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Pro-choice groups merge amid abortion access concerns

Three pro-choice groups in Canada are merging to try to increase their reach and influence on issues related to sexual and reproductive rights. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights says abortion services in Canada are too limited and that more education is needed on sexually transmitted infections.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights to work on sex education, rights issues, spokesman says

Three pro-choice organizations are merging to increase their effectiveness. They say the lack of abortion access in Canada remains a concern, something raised by protesters in Fredericton during the New Brunswick election. (Kathleen Pye/Twitter)

Three pro-choice groups in Canada are merging to try to increase their reach and influence on issues related to sexual and reproductive rights.

The three groups, including the organization formerly known as Planned Parenthood Canada, aim to educate people and mobilize "a diverse movement" that advances sexual and reproductive rights, according to a fact sheet prepared for the new organization, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

The groups are:

  • Canadian Federation for Sexual Health (formerly Planned Parenthood Canada).
  • Action Canada for Population and Development.
  • Canadians for Choice.

"I think that there is a need and we are filling that need … for a stronger voice nationally on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, and we feel that now is a good time for that voice to be emerging," said Sandeep Prasad, the executive director of the new organization.

"Abortion is one of the issues for sure, but it's a broad range of issues within that sexual and reproductive health and rights continuum: access to contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, just even looking at issues of sexuality," Prasad said.

One in six Canadian hospitals offer abortion services, he said, "leaving large areas of the country actually without access."

The Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick, for example, closed over the summer. It was the only private abortion clinic in the Maritimes. Abortion clinics in Maine have since seen a spike in New Brunswick patients.

Education, sexual health awareness at issue

The first projects for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights will be the Ottawa launch of the United Nations Population Fund's state of the population report next week, and a sexual and reproductive health awareness week in February. The organization is also working on tools for teachers to use for sex education and runs a toll-free support line.

Education, Prasad said, is lacking right now in a surprising demographic.

"Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis are all increasing substantially among 40- to 59-year-olds, and that's because we're not targeting enough sexual health information at that demographic," he said.

A tourist takes a photo of thousands of pink and blue flags in front of Parliament Hill as an anti-abortion group raises awareness on Oct. 2 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
"[The] time feels right for us to launch this new organization and just to speak louder on these issues, on reproductive rights, on sexual rights as well, and speaking across how these issues impact diverse communities and around the world," Prasad said.

The new organization will have eight staff members in Ottawa.

While it's been 25 years since the Supreme Court struck down the legal limits on abortion, the debate hasn't let up. Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he won't allow the debate to be reopened, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says anti-abortion Liberal MPs will have to vote along pro-choice lines.

Earlier this year, anti-abortion protesters rallied on Parliament Hill at the annual March for Life demonstration. Anti-abortion protesters also planted thousands of pink and blue flags on the lawn in front of Parliament as part of a protest in October.

Health Canada is currently considering whether to approve an application to provide mifepristone, also known as RU-486, in Canada. The drug is used to terminate pregnancies.

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