Victories and challenges on reproductive rights

  • May 30, 2024
  • Angela Ogang

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Women Lawyers Forum (WLF) has reason to celebrate this International Women’s Day. The Honourable Mary T. Moreau’s appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada on November 6, 2023, marked a significant milestone in our nation’s history: it was the first time that the highest court in the land had a majority of women justices, four of whom are featured on the WLF’s Madam Justice online gallery.

Moreover, on February 8, 2024, CBA members passed an important resolution concerning abortion rights in Canada and moved by the WLF. With this resolution, the CBA officially committed to oppose any attempts to restrict abortion rights and access in the country and to collaborate with governments and stakeholders to expand abortion access across Canada.

However, as Alexia Korberg underscored in their keynote speech at the WLF Conference in November 2023, and as evidenced by the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392, 597 U.S. 215 (2022), where the court held that the US Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, the status quo, particularly regarding women’s rights, is not guaranteed.

On November 14, 2023, the Quebec Branch of the Women Lawyers Forum brought together Dr. Geneviève Bois, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine, Université de Montréal, Professor Louise Langevin, Ad E., from the Faculty of Law at Université Laval, and Françoise Girard, Executive Director of Feminism Makes Us Smarter ( for a candid discussion on the state of abortion rights and other reproductive rights in Quebec and Canada. The program was moderated by Andrée-Anne Labbé, an executive member of the Women Lawyers Forum, Quebec Branch.

Françoise Girard noted that the Dobbs decision is an extremely troublesome one, with severe implications beyond abortion rights. It paved the way for states to enact restrictive legislation and has already led to significant changes. Françoise highlighted that fifteen states had either completely banned abortion or imposed restrictions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, which disproportionately affects millions of individuals who are forced to travel long distances to access abortion services. She also discussed how these laws target healthcare providers by imposing harsh penalties and even loss of professional licenses. Furthermore, Françoise condemned the use of bounty hunter provisions in some states, which encourages citizens to report suspected abortion providers with financial rewards, noting that such laws not only undermine reproductive rights but also erode societal cohesion through incentivized surveillance and interference with privacy rights.

Regarding abortion pill access, Dr. Geneviève Bois pointed out that abortion pills are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the United States post-Dobbs, where they account for 55% of abortions. Telemedicine consultations and discreet delivery options have also helped circumvent restrictive measures and offer a lifeline to individuals facing barriers to in-person care. Dr. Bois added that some states, like New York, have enacted legislation to protect abortion rights and safeguard healthcare providers within the state and those providing telemedicine services from other locations.

Turning to Canada, Professor Louise Langevin emphasized that there are currently no laws criminalizing abortion, thanks to several decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada, which established reproductive autonomy as a protected right, notably Tremblay v. Daigle, [1989] 2 SCR 530. Although legislative intervention is theoretically possible, Professor Langevin was adamant that the absence of such laws is what has actually safeguarded abortion rights in Canada, thus reinforcing the idea that “any abortion law is a bad law.”

The recent introduction of Bill C-64, An Act respecting pharmacare, into Parliament by the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health, is a major step forward in improving access to contraception in Canada. The bill aims to provide universal coverage for various contraceptive and diabetes medications to help address cost barriers that disproportionately affect women and gender-diverse individuals. While we wholeheartedly welcome and celebrate this monumental development, the situation in the United States serves as a stark reminder that vigilance remains essential to safeguarding women’s rights.

Angela Ogang is a bilingual lawyer and a member of the Ontario Bar and Kenyan Bar.