June 27, 2022
O’Brien Institute for Public Health public statement on the United States Supreme Court ruling to remove the constitutional right to abortion
The O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary is committed to health equity, including reproductive health and the right to safe abortion care, as a critical public health issue. The O’Brien Institute includes over 1000 members working in public health with a common vision of advancing public health through research excellence.
Each year, millions of people around the world are exposed to the health risks of unintended pregnancy. This burden falls disproportionally on society’s most vulnerable. The United States Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, introduces new structural barriers to reproductive health and will undoubtedly result in avoidable injury and mortality. Not only does pregnancy carry considerable health risks, but it is also the period of time when women are most vulnerable to domestic violence and homicide.
In response to this threat, a global dialogue about reproductive rights and women’s health has launched. Women’s health is public health. Women’s rights are human rights. While women will bear the brunt of this decision, the effects of these policies are far reaching. Families and children will be negatively affected, as will men who find their lives derailed by unintended fatherhood.
While abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988, Canadians continue to experience significant geographic and socio-economic disparities in their ability to access contraception and reproductive and abortion care across the country. Canada must not only be vigilant about protecting the status of abortion, but also work to improve access to reproductive care. This will require additional training and provision of resources for contraception and abortion by obstetricians and gynecologists, primary care providers, advanced practice nurses, and midwives. System gaps must be addressed to ensure contraception is free everywhere, to everyone including making hormonal contraceptives available over the counter and moving to ensure abortion access is equal for everyone living in Canada.
There is an opportunity to reframe the narrative on contraception from a "woman’s issue" to a “public health issue.” For too long, women have been responsible for contraception and reproduction. It is time to support men in taking greater responsibility for reproduction. The time is now for health systems to provide tools for men and women to jointly prevent unintended pregnancies.
Erin Brennand, MD, MSc, FRCSC | Sex, Gender and Women’s Health Research Unit Lead, O'Brien Institute for Public Health
Tom Stelfox, MD, PhD, FRCPC, FCAHS | Scientific Director, O'Brien Institute for Public Health
Katrina Milaney, PhD | Associate Scientific Director, O'Brien Institute for Public Health
Jamie Day, PhD | Administrative Director, O'Brien Institute for Public Health