Federal officials are looking into whether Canadian health workers could face legal risks for providing abortion services to Americans from states where the procedure has been outlawed.
A Health Canada spokeswoman says the government is examining the issue in response to concerns raised by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides legal support for doctors, about the potential cross-border consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to strike down the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
“We understand many Canadians, including many of our physician members, have expressed interest in facilitating access to abortions for U.S. patients,” Lisa Calder, CEO of the CMPA, wrote in a letter addressed to several cabinet ministers this week.
“At the same time, our members are expressing concern about increased risk of medico-legal difficulties.”
Calder called on federal officials to work with their provincial counterparts to protect Canadian doctors from potential legal action if U.S. states try to restrict residents from accessing abortions outside their borders.
“The CMPA is aware that some American states are contemplating legislation that would potentially allow for criminal charges and civil legal actions to be brought against health care providers who provide abortions to residents out of the state,” she wrote.
A CMPA spokeswoman declined to specify what possible rules Calder was referring to.
The association provides legal assistance and liability protection to more than 105,000 Canadians doctors, Calder wrote, but can’t assist with legal matters in other countries. The association encouraged its members who provide abortions to American patients to look into getting additional liability protection.
In an email to The Canadian Press, Health Canada spokeswoman Anna Maddison said the federal government “unequivocally” supports access to safe abortions, including to Americans, but they would have to pay for the service out of pocket.
The provinces are responsible for handling liability protection for doctors, Maddison said. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice makes decisions about assisting foreign countries with legal matters, she said.
“Any federal government actions to protect Canadian health care workers would depend on the ability of a specific U.S.A. state to prosecute extra-territorial actions,” she wrote in an email Thursday.
—Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press