Overturning Roe

Imagine the outcry if it was the other way arouund. Imagine the reaction if the American president and vice president had referred to a Supreme Court of Canada decision in such a fashion,

Canada’s government would have made a formal protest. It would have been a major diplomatic incident. 

Feelings run high on all sides of the abortion debate. Still, you have to question the wisdom of Justin Trudeau calling the overturning of Roe v Wade “horrific.” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland chimed in, saying she was “shocked and horrified.”

Friday’s US Supreme Court decision means that Canada and the US now have exactly the same federal abortion laws: none. The Canadian government probably doesn’t realize that.

The difference though is that in the US that won’t last long. Restrictions on abortion at the state level are on the way (in fact here already in some places). In Canada there will be no change to the status quo.

Our cultures are different. Abortion is a tool for political fundraising in Canada, but there is no appetite, even among conservative parties, to re-open the contentious debate. 

It seems to me that, from the beginning. Roe was going to eventually be overturned. In some ways it is surprising that it took almost 50 years. The original case was, in many ways, decided more on politics than law. And politics doesn’t last.

Roe herself, in real life a woman named Norma McCorvey, spent most of her life as a symbol for both the pro-choice and pro-life segments of American society, It seems to me that a conflicted nation reflected teh conflicted individual who was the poster child for aborrtion rights and then a leading symbol of the pro-life movement.

Friday’s US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe reminds me of something I have said here before: we have no rights, we only think we do. What we have is a human construct that suits those in power.

Our “rights” are not inalienable (to borrow and American word) but rather have been given to us by government. And what one government gives, another can take away. Or what one court grants, another can remove.

Which has very disturbing implications when you think about it. What protections do we really have?

Fifty years from now, maybe less, society will have changed once more. There will be another abortion-related case before the US Supreme Court. The justices then may decide that abortion is a constitutional right.

It isn’t a right today, it was last week, it may be again in the future. That is what rights are all about.

In Canada, no matter how oftenpoliticans prattle on about it, there really is no constitutional right to abortion. Since there are no plans by any major political parties to change the status quo, it doesn’t matter whether it is a “right” or not.

(For those not familiar with Canadian law, in 1988 the Supreme Court struck down the Crinimal Code section dealing with abortion as unconstitutional and invited Parliament to make a new abortion law. The decision was clear that Parliament has the authority to regulate, and possibly even ban abortion. That Parliament has declined to act does not make abortion a constitutional right.)

I’m wondering if there will be an official US government response to Canadian officials making comments on what is really an internal US matter. My guess is probably not – I get the impression President Biden agreed with Prime Minister Trudeau.

What is clear to me is that we haven’t heard the last of this issue, on both sides of the border. This court decision settles nothing. It just shifts the battlefront in a never-ending war.

One in which there are really no winners, no matter which side you are on.



  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – our “rights” are socially determined, and as such will reflect the people with the power to codify those rights. Sometimes I will agree with those outcomes, sometimes I won’t. Without any fixed point outside of ourselves, we should not be surprised that these laws or rights will continue to change: “progressive” and “regressive” are all just arbitrary positions in a society that has adopted a situational (relativistic) approach to ethics.

    1. Well put. Remembering that keeps my blood pressure from rising.

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