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Canada expects more Americans seeking abortions to cross the border

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

After last week's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in the U.S., abortion providers in Canada are watching the ramifications on both sides of the border. Americans seeking abortion services in Canada could face waitlists, and Canadians looking for care in the U.S. could lose access, too. Emma Jacobs reports.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Kemlin Nembhard says there's no way to plan for a post-Roe world. She's the head of the Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

KEMLIN NEMBHARD: I don't know.

JACOBS: She doesn't know how many Americans might look for services in Winnipeg, a little over an hour's drive from the U.S. border.

NEMBHARD: Are people going to be coming north, or are they going to go to another state? We don't know that.

JACOBS: The clinic already sees some patients from neighboring North Dakota. The state has a trigger ban ready to take effect once the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Its Canadian clients come from across a huge area, some driving up to 10 hours or flying in from remote northern communities. Canadian researchers and abortion advocates say they expect most Americans from states with abortion bans to travel to nearby states that allow them. But Nembhard says even relatively small numbers coming to Canada could strain capacity in some areas.

NEMBHARD: Every year we actually provide about a quarter to a third more abortions than we get funded for. So realistically, if the population of North Dakota - people that wanted to access abortions - or even if there were a whole bunch of northern states - right? - that came to us, there's no way we could meet that need.

JACOBS: The executive director of Canada's National Abortion Federation, Jill Doctoroff, says patient support groups in the U.S. are already inquiring about options for Americans to come to Canada.

JILL DOCTOROFF: I know that there's many groups, including governments, that want to help and support Americans' access.

JACOBS: At the same time, she says Canada already struggles to deliver abortion services to rural residents and later in pregnancy after 24 weeks, when serious health problems can show up. Federal Cabinet Minister Karina Gould told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Americans could seek abortions in Canada but that Canadians also need services.

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KARINA GOULD: One of the concerning factors here is that there are many Canadian women who maybe don't live near a major city in Canada but will often access these services in the United States.

JACOBS: The organization Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights runs a hotline which helps people seeking abortion referrals. Frederique Chabot says they sometimes support travel to U.S. clinics, mostly in Colorado, where abortion is expected to remain legal.

FREDERIQUE CHABOT: But there's going to be so much more pressure on those points of services from neighboring states and people needing to travel internally in the United States, which may mean that care is delayed by weeks.

JACOBS: Chabot is also concerned about the political impacts the decision could have in Canada.

CHABOT: In terms of what is considered possible for anti-choice activism.

JACOBS: Days after the draft decision leaked, Jack Fonseca of the Campaign Life Coalition spoke outside Canada's Supreme Court. He called on anti-abortion activists to support politicians and Supreme Court justices who would ban abortion in Canada.

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JACK FONSECA: We have a lot of work ahead of us, but the overturning of Roe v. Wade will help us towards that goal because it will enable Canadians to have kitchen table conversations.

JACOBS: Associate law professor Kerri Froc at the University of New Brunswick considers the legal rights to abortion fairly secure in Canada for now.

KERRI FROC: For us, the devil is more in the details and making sure that women practically have access.

JACOBS: Someday, she says, she could see new clinics opening close to the American border, which could serve Americans and expand access for Canadians.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMAN OMARI SONG, "MOVE TOO FAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs