In June this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, reversing the constitutional right to have an abortion.
Canadian news media was immediately fixated on the story, proving Pierre Trudeau’s remark from more than 50 years ago that living next to the United States is like “sleeping with an elephant…[we are] affected by every twitch and grunt.”
For better or for worse, Canadians cannot ignore our much bigger neighbour to the south. But the recent overturning of Roe seems to have prompted some important – and maybe overdue – conversations in Canada, including our very own investigation into the accessibility of abortion here in the Hills.
Is abortion legal here?
First, it’s important to know that the law relating to abortion in Canada is very different than in the U.S.
Juliana Saxberg is an Ontario-barred lawyer who practices in Ottawa and lives in Val-des-Monts. She explains that, while abortion has been decriminalized in Canada since 1988, there is no specific right to have an abortion here. This may surprise many people, but, according to Saxberg, this helps limit “state intrusion” and protects abortion from special interest politicians who may want to impose heavy restrictions on it.
For now, abortion is technically legal at any stage of pregnancy in Canada and is a publicly-funded medical procedure. This means that the way in which it’s provided differs from region to region across the country. Quebec has the highest number of providers of any province or territory and is the only province with at least one provider in every administrative region.
How to access an abortion if you live in the Hills
If you are a resident of Wakefield, Chelsea, Low, Cantley or anywhere in the Gatineau Hills, the closest point of access to abortion is La Clinique des Femmes de l’Outaouais on Boulevard St. Joseph in Gatineau. Regional hospitals, including the Wakefield Memorial Hospital and the Gatineau Hospital, do not offer abortions onsite; instead they refer patients up to 15 weeks along in their pregnancy to La Clinique des Femmes.
The process can begin with a simple phone call. No doctor’s referral is necessary. Patricia LaRue, the director of La Clinique, explains that the time it takes for someone to obtain an abortion will depend on how many weeks pregnant they are, but generally takes no longer than two weeks from the initial call.
It’s necessary to book two separate appointments. The first one is “preparatory,” where a nurse will take the patient’s details, explain their options, and let them know what to expect on the day of the procedure. Ideally, this appointment will happen in person, but LaRue says this meeting can also take place remotely.
The second and final appointment is when the procedure takes place. La Clinique offers both surgical and, as of 2018, medical abortions. Most patients still choose to have their pregnancy terminated surgically, but according to LaRue, a growing number are choosing to use “the abortion pill” – the medical option – instead.
Although Quebec has recently removed requirements to have an ultrasound before accessing the abortion pill, La Clinique still requires all patients to undergo an ultrasound before a surgical or medical procedure.
What costs are involved?
If you have a valid Quebec or even Ontario health card, or you are a refugee or asylum seeker, abortion in Quebec is free of charge. International students at a Canadian university can also usually be reimbursed by their school following a procedure. Otherwise, the cost at La Clinique is between $210 and $413, depending on the stage of the pregnancy.
Patients are responsible for their own transportation to and from an abortion clinic, and there is no provincial or federal provision to help cover this. Instead, LaRue says that La Clinique has a small fund available to help cover some costs.
Are there any restrictions to access?
Doctors at La Clinique will abort pregnancies between six and 16 weeks. After 16 weeks and up to 23 weeks, a patient can be referred to a clinic in either Montreal or Ottawa to complete the procedure.
La Clinique offers services in English, French and Spanish. A language interpreter can accompany a patient if necessary, and LaRue says La Clinique is willing to help locate an interpreter for a patient if required. Visitors to La Clinique do not have to worry about being hassled by protestors, which is sometimes an issue elsewhere: 16 years ago, La Clinique succeeded in getting an injunction to bar any protests within a wide perimeter of the building.
‘Choice is empowering’
According to LaRue, La Clinique conducted 1,040 abortions in 2021, but this number has been steadily declining every year since 2007, which is consistent with national trends. LaRue believes that a growing number of contraceptive options, including “long-action, reversible methods such as the implant and IUD,” are key. “The best, most effective option [of birth control] is the one that you choose,” she emphasized, adding that “having a choice…being able to decide what to do with your life, that’s empowering.”
Saxberg agrees, but said she worries that what has been happening in the U.S., which she describes as “unfathomable,” could happen here. She said she hopes Canadians will “get educated and get involved… understand the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]” and be prepared to defend the Charter rights.
If you are a resident of the Outaouais and require an abortion or want help with family planning, you can contact La Clinique des Femmes by visiting their website at