Abortion Is So Legal In Canada It’s Retroactive

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D.O.A: Canadian


There are no legal restrictions on abortion in Canada. In most provinces it’s fully covered (free) under their health plans, so in some way The State is involved, but those governments literally have no Criminal Laws regarding abortions since 1988. Which makes Canada pretty unique.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether abortion is right or wrong, just or unjust, or against your religion of choice (pun). There were no stirring debates on the humanity of a fetus, or on the sanctity of a woman’s body in any Canadian legislature. It’s just that since the Supreme Court struck down the laws limiting abortion back in 1988 no Canadian politician or political party has ever dared to introduce a law restricting abortion. Well, one did, but that disappeared pretty quick. So now it’s almost like “Logan’s Run” around here — abortion is so legal it’s pretty much retroactive, so if you piss off your mom before you’re sixteen… zzzzaap. You never piss off your mother in Canada.

It wasn’t always like this. Abortion was banned in Canada in 1869, and it wasn’t until 100-years later when abortions for women whose health was in danger were made legal, but only if a three-doctor hospital committee agreed that her life was in danger. In all other cases abortion remained in the Criminal Code of Canada. The 1969 “Get The State Out Of The Bedroom” law also legalized homosexuality and contraception.

So “legal” hardly meant accessible. To receive access to an abortion a woman had to find a family doctor willing give her the pamphlets and who would then refer her to a specialist. The abortion then had to be approved by a Therapeutic Abortion Committee which had usually been taken over — at least partially — by Pro-life groups.

In 1988 the Canadian Supreme Court declared the entire abortion law to be unconstitutional, based on a woman’s right to security of the person, which is guaranteed under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). “Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations… the [current] law asserts that the woman’s capacity to reproduce is to be subject, not to her own control, but to that of the state.”

The Supreme Court, much to the annoyance of Parliament, told the Canadian Government to come up with a new law. So in 1989 a Bill was passed by Parliament which threatened doctors with a two-year jail term if they approved an abortion when the woman’s health was not in danger. It was defeated in the Senate by a tie vote. The only attempt to create a law limiting abortions in Canada since then was introduced in 2006 by Liberal MP Paul Steckle. His Bill would have made abortion after the twentieth week of pregnancy a criminal act. It disappeared pretty freaking quick, all of which means Canada has had no abortion law whatsoever since 1988.

Of the four Federal political parties, the Bloq Quebecois and New Democratic Party are against any regulations on abortion. Officially both the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada have no official positions. Aboot 60 percent of the Liberals, and aboot 40 percent of the Conservatives like it just fine the way it is.

The Canadian public roughly breaks in thirds on abortion. A third want it just the way it is, a third want abortion stopped and a third want some limits. In 2005 an Environics poll asked “at what point in human development should the law protect human life,” 30% of respondents said “From conception on,” 19% said “After three months of pregnancy,” 11% said “After six months of pregnancy,” and 33% said “From the point of birth.” In April 2006 a Leger poll found 34% of respondents felt abortion to be “immoral.”

So Canada will never have an abortion law as long as our political parties risk losing such a significant number of votes. Or, the other way, we’ll never have an abortion law in Canada as long as the voters don’t make abortion a top priority. Which we haven’t since Canada stopped having an abortion law. I think there’s a Catch-22 in there somewhere.

One last thing… in 1989 the Supreme Court ruled that “the father” had no rights to prevent “the mother” from having an abortion. In Tremblay v. Daigle, Chantale Daigle’s ex-boyfriend had obtained a restraining order to prevent her from having an abortion. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that only the woman/mother/female had the right to choose; the father had no legal rights in the termination of a pregnancy (or her decision to give birth). During the trial Daigle went to the United States for an abortion. I’m pretty sure there’s some irony in there. There are over 100,000 abortions performed in Canada every year.

