No changes planned to abortion access in Alberta, government leaders say

Alberta government leaders say they have no plans to change access to abortions in the province in the wake of a leaked and potentially landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leaked decision from the U.S. Supreme Court potentially upending a landmark ruling raises questions

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Janis Irwin gathers with women in the Opposition caucus Tuesday, May 3, to condemn a leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that could overturn a 1973 decision granting women there access to abortion. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Alberta government leaders say they have no plans to change access to abortions in the province in the wake of a leaked and potentially landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"There has been no change of policy with respect to that procedure and none has been proposed," Premier Jason Kenney said during question period in the legislature on Tuesday.

But under questioning by Opposition leader Rachel Notley, Kenney stopped short of committing that a United Conservative Party government would ever reduce access to abortion in the province.

"The member is trying to create controversy where there is none in Alberta," Kenney said.

On their way into the legislature Tuesday, Health Minister Jason Copping and Associate Minister for Status of Women Whitney Issik reiterated the UCP government has no intention of changing access to abortion. They also made no commitments to improve access to the service.

Issik, who described herself as pro-choice, acknowledged that people living in rural and remote areas must travel to urban centres for abortions.

"We're going to continue to provide services for women for all matters of women's health," she said.

The flurry of attention follows the news Monday of a leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the majority of justices say they are poised to overturn a landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in that country.

Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Notley and other women in the NDP caucus gathered on a staircase outside the legislature for a news conference. Notley called it a "dark, dark day" for women's rights and equality, and asked the Alberta government to publicly declare its support for women's reproductive rights.

"I know that many Albertans are concerned over this news and what it will mean for people in this province," she said.

Alberta Health Services lists abortions as available in Edmonton and Calgary. NDP MLA and former health minister Sarah Hoffman said some physicians may perform abortions in other locations, but don't advertise it for fear of harassment or attack.

Cabinet ministers downplayed the ramifications of a potential U.S Supreme Court decision in Canada, saying the decision of a foreign court has no bearing on Canadian law.

Last year, the Pro-Life Alberta Political Association outfundraised all political parties in the province except for the NDP and UCP. The anti-abortion party wants to make abortion an election issue.

Amendment to allow worker leave for pregnancy loss

The Opposition also repeated calls for changes to a government bill that would guarantee workers up to three days of unpaid job protected leave for a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Bill 17 would amend labour legislation to widen the leave available to workers dealing with the death of a family member.

Advocates who help people who have experienced pregnancy loss want the definition expanded to include workers who have an abortion or terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons.

During question period, Labour and Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu said an amendment was coming to the bill, but did not elaborate.

Earlier, Madu told reporters there is nothing in the bill that would require an employee to tell their employer how they lost a baby.

"If there's something that needs to be tweaked in that particular bill that different types of loss of pregnancies would be covered in the bill, I am open to that," Madu said.

Abortions are legal medical procedures in Canada, and are covered by Alberta's public health-care insurance plan.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports there were more than 74,000 surgical abortions in Canada in 2020, almost 12,000 of which happened in Alberta. The numbers have been dropping since about 2013.

In 2017, the then-NDP government in Alberta opted to cover the cost of Mifegymiso, an abortion pill that's approved for use in Canada during the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Many medical abortions are not counted in national statistics.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.