Canadian pro-choice site crashes on U.S. election night under fears restricted abortion access will force women to travel north

Posted on November, 17 2016 by Action Canada
Yahoo NewsTerri Coles | 

On the night of Nov. 8, as the results of the American election crystallized, the website for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada crashed.

“There was a huge, huge spike in traffic over Wednesday and Thursday in particular,” Joyce Arthur, executive director of the pro-choice political group, told Yahoo Canada News.

The ARCC website went from getting about 2,000 daily hits in November to well over 100,000 on the two days following the vote, according to information provided by the group.

The site went down at one point because it had exceeded its bandwidth limits, Arthur said, and by far the most accessed page was one listing abortion clinics in Canada.

Though the specific threats to abortion access in the U.S. remain unclear, Canadian pro-choice organizations and activists like ARCC are beginning to discuss their role after president-elect Donald Trump indicated his administration will target existing policies on the procedure.

Action Canada, a pro-choice charitable organization, operates a 24/7 telephone hotline providing Canadians with information on sexual and reproductive health and referrals for pregnancy options. The group is starting to get calls from the U.S., according to the group’s executive director, Sandeep Prasad.

“We’re having to do some research into the issue,” Prasad told Yahoo Canada News. “Even to get that inquiry, I was surprised and it speaks to the level of worry of people in the U.S. as to what this new government is going to bring for them.”

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), told Yahoo Canada News that the professional organization’s Canadian members have been sending condolences to American providers.

“Canadian providers are already asking whether we think women will be coming from the U.S. to Canada to obtain their abortion there,” Saporta said.

‘When their access changes, our access changes’

Any further restrictions on late-term abortions in the U.S. would also affect Canadians, who are often referred there, according to the ARCC.

And changes in America are particularly concerning in New Brunswick, as the U.S. has been a lifeline for Canadian women seeking abortions.

“When their access changes, our access changes,” Hannah Gray, spokesperson for Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, told Yahoo Canada News.

When the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton closed in 2014 due to a lack of provincial funding, many New Brunswick women, finding the access requirements for in-hospital abortion too onerous, instead travelled to Maine.

Though New Brunswick has a private clinic again, the clinic’s patients must pay out of pocket for the procedure.

And while some restrictions at the two hospitals in the province offering abortions have been lifted, there are still geographic limits. Losing access in Maine as well would add more stress to a situation at home that already feels precarious, Gray said.

“If they fall we fall,” Gray said. “We rely on them so much for information, for solidarity, and for actual access. And them on us.”

Logistical difficulties

Changes to the federal laws around abortion south of the border are not likely to come immediately after inauguration, with any legal challenge needing time to work through the courts.

But beyond any talk of repealing Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to abortion on a federal level, Trump’s election could pose other threats at the state level, Saporta said.

And there are still barriers for Americans considering Canada, including a passport, the cost of travel and paying for the procedure, which can range from $600 to three times that depending on the clinic or hospital.

“It’s not going to really be a solution to come to Canada, except for well-off women,” said the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada‘s Arthur.

An American environment where new restrictions are being brought in against abortion could affect the political climate in Canada as well, according to Gray with Reproductive Justice New Brunswick.

“We tend to get targeted more, we tend to get more hate mail, we tend to get people thinking about us more who we don’t necessarily want thinking about us,” she said. “Once they feel like they’re making traction, they come forward.”

For Arthur, it’s those more insidious changes that are concerning.

“I don’t think that legally it’s going to have much effect,” she said. “The danger is in the tone, the language.”