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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in more than fifty places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
This entry was posted in Canada, Canadian Politics, Civil Rights, Conservative Party of Canada, CSN:AFU Aboot Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, NDP of Canada, Punk, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Abortion Is So Legal In Canada It’s Retroactive

  1. Queen Minx says:

    Abortion: it’s an ugly word isn’t it … at least in this context … only Health Services don’t call it abortion … it’s a Termination … same difference.
    Thing is, I’m Pro-Abortion and I’m Pro-Life. As soon as a woman discovers she’s pregnant, that life growing inside her is her responsibility … it’s her body that grows the child for 9 months. It’s her life that changes from that second … no more smoking, no more alcohol, take vitamins, watch what you eat, stop being anything other than a Mum-to-be. It’s a life-changing experience from that moment onwards.
    But, there’s a bigger responsibility than giving up the fags and the booze, it’s what happens afterwards … for the rest of the woman’s life … she’s a Mother, a Parent, and that child’s well-being is her responsibility.
    Being Pro-Life means accepting responsibility for the Life you are bringing into this world. Being Pro-Abortion is accepting that for whatever reasons, a woman doesn’t want to bring a child into this world.
    It must be a terrible acknowledgement for a man who has Fathered a child, not to be able to have a choice on whether ‘He’ wants to be a Parent. I can completely understand why a man wants to prevent a woman from having an abortion … it’s his child too, right? He hasn’t got a say in whether he brings a child into this world … he’s there at the moment of conception … and in an ideal world he’s there at the birth and for evermore. But to not be able to have a choice?
    What about the Fathers who don’t want to be Fathers? What about the millions of women who have babies and the Father doesn’t want to be just that?
    Myself included. My daughter’s Father didn’t have a say in whether he wanted to be a Parent. I made that decision myself. I have never forced him to be a part of my daughter’s life, I never will. But, by continuting with my pregnancy, and by giving birth to my daugher, I have forced him to be a Father, regardless of whether he wanted to be in the first place, and regardless of whether he becomes a Parent.
    Mother/Father are just the beginnings, it’s the Parenting that becomes the responsibility.
    The consequences of my actions lie with my daughter, with her feelings of ‘not being wanted’ by him. That’s my responsibility too. What about men who want to force women to have abortions because they don’t want to be Fathers?
    Again, their choices have been taken away from them, and from that moment onwards they are forced to contribute to the child’s upbringing, financially, if not in person or emotionally. I don’t think this is right, either.
    For me, I have never asked my daughter’s Father for any contribution, financially or emotionally, that wouldn’t be fair, to him. I wanted to be a Parent, he didn’t. Yet, he had no choice, I took that away from him.
    The man is then deemed ‘irresponsible’ for not accepting his ‘responsibility’, but his ‘choice’ of being a Father was never offered. He didn’t have a ‘choice’.
    There are no ‘easy’ solutions … women have babies and that’s that. Until Men can physically carry a child for 9 months and then give birth, I don’t see how this is going to change.
    I would have fought for the ‘right’ to be a ‘Mother/Parent’, just as ardently as Erinn’s ‘Father’ may have fought for his ‘right’ not to be a ‘Father/Parent’.
    Personally, and it’s easy for me to say this now, because I have my daughter, but I think that men should be given more choices. And if that choice means that from the beginning, he emphatically states ‘I do not want to be a Parent/Father to the child’ then that should be respected, and he shouldn’t be then labelled with ‘absent Father’, with all the negativity that the label entails.
    They were never given a ‘choice’. So … Pro-Choice … for whom?

  2. I’ve always been quite pleased by our more liberal stance on abortion. I am “Pro-Choice” but I guess that makes me de facto pro-abortion. I have no interest in becoming a mother. Never have; never will. In fact, sleeping with men is really not my choice but knowing that should anything have ever happened in the past–had I needed to terminate a pregnancy and the option was accessible–is a good thing.

