Pierre Trudeau famously described the relationship between Canada and the United States as a mouse sharing a bed with an elephant. The elephant, the elder Trudeau explained (to an audience in the United States, of course) barely notices the mouse, but the mouse feels every “twitch and grunt.”
The American elephant has done more than just twitch with the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision last week.
Multiple states have already made abortion illegal or restricted it severely, and in all, about half that country may be without legal access to abortion within weeks.
While the biggest impact will be on American women who can no longer access safe abortions, this ruling will also have direct and indirect impacts on Canada.
The biggest direct impact will be a sudden demand in some provinces bordering the U.S. for abortion services for Americans, who may find it easier or safer to cross an international boundary than to get to another state where the procedure remains legal.
This comes as our health-care system in general is already under strain. Canadian women may have the right to receive abortion services, but those are not always easy to access, particularly in rural and remote areas where any kind of medical care is hard to come by.
Indirectly, it may re-inflame a debate that has been considered settled, at least at the level of Canada’s Parliament, for decades.
Although there are a number of pro-life politicians and activists on this side of the border and always have been, no major political party has seriously tried to re-open the issue for years.
The courts and medical colleges have been the arbiters, relying on precedent and best practices as determined by doctors.
Our situation remains very different politically from that in the United States. Roe v. Wade was founded on a right to privacy, but Canada’s R v Morgentaler, the ruling that struck down Canada’s previous abortion laws in the 1980s, was founded on our right to “life, liberty, and security of the person,” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It would be hard to challenge that ruling without the judicial equivalent of a major quake. It certainly couldn’t happen suddenly, and would likely mean massive political change at the highest levels, including in the PMO.
But even so, what happens in the United States will eventually be felt in Canada.
American politics has just gone through a massive upheaval. It remains to be seen how far reaching the impacts will be on this side of the border.