Legal Abortion in Canada

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The road to having no federal criminal law in Canada regarding abortion is a long and detailed story. The following is a timeline of significant events.


Limited Abortion is Permitted

In 1969 the Liberal government permitted abortion under certain circumstances. Abortions were to be provided only in a hospital if a committee of doctors decided that continuing the pregnancy might endanger the mother's life or health.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms

In 1982, Canada enacted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Any law found contravening those rights could be struck down as invalid.

R. v. Morgentaler

In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional. The law was found to violate Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it infringed upon a woman's right to "life, liberty and security of person."

Chief Justice Brian Dickson wrote: "Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus a violation of her security of the person."

Canada became one of a small number of countries without a law restricting abortion. Abortion was now treated like any other medical procedure and was governed by provincial and medical regulations.

Tremblay v. Daigle

In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that a father has no legal right to veto a woman's abortion decision. The ruling came after the boyfriend of Chantal Daigle obtained a court injunction preventing her from getting an abortion. By the time the case was settled, Daigle had secretly obtained an abortion in the U.S.

Bill C-43

In 1990, the federal government, led by Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney, introduced Bill C-43, which would sentence doctors to two years in jail for providing abortions where a woman's health was not at risk. The bill was passed by the House of Commons, but died in the Senate after a tie vote.

Rulings Force Provinces to Allow Private Abortion

In 1995, provincial and federal rulings forced Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to allow private abortion clinics. Despite that, access to abortions outside hospitals continued to be inconsistent across the country. Some provinces and territories decided to cover the cost of abortions provided in clinics outside hospitals. Others didn't, meaning that women who couldn't get into a hospital for an abortion had to pay the costs of a clinic abortion out of their own pockets.

2007 - 2012
Continued Attempts to Pass Legislation

In 2007, Ken Epp introduced a bill (C-484) to protect the fetuses from third party attacks. The bill was entitled; Unborn Victims of Crime Act. This Bill passed second reading with a vote of 147-132 but died on the order paper in September 2008 when the election was called. Legal analysis of this Bill was it was an attempt to re-open the abortion debate.

On April 16, 2008 Maurice Vellacott (MP Conservative) introduced Bill C-537 to prevent the coercion of medical personnel. It was a conscience clause protection bill similar to his previous bills C-246, C-422, C-207 and C-461.

On April 16, 2010 Rod Bruinooge (MP Conservative) introduced C-510, a bill to ban coerced abortion.

While the names of these bills appear to be benign or for the protection of women, any legal analysis we have seen, have argued that they are back door attempts to re-open the abortion debate. While the Prime Minister has spoken out that he has no intent to re-open the abortion question, there has been several attempts from the back benches to bring forth a discussion and none of the votes have been whipped. We do see a trend of bills being introduced regarding abortion. We thought the issue was dealt with the Morgentaler decision and abortion should be treated as a health care issue between a woman and her provider.

April 26, 2012 Stephen Woodworth (MP Conservative) introduces Motion 312 calling for a House of Commons Committee to determine when human life begins. Defeated 203-91 September 26, 2012.

September 26, 2012 Mark Warawa tabled a motion calling on the House of Commons to condemn "discrimination against females occurring through sex-selection pregnancy termination". It will have its first hour of debate in March 2013 and then the second hour of debate in April 2013 when it will come up for a vote.