  3. Gabriel says:

    I’m not sure we have a stance in this country one way or the other. Canada isn’t “pro-choice” or “pro-life” so much as “let’s just not talk aboot it and eventually we’ll stop thinking aboot it”. The problem with having an official “Non-Stance Stance” is that if something weird and/or horrible ever happens (like a spike in the deaths of the women/mothers*) the more likely a knee-jerk could tip things the other way, where abortion becomes hyper-regulated. There have been several cases in Britain, Singapore and France of women having “late-term” abortions because their fetus has something as minor as a harelip… has this happened in Canada? Probably, but because abortion is the one thing we talk aboot less here than suicide, we’ll never know.

    *I can’t find any stats for medical irregularities or patient deaths stemming from abortion procedures in Canada… just so we’re clear, though, “anyone [in Canada] over the age of 12 years of age can legally have an abortion in a clinic setting without parental consent.” — Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic, Toronto.

  4. Nita says:

    Its that figure that struck me. 10o,000 a year. Far too much I think.
    Makes one wonder why so many people don’t want children.

    • Heather says:

      a whole generation has been aborted in Canada so say good bye to pensions as there is a lost generation unable to support the generation that aborted them
      second, no one ever seems to mention the pre-born babies rights – oh yeah apparently they don’t have any – only those that decide to have sexual relations and, oops, get pregnant, can choose to abort the pre born child – what has society turned into?

      • Gabriel says:

        Hello Heather, thanks for commenting. To your first point, if you want to make an economic argument against abortion, there’s also the theory that legalizing abortion was the cause of significant drops in crime rates across the United States and Canada. You should read Freakonomics, or the original paper, called “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime” by Steven Levitt.

        [from Wiki] The authors argue that states that had abortion legalized earlier and more widespread should have the earliest reductions in crime. Donohue and Levitt’s study indicates that this indeed has happened: Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Oregon and Washington experienced steeper drops in crime, and had legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade. Further, states with a high abortion rate have experienced a greater reduction in crime, when corrected for factors like average income. Finally, studies in Canada and Australia purport to have established a correlation between legalized abortion and overall crime reduction.”

        To your second point… no, a fetus does not have rights under Canadian laws. For one thing, giving a fetus constitutional rights (to vote?) would mean taking some rights away from the woman, and basically turn pregnant women into incubators.

        Society is in much better shape today than it was thirty, forty or fifty years ago… so there’s that as well.

    • Hope says:

      Makes me wonder why so many are so irresponsible. Why do those babies have to be punished for their parents bad choices? It’s gross.

  5. Gabriel says:

    I was just coming over to ask you what you thought of this “legal by virtue of not being illegal” situation we have here. The lack of an actual law limiting abortions here it makes it legal for Canadians to have an abortion based on the sex of the child. I’m fascinated to know how people in India will react to the changing/evolving abortion laws there… from what I’ve been able to see women represent the fastest growing segment of the Indian workforce, and that money/salary is giving them more control over their lives so… does/will this extend to their bodies as well?

  6. Kimberly says:

    Queen Minx is my new hero. We’re nearly identical in our stances.

    I’m a part of the third that is quite happy with our abortion law–or lack thereof–as is. The slippery slope of regulation is that once you start, it’s so easy to give the anti-choice lobby a toehold to exploit.

    Perhaps I’m naive, but I don’t think there are many doctors here willing to perform an 8th month abortion outside of extreme medical necessity. And really, once a fetus has been carried that long, I don’t think a mother would really just careless decide one day that she had changed her mind and wanted to “get rid of it” instead of carrying to term.

  7. Gabriel says:

    I’m not sure the point should be whether someone is for or against abortions. The lack of a law is a major problem that I’m surprised doctors aren’t speaking up aboot. What’s happening now is the laws are basically made up in the clinics. If the people who own and operate the clinics agree that so-called “late term” abortions are ethical, then “whammo” abortions into the eighth month of pregnancy are legal in that office (from what I can find no clinics currently have this policy) . If a clinic decides that anything past the 12th week is off limits then “presto” that’s the law in that office. Not in the country, province or city but in that specific office. A tiny group of unelected people get to create a law to suit their own ethical and moral beliefs.

    I’m not sure why Canada would be any different than Britain or France when it comes to “late term” abortions, or the bizarrre reasoning behind a tiny number of them. I’m really trying to find some solid stats regarding abortions in this country, but I’m starting to get the impression that things like age of the patient, which month of pregnancy they’re in and what kind of complications there have been (how many people have been rejected, why have they been rejected, etc.) are not being collected outside of the clinic without there being a legal reason to do so. If they’re being collected I’d love to hear aboot them.

    The other point in this that I should have made, is a lot of these clinics are privately run, which puts them even further outside the public domain. And I find it odd that Canadians will put up with private abortion clinics, but mention a private MRI Lab opening in Ontario and we go freaking nuts.

  8. Actually, you raise a good point about us not really having a stance. I guess I’ve been lulled into the political hyperbole and ballyhoo (or lack thereof?) We’re rather known for our boring politics? But to kind of make the point…it’s a weird slippery slope how they kind of “getcha” and make you *think* that we actually have a position on something.

    Perhaps no one is willing to enter into the arena because we are so wimpy? I mean, it really would be a hotbed. But I think that’s kind of good because I really wouldn’t want to be swinging too far to the Right (aka Wrong) on things. We’re already getting dangerously close to the US’s Conservative stance on some issues. Thank your deity of choice we got legalized gay marriage passed before Harper (aka Bush Lite) took control.

    Sorry to any Bush fans in the audience but just my opinion.

  9. Gabriel says:

    I know what you mean aboot people thinking Canadian politics is boring, but I’ve always found it to be the opposite. Personally I find Canada to be one of the most dynamic countries around… two federal elections in the past three years, the recent Quebec election result, two Liberal leadership races in aboot 20 months, the rebirth of a federal alternative in the Conservative Party, a 0.9% margin of victory in a referendum on Quebec sovereignty, the AdScam arrests, a Prime Minister who fired the head of the Bank of Canada because he couldn’t get a loan for a friend, Charlottetown, Meech Lake, Air India, NAFTA, the current RCMP scandals, Afghanistan… to be honest gay marriage was one of the least controversial things to happen in this country in a long time. Harper knew it was a foregone conclusion, he scheduled the “debate” the way he did because he knew some of the people who voted for him wanted it to be an issue (as was their right). The people who think Harper’s personal views would have made a difference on the issue should understand that PM’s Chretien and Martin were both against gay marriage and abortion on religious grounds as well. So were/are a significant number of Liberal MP’s, a few of the BQ and one NDP MP.

    No political party in Canada wants to swing anywhere close to the United States in terms of “Right” and “Left”. I know people think Harper and the Conservatives are idealogues joined at the hip with Carl Rove and GWB, but it’s just not the case. In terms of policy our Conservative Party is closer to the British Labour Party. Our politicians don’t stamp on GWB dolls anymore, and we’ve managed to go four or five media cycles without calling their leaders “bastards”, but don’t mistake civility for obedience. Last time I checked we’ve still got free Health Care, we still supply Cuba with free stuff, no one’s going to jail over an ounce of pot and we still play three-down football. Besides, even the majority of Canada’s “religious right” are actually lefties. It was the Canadian Anglican Church which started that whole “Gay Priests” thing. And Anglicans are normally polite Catholics.

    As for the abortion thing… we need a law. We can’t have over 100,000 medical procedures happening every year in this country with no criminal laws protecting the patients.

  10. Nita says:

    There are no legal restrictions on abortions here either. The only restrictions are on conducting abortions after sex determination tests. Thats on paper. In reality, you find that people who go for abortions do so when they find out the sex of the child.

  11. Gabriel says:

    Hi Nita. I found this a little earlier, I meant to update my question to you with it… it’s the “[Indian] Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act” which was passed in 1971 and was updated in 2002.

    The Act was intended

    “to grant [Indian] women freedom from unwanted pregnancies, especially when there was social censure or medical risk involved. Apart from these benefits, it also ensured that abortion services became easily accessible. However, even though the law made abortion legal, not many people have taken advantage of the legally available facilities for the termination of pregnancy.

    “The aim of the Act is to allow for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners. If a pregnancy is terminated by someone who is not a registered medical practitioner, it would constitute an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code.

    “Sadly, even though the Indian law is one of the most liberal of its kind in the world, as far as the general trend goes, abortion is used as a method of family planning, more than anything else.”

    According to this law abortions in India are a criminal act in several instances. But I don’t know how often this law is enforced, and I can’t find any news articles aboot Indian women or abortion practitioners being charged/convicted/sentanced over any abortion issues… actually the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act reads almost exactly like the law (at least in spirit) which the Canadian Senate blocked back in 1989 which left Canada with no abortion law.

    There are rules in some Canadian provinces aboot preventing parents from finding out the sex of their fetus/child, going so far as to ban certain imaging technology from being used. There was a story last summer regarding new 3D imaging techniques which, I believe, are banned in New Brunswick. They showed parents going across to an American state, probably Maine, and paying to have the procedure done in a private imaging clinic.

    The ban was made so that women would not have the option of aborting their fetus based on its sex, but so far it’s been inaffective in keeping women — if they have the money — from finding out. Again, I don’t have the figures available but the potential for a woman having an abortion in this country based solely on the sex of the fetus is there. It is legal.

    Sorry again for not updating my question before you came back around. It was pure laziness on my part. I left the pertinent web sites linked back in my response…

  12. Okay, I’m a little confused and most obviously at the risk of embarrassing myself here. Maybe you know more than me…I’m sure you do but I find our numerous and almost redundant elections crazy. The general populace just doesn’t have either the interest or the patience for the polls?

    Now for gay marriage, yes, Harper had to do the “sham” thing to keep his party and constituents “at peace,” if you will but the fact that it went to the Supreme Court and was ruled was enough. It was settled. It was done by the previous government and I’m sorry but beyond that (pardon me) it’s a Human Rights issue.

    Sorry folks, we’re straying away from the post topic of abortion.

    I disagree with you on the Liberal and NDP stance on the issue…being gay myself I looked at the–well, at least the people in my riding and city and even province(?) and the PMs have to be representative of that? I don’t know about the Bloc so much as I don’t really follow them but the NDP! Come on! They are so pro-gay it’s surprising they don’t have a rainbow flags on their bloody orange placards!

    And can you explain what you mean about “criminal law” protecting patients re: abortion? Are you talking about botched abortions or…? Sorry… I hope you don’t think me completely inept and daft.

    At the risk of embarrassing myself more I like you and admire you (and am somewhat intimidated by you) and well…I still comment on your blog no matter what the fallout.

    Okay! Now I’ve embarrassed myself to everyone who reads this comment!

  13. Gabriel says:

    Des McGrath ran for the NDP in the 2004 election… he’s a retired Catholic (anti-abortion) priest who eventually said he was willing to vote with the NDP and against any potential new pro-abortion laws. He lost, for some reason I thought he made it through. During the 2004 election “The Pro-Choice Action Network” released a poll showing 86% of Conservative incumbents (returnees) and 12% of Liberal incumbents are anti-abortion or pro-limitations on abortions. But that was during an election. During the initial 2005 “Gay Marriage Debate” aboot thirty Liberal MP’s voted against Bill C-38, there’s no reason to believe there would be a different outcome if the “debate” had been aboot abortion. Seventeen Liberals even voted against gay marriage during the Conservative “Keeping The Promise Vote” in 2006. In both cases the NDP voted on Party Lines.

    Think of it this way… the Supreme Court decides that the criminal laws restricting highway speeds are unconstitutional, so the signs come down and are replaced by vague guidelines that change depending on what city you’re in, whether you’re in a city, the jurisdictions are confusing and not published and, ultimately, you can go whatever speed you want to if you have the money to afford a “pass”. Right now the only thing separating a woman having an abortion in Canada during her 32nd week of pregnancy because she doesn’t like the childs sex is her and the medical practitioner’s moral codes. Because there has been no guidance from the federal government — who the Supreme Court decided was the only Canadian government who could set and enforce abortion laws — the Provinces have set their own “guidelines”. This means Saskatchewan and PEI, along with the Territories, have no abortion clinics and very few hospitals willing to perform abortions. So only women able to travel to another region have access to abortions.

