History of Abortion

1969  Omnibus Bill passed by Parliament legalizing abortion by removing it from Section 251 of the Canadian Criminal Code. In the first year of the change there were 11, 152 abortions performed in Canada.

1980  Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is signed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

1988  Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Section 251 of the Criminal Code, the section regulating abortion, declaring it unconstitutional. It leaves Canada without any abortion laws, whatsoever, but in the decision suggests that parliament pass laws which could be upheld constitutionally.

1991  Supreme Court of Canada rules that a child in the process of being born is not a person. Therefore babies have no legal rights under the law, unless they are born, in totality, alive.

1999  Preven, a morning after pill, is approved by Health Canada for sale to the Canadian public

2001  A Canadian woman dies during testing of RU-486. A Health Canada official states that information on adverse reactions to drugs in clinical trials is not public information even when a death is involved.

2001  Abortion issue is declared closed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, saying that the issue had already been settled in favor of ‘choice’ for women. The number of abortions performed that year was 106,418.

2003  Bill C- 13 is passed governing assisted reproductive technologies. Stem cell research was approved, as were some forms of cloning.

2004  Abortion issue is resurrected during the election campaign. From all the political parties, only one would allow a free conscience vote, and private members’ bills on the issue.

2005/6  Abortion issue is revived during the election campaign. Dr. Morgantaler warns that if a conservative government is elected, abortion will become more difficult to attain in Canada. There are high hopes for the pro-life movement with this election.

2006   Alberta MP Leon Benoit introduces a Private Members’ Bill C-291, to make it a separate crime to injure or kill a foetus in the course of an attack on the mother. The bill is declared non-votable after Justice Minister Vic Toews declares it to be unconstitutional because it does not include an exemption for abortion.

2006  Ontario MP Paul Steckle introduces Private Members’ Bill C-338, which would amend the Criminal Code to make it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. The bill has not yet received second reading or debate in the House of Commons.

2007   Albert MP Ken Epp introduces Private Members’ Bill C-484 that would amend the Criminal Code making it a separate crime to injure or kill a foetus in the course of a violent attack on the mother.  This bill includes an exemption for women who consent to abortion. The bill passes second reading but needed Royal Assent to become law. Unfortunately, in August 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government abandons C-484, that the Abortion Rights Coalition, with the support of CUPE and the Canadian Medical Association, organized against.

***The call for new legislation to introduce C-484 came after a widely reported story in November 2005. Olivia Talbot of Edmonton, Alberta, 27 weeks’ pregnant with her son Lane Jr., was shot three times in the abdomen and twice in the head by an assailant. No charge was, or could be, laid in the death of Baby Lane.  There was no law for the child.

**Aysun Sesen, a 25 year old pregnant woman and her preborn child were killed by her husband and father of her child in October 2007 in Ontario.

* Environics poll released in October 2007 found that 72% of Canadians, of which 75% are women, would support “legislation making it a separate crime to kill or injure a foetus during an attack on the mother.”

2010   Winnipeg Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge presents Bill C-510, also known as “Roxanne’s Law” which would make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion. It was named for Roxanne Fernando, a young Winnipeg woman who was brutally beaten to death in 2007 after refusing demands from her boyfriend to have an abortion. The NDP and Bloq Quebecois vote unanimously against the bill, as does PM Harper, but 10 liberal MPs vote in favour. Bill C-510 was defeated 178 to 97.

2012 — Abortion statistics are no longer available. (Bill 122 in effect) ; No legal restrictions on abortion exist in Canada. Abortions can occur at all stages of fetal development.

September 2012   Stephen Woodworth, Conservative MP for Kitchener-Waterloo introduces Motion 312 into Parliament. Motion 312 proposes that, with the many significant advances of medicine in mind, Parliament should revisit Canada’s current 400 year old definition of “human being”. In the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 223 states that “a child becomes a human being within the meaning of the Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.” Motion 312 is defeated 203-91. Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t vote.

September 27,2012   Mark Warawa, MP for Langley, BC, introduces Motion 408 which proposes ” that the House of Commons condemn discrimination against females, occurring through sex-selection pregnancy termination.”

March 21, 2013   Motion 408 deemed non-votable by a parliamentary sub-committee.

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener Centre) introduced a private member’s bill M-476 which called on all Members of Parliament to affirm that every Canadian law must be interpreted in a manner which recognizes the equal worth and dignity of everyone who is in fact a human being.”  Unfortunately the member bill was “placed on notice”.  Woodworth called it a “dark day” for Canada when there was opposition to what would be a correction to the “savage and inhumane” condemnation of some human beings as “non-human.” Section 233(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada says that an unborn human being is not a legal “person” unless it (he or she) is completely outside and separated from the mother.

