Canada currently has no law regarding abortion; it is treated like other medical procedures and regulated through provincial/territorial and professional bodies.
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 woman’s life or health.
The Vancouver Women’s Caucus organized a caravan to travel from Vancouver to Ottawa as a national feminist protest to liberalize the abortion law.
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 unconstitutional.
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/territorial 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.
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. No new bill has been introduced.
Rulings Force Provinces to Allow Private Abortion Clinics
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.
2006 - 2015
Continued Attempts to Pass Anti-Choice Legislation
During this period there were several private members’ bills introduced in the House of Commons such as the Unborn Victims of Crime Act and The Protection of Pregnant Women and their Preborn Children Act. 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.
New Brunswick released changes regarding abortion
Since abortion was decriminalized in 1988, New Brunswick had the strictest regulations relating to abortion access. In 2014 New Brunswick released changes to Regulation 84-20, which removed the requirement that “an abortion must be performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynecology” and that “two medical practitioners certify in writing that the abortion is medically required”. The new regulation stated, “an abortion will be covered if it is performed in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction in which the hospital facility is located”.
Medical abortion with mifepristone
Mifepristone, one of the medications used for medication abortion, is approved by Health Canada. The product will be sold in Canada as Mifegymiso®.
Expanded and safer access to abortion
The Government of PEI announces a Women’s Wellness Centre will be established at Prince County Hospital, Summerside and will include both surgical and medical abortions. It becomes operational in early 2017.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Access to Abortion Services Act passed. This act requires protesters to maintain a legally defined distance from abortion clinics.
The National Assembly of Québec passed Bill 92. This is a larger bill and sections 75,76 and 79 are related to the “bubble” or access zone. A portion of the act requires protesters to maintain a legally defined distance from abortion clinics.
Mifegymiso® becomes available in Canada.
Provincial governments start to cover the cost of Mifegymiso® for people covered under their respective provinces’ health insurance plans.
More expanded access
The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act comes into effect in Ontario that allows for safe access zones to be established around facilities that offer abortion services as well as the homes and offices of regulated abortion providers.
The Protecting Choice for Women accessing Health Care Act comes into effect in Alberta, which requires protesters to maintain a legally defined distance from abortion clinics.
All provinces, territories and federal health programs cover the cost of Mifegymiso® for people covered under their respective health insurance plans.
The Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Act
The Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Act comes into effect in Nova Scotia, which prohibits protest activity within a defined distance from health care centres, pharmacies and doctors’ offices providing abortion care.