    Without having those criminal laws in place saying “this is legal” or — better yet — “this is what’s illegal” it is actually more likely access will continue to erode, because no one is telling the Provinces “this is what you must do”. It’s actually at the point in Ontario where the Government’s Health website which is meant to attract medical practitioners to Ontario, doesn’t mention abortion or the medical practitioners role in abortion. The belief that somehow making “late-term” abortions something to be concerned aboot (and I’m not suggesting that “criminal laws” mean “hard time sentances”), ultimately leading to a slippery slope back to pre-1989 just doesn’t make sense. Laws change, and if we don’t like them, they change again. Politicians can only screw things up here for so long, sooner or later we get to vote again.

    What I’m saying (and again, I haven’t found the numbers concerning the safety of the abortion system) is having criminal laws is a safeguard, they don’t have to be an obstruction. Making sure that unsafe abortions are not performed, making sure that doctors are held accountable when they screw up… having pamphlets available in the waiting room is not making sure the patient is safe.

    Plus there’s always this tragic story… in 1996 a pregnant Ottawa woman … tried to kill herself or her foetus (sic) by discharging a pellet gun into her vagina. The pellet lodged into the foetus’ head and the baby was born alive a few days later. Emergency surgery saved it’s life when an x-ray revealed the pellet in the child’s head. Attempted murder charges were brought under section 223 of the Criminal Code which says that “a person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.” The same section defines a “human being … when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother whether or not it has completely breathed, it has an independent circulation or the navel string is severed.” Defence lawyers [successfully argued] that this was merely a failed abortion which … is no longer a crime in Canada.”

    Criminal laws can also afford the fetus some legal protections without taking away a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

    PatAnon… there’s never a reason to be embarrassed for asking questions or having an opinion. I’ve never attacked anyone on this site and I certainly wouldn’t start with you. Plus, I’ve written this response while wearing ripped slippers, my boxer shorts and a 1988 Pink Floyd Tour shirt and there are cookie crumbs on my desk from yesterday last week. There’s no reason to feel intimidated.

  14. Gabriel says:

    Sorry, just one more point I forgot to make… “Defence lawyers [successfully argued] that this was merely a failed abortion which … is no longer a crime in Canada.” (please see bolded excerpt above for the rest)

    To win this case the defence lawyers proved to the court the woman — who put the pellet gun into her vagina and shot her fetus — was legally performing an abortion. Which meant that she was qualified, under Canadian law, to perform an abortion — with a pellet gun — when the fetus was days away from a natural birth.

  15. Nita says:

    sorry i too didn’t check in my comments box until today and so missed this question.
    actually in india in villages as there is a shortage of doctors a lot of people go to quacks and yes, there have been drives to contain the quacks. there are many instances of arrest and in fact recently there was a drive to arrest these quacks. its not just abortions, its everything.
    overall however abortions are highly encouraged here as population control is a big problem. Abortion is mostly used my married women to stop births, as many men here do not like to use condoms. Women also do not take the pill, and awareness is abysmal. as for actually getting something permanant done like
    an operation, both men and women here fear it. So this results in unwanted pregnancies.
    However there are religious differences. Christians (in India they are catholics) and Muslims generally are against abortion and the community (church, ulema) disapproves of it strongly.
    There are no such restrictions for Hindus, except for a preference for a son.

  16. Pingback: Stuff I Found: Just one more difference between Canada and the United States « Vankleek Hill Photos

  17. Hooe says:

    There should be limitations to abortion. They should happen within the first trimester, unless medically necessary. 12 weeks is enough time to figure out what you want to do. Any time after that, you risk causing that innocent life pain. Abortion is not birth control Be responsible, and let’s hold ourselves and each other accountable.

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