UN human rights body slams Canada for failure to ensure access to abortion, affordable contraception

November, 21 2016 by Action Canada
For Immediate Release

Geneva – On Friday November 18, the UN body responsible for assessing Canada’s progress on upholding women human rights (CEDAW) released its Concluding Observations to Canada. Central to Canada’s review was the issue of the accessibility, affordability, acceptability and quality of sexual and reproductive health services.

The UN Committee expressed grave concern regarding continued disparities in access to abortion in Canada. Only 1-in-6 hospitals provide abortion services with most service points (hospitals and clinics) located in large urban areas. Many provinces restrict the medically necessary service by denying coverage of abortion performed in clinics; by not requiring hospitals to perform abortions; and by placing gestational limits on abortion, thus forcing individuals to travel long distances at their own expense.

People in Canada also lack access to the World Health Organisation’s gold-standard drug for medical abortion (Mifegymiso), approved only recently under strict conditions which will severely limit its availability in Canada.

In addressing the many barriers to access abortion, the UN Committee called on Canada to ensure the exercise of conscientious objection does not impede women’s access to the service. Many provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons have yet to amend their policies in line with human rights obligations to include effective referrals and mechanisms to seek redress or remedy for violations.

The UN Committee also urged Canada to ensure contraceptives are affordable, accessible and available to all women and girls. Individuals in Canada have a narrow range of contraceptive options with varying coverage for specific methods (i.e., implants are not available in Canada), leaving them to rely on the method they can afford rather than the method of their choice.

The UN Committee further called on Canada to establish national guidelines or standards to harmonize sexuality education curricula among provinces/territories and to hold provinces/territories accountable for implementing such guidelines or standards. There are severe discrepancies in content and delivery across the country as provinces are left to develop their own implementation, monitoring and evaluation strategies. In the absence of federal standards, young people and adolescents often lack the knowledge and skills required to lead healthy sexual and reproductive lives.

Finally, on the issue of sex work, the UN Committee called on Canada to “decriminalize women engaged in prostitution.” While this is a step forward, the recommendation fails to recognize that decriminalization requires the removal of all specific laws related to sex work, including those that criminalize clients and third parties. Canada’s Minister of Justice has committed to engage in an evidence-based review of sex work laws, in consultation with sex workers. Action Canada is working with sex workers and their allied organizations to ensure policy in this area is informed by evidence, not ideology.

“Canada must take immediate action to implement these recommendations,” said Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. “The federal government is responsible to ensure that all people in Canada can fully exercise their sexual and reproductive rights. The federal government has an obligation to seriously engage provincial and territorial governments on issues like the availability and accessibility of medical and surgical abortion, access to contraceptives and standardized sexuality education that is human-rights based and comprehensive.”

Action Canada participated in the review, drawing the Committee’s attention to these important issues. In preparation for the review, Action Canada submitted a joint report to the Committee in collaboration with Sexuality Education Resources Centre Manitoba, Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon, Sexual Health Nova Scotia, Pictou County Centre for Sexual Health, SHORE Centre, and Calgary Sexual Health Centre. The report addresses comprehensive sexuality education, access abortion services (including medical abortion), conscientious objection, affordability of sexual and reproductive health services, health and safety of sex workers and the criminalization of the non-disclosure of HIV.

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Ani Colekessian
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Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
613-241-4474 ext. 7

Notes to Editors

Source: Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights