation of Canada executive director Jill Doctoroff says patient support groups in the United States had already started asking about options for Americans to come to Canada, but she also anticipates potential impacts on Canadians.
“I know there are many groups, including governments, that want to help and support Americans in accessing care,” she said, while noting that Canada is already struggling to provide abortion services to rural residents and at the end of pregnancy, after 24 weeks, when serious health problems may arise.
Karina Gould, Federal Minister for Families, Children and Social Development, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May that Americans could have abortions in Canada, but also said she was concerned about the consequences for Canadians.
“One of the concerning factors here is that there are a lot of Canadian women who may not live near a major city in Canada, who will often access these services in the United States,” Gould said.
The organization Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights runs a hotline that helps people asking for abortion referrals. Frédérique Chabot, the organization’s health promotion director, says she sometimes supports trips to US clinics, mainly in Colorado, where abortion should remain legal.
“But,” Chabot said, “there will be so much more pressure on these service points in neighboring states and on people who need to travel within the United States, which can mean that care is delayed by Several weeks.“
Chabot also expressed concern about the political impacts the decision could have in Canada “in terms of the potential for anti-choice activism.”
A few days after the leak of the draft decision on May 2, Jack Fonseca of the Campaign Life Coalition, spoke before the Supreme Court of Canadacalling on anti-abortion activists to support politicians and Supreme Court Justices who would ban abortion in Canada.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but knocking down Roe against Wade will help us achieve that goal because it will allow Canadians to have conversations at the kitchen table,” Fonseca said.
A survey conducted in May by the Canadian opinion firm Léger found this 79% of Canadians somewhat or strongly support the right to have an abortion.
Associate law professor Kerri Froc, at the University of New Brunswick, said she considers legal abortion rights “pretty secure” in Canada for now.
“For us,” Froc said, “the devil is more in the details in terms of making sure women practically have access.”
University of Ottawa law professor Daphne Gilbert, who also sits on the board of directors of an international non-profit organization called Women Help Women, recommended that anyone helping Americans traveling to Canada, ” to be very careful about how you communicate your arrangements and the networks you use imeuble.”
States that intend to ban abortion, she predicted, will also seek to prosecute women who leave the state for procedures elsewhere.
Although she does not expect Canadian authorities to facilitate investigations and anticipates legal challenges to these restrictions, in the short term, she said, “it will be a kind of justice system very cowboy of citizens making citizens”.
“It’s, you know, ridiculous and unbelievable to think that in the United States we’re going to have to start taking the same steps that we’re taking in Poland and Thailand,” Gilbert said, “but I think it’s is where were going.”