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener Centre) introduced a private member’s bill M-476 which called on all Members of Parliament to affirm that every Canadian law must be interpreted in a manner which recognizes the equal worth and dignity of everyone who is in fact a human being.”  Unfortunately the member bill was “placed on notice”.  Woodworth called it a “dark day” for Canada when there was opposition to what would be a correction to the “savage and inhumane” condemnation of some human beings as “non-human.” Section 233(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada says that an unborn human being is not a legal “person” unless it (he or she) is completely outside and separated from the mother.

Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wauskewin) filed two pro-life motions on December 6, 2013. Vellacott’s name is expected to be added to the Order of Preference when the House Commons resumes in late January 2014. These motions will hopefully promote discussion about the issue of abortion and the rights of preborn children. There is no existing law in Canada at this time which protects the rights of preborn children since the 1988 Morgentaler decision in the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the 1969 abortion law requiring therapeutic abortion committees approve an abortion request.  Unfortunately, Parliament has placed these bills “on notice” and there hasn’t been any activity taken on them.

MP-482 states that:   

A special committee of the House be appointed to (a) study the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada since 1988 related to children before birth in order to understand what the Supreme Court has said about Parliament’s responsibility with respect to resolving public policy questions in this area; (b) propose options that the House and/or the government could take to address any negative impact these decisions of the Supreme Court of  Canada may have had, directly or indirectly, on women, men and children and Canadian society;

MP-482 states that:   

A special committee of the House be appointed to (a) study the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada since 1988 related to children before birth in order to understand what the Supreme Court has said about Parliament’s responsibility with respect to resolving public policy questions in this area; (b) propose options that the House and/or the government could take to address any negative impact these decisions of the Supreme Court of  Canada may have had, directly or indirectly, on women, men and children and Canadian society;

On October 19, 2012, pro-life protester Patricia Maloney expressed concern over 491 cases of failed abortions that resulted in live-births between 2000 and 2009.[37] The finding reported to Statistics Canada did not include detailed information on how long each fetus survived after removal or how many would have been possible to save. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Canada, unlike the United States, does not have a law confirming or denying the legal rights of a baby who survives abortion. On January 23, 2013, Conservative MPs Wladyslaw LizonLeon Benoit and Maurice Vellacott wrote a letter requesting that the RCMP investigate how many of the 491 live-birth abortions meet the definition of homicide set forth in the Criminal Code.[38][39] When CBC and The Canadian Press used the phrase “investigate all abortions performed after 19 weeks gestation”, Vellacott accused the media outlets of false reporting and acknowledged that abortion in Canada is fully legal.[37] The CBC / Canadian Press story was subsequently corrected.[38]The move drew approval from Dr. Eike-Henner Kluge, former director of ethics and legal affairs for the Canadian Medical Association who said that doctors should “do they best [they] can for what is now a person in the eyes of the law.” However, Dr. Douglas Black, president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said that the situation is not one of homicide, but rather allowing babies “to pass away, depending on what the circumstances are, sometimes in their mom’s arms.”[39]

The text of Churchill Riding NDP MP Niki Ashton’s May 8,2014 pro-abortion/pro-choice  motion reads:

“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) a women’s right to choose abortion is a fundamental question of equality and human rights, both in Canada and around the world; (b) the key priorities of the government during the upcoming international summit on child and maternal health on May 28-30, 2014 should include empowering women globally, promoting gender equality and supporting reproductive health care including the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options; and (c) the government should lift its policy of refusing to fund international programs that support a full range of family planning and reproductive health care options including abortion.”

Ashton placed M-510, her private member’s motion, on notice in the House of Commons on May 8 – the date of the Toronto-based Campaign Life Coalition’s annual National March For Life in Ottawa. The coalition, headed by Jim Hughes, is the largest national organization opposed to abortion in Canada and dates back to Winnipeg and the founding of the Pro-Life Party of Canada on May 25, 1978. Hughes as been president since the early 1980s when Kathleen Toth of Alberta stepped down.

One comment on “History of Abortion

  1. Ian Edgar on said:

    Thank you for this history. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party of Canada is in no way a “pro-life” party. Some of their members may be ideologically opposed to abortion,but certainly not all. Their social and environmental policy demonstrates a deep disregard for the sanctity of life. Those of us opposed to abortion would do better to convince the members of other parties that abortion is wrong, rather than align with the Conservatives, in my opinion.

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