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Resource on abortion laws and policies in Nova Scotia updated in light of COVID-19

No provinces or territories have limited access to abortion services due to COVID-19

Resource on abortion laws and policies in Nova Scotia updated in light of COVID-19

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) in Halifax has updated its resource titled “Access to Choice: The Legal Framework for Abortion Access in Nova Scotia” to reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to abortion services.

While medical facilities have restricted most elective surgeries to prioritize COVID-19 response measures, none of the provinces and territories in Canada have stated that they are limiting access to abortion services. The Women’s Choice Clinic and the provincial helpline have also maintained their operations.

“Women’s choices and rights to sexual and reproductive health care should be respected irrespective of COVID-19 status, including access to contraception and safe abortion to the full extent of the law,” said guidance released by the World Health Organization.

The resource discusses the legal bases for entitlement to abortion services in Nova Scotia, such as constitutional law, federal and provincial legislation and regulations, case law and international human rights law. The resource also explains the policies and practices governing both medical abortion, where the patient takes prescribed medication in the early weeks of pregnancy, and surgical abortion, where the doctor performs the abortion even beyond the early weeks of pregnancy.

The resource notes that case law has linked numerous health care-related rights to the right to abortion access, including the right to liberty, the right to security of the person, the right to life when threat of death is apparent, the right to make informed personal health care decisions and the right of medical self-determination.

Julianne Stevenson, Jennifer Taylor and Mary Rolf originally prepared the resource in April 2019 for LEAF Halifax. Adopting an intersectional feminist approach, their legal position is that there is a right to abortion in Canada, as provided under s. 7 and s. 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as in case law interpreting those provisions.

They said that the project aims to help in holding governments accountable in safeguarding the right to abortion access, to explain recent developments and persisting gaps in prevailing abortion laws and policies and to act as a model for similar resources in other provinces and territories.

Stevenson is a lawyer clerking at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in Halifax, while Taylor is a lawyer at Stewart McKelvey, also based in Halifax.

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