Introduction to Abortion
Abortion is the termination of pregnancy. There are two types of abortions; miscarriage and therapeutic abortion. In miscarriage, the embryo or fetus is instantaneously removed from the uterus of the woman. On the other hand, in therapeutic abortion, the embryo is expelled or removed from the uterus of the woman with the help of some medical procedure. In return, therapeutic abortion is of two types; surgical abortion and medical abortion. Surgical abortion is also known as manual vacuum aspiration. In this procedure, cervix (opening to the uterus) is dilated, and the embryo or fetus and placental tissues are removed from the uterus of the woman. On the other hand, medical abortion refers to the use of medications rather than surgery to finish the pregnancy. This procedure can only be used in the early pregnancy, i.e. up to seven weeks from the 1st day of the last menstrual period.
Abortion in Canada
In Canada, abortions are safe and legal, and it can be done either at an abortion clinic or in a hospital in proper medical supervision. Abortions at a hospital are done under the provincial government health insurance. Surgical abortion is most commonly observed procedure for abortion in Canada. Most abortions are done in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy. However, rare cases of abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy are also present in Canada. Hospitals in Canada have different policies regarding the consent of parent for the abortion procedure. However, in Canadian law, there is no age of consent for abortions. It is considered as the obligation of clinics, hospitals, and health insurance plans to keep the names of the aborted women confidential.
Impact on women’s rights
It is considered as women’s right to get access to abortion in order to achieve proper health and health care. This right is important to remove the risk of danger to life. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada identified that this right is protected by sections 2 and 7, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These sections are on the freedom of conscience, and protection of life, liberty and security, respectively (Turner, 2005). Moreover, the control of the woman’s individual reproductive choices and obligations is considered as fundamental to ensure the equality given by section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Before that time, it can be said that one of the rights of women was not properly followed.
History of abortion in Canada
Abortion was made illegal in Canada in 1869 and contravention of this act resulted in the punishment of life imprisonment (Pal & Weaver, 2003). It was also made illegal that someone would spread the information about the birth control. In 1892, Parliament enacted the first Criminal Code to prohibit abortion and the sale, distribution, and advertisement of contraceptives and the procedure of contraception. However, a huge number of women were continuously seeking abortions at that time (CBC News, 2013).
It was reported that 4,000-6,000 Canadian women died as a result of foolishly done illegal abortions during the time from 1926 to 1947. In the mean time, Dorothea Palmer, a social worker in 1936, was arrested and punished under the Criminal Code as Palmer was offering information about birth control. It was the year of 1967, when a federal committee started giving consideration to the amendments in the Criminal Code on abortion. The committee considered the points of both sides of the issue. Dr. Henry Morgentaler also worked at that time and urged to repeal the law of abortion and give the freedom of choice regarding abortion. At that time, reportedly 35,000 to 120,000 illegal abortions were taking place per year.
In 1969, Parliament passed amendments to Section 251 of the Criminal Code, in which contraception was decriminalized, and some abortions were allowed under strict conditions (Haney, 2011). It was done in the time of the Liberal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. During that time, some hospitals were allowed to approve and provide the procedure of abortion under the Therapeutic Abortion Committees, if the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the woman. However, access to abortion was uneven and unfair throughout the country. Women had to wait for an average of 8 weeks for the procedure of abortion. Some provinces didn’t provide abortion services to many women, and abortion was largely not available to women, who were not living in some major cities. In the same time, Dr. Henry Morgentaler started defying the section 251 of the Criminal Code and performed abortions in his medical setting in Quebec. Morgentaler was raided by the police in 1970, and charged with conspiracy of performing the abortion.
In 1970, a group of independent feminists known as The Vancouver Women's Caucus organized a political opposition to Section 251. They also organized the Abortion Caravan, i.e. the first national feminist protest against the Act. During this protest, women travelled more than 3,000 miles from Vancouver to Ottawa, and increased the number of protestors. In Ottawa, the Abortion Caravan, protested for two days. In that demonstration, over 30 women chained themselves to the parliamentary gallery in the House of Commons resulting in the closure of the Parliament for the first time in the Canadian history. From 1971 to 1973, Dr. Morgentaler got ten more criminal charges. Although, a Montreal jury of 11 men and one woman pronounced Morgentaler not guilty of charges in November 1973, the Quebec Court of Appeal overthrown the decision of the jury and again founded the doctor guilty in 1974. The doctor appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but he was punished with eighteen months’ imprisonment. A jury announced again that he was not guilty, and the Quebec Court of Appeal upholds that acquittal. In the mean time in 1974, the first national group that promoted the abortion rights in Canada was founded under the name of The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL). In 1975, a petition against abortion rights having over one million signatures was delivered to Parliament. In 1976, the Federal Minister of Justice sets aside all the charges on Morgentaler and started a new trial. In the late 1976, the Quebec government removed all further charges against Morgentaler.
In 1989, the federal government also introduced Bill C-43 that was an amendment to the Criminal Code. According to that amendment, abortion is unlawful until the doctor finds the threat of pregnancy to the physical, psychological, and/or mental health of the woman. The House of Commons passed the Bill C-43 in May, 1990, and the legislation was sent to the Senate for approval. In 1991, the bill was closely hindered by the Senate in a vote, and abortion was considered as any other medical procedure. In 1994, New Brunswick prohibited abortions in clinics outside of hospitals. In the same year, Dr. Garson Romalis of Vancouver was shot for performing abortions. In 1995, provincial and federal authorities forced Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to permit the working of private abortion clinics. However, still the access to abortions was not even and fair outside hospitals throughout the country. Some provinces also decided to provide cost of abortions in clinics outside hospitals, while others didn’t give this provision and women had to pay for abortion from their own pocket.
In response to the shot on Romalis, BC introduced the Access to Abortion Services Act, which was the first legislation in Canada to stop protests outside abortion clinics, offices of doctors and their homes. In 1996, the court removes two provisions of the act as they were considered as the infringement of the freedom of expression. However, in September 1996, the BC Court of Appeal restored the Act to its full potential by saying that particular geographical limits on free speech are important to protect vulnerable groups. Several cases of shots on doctors were reported from 1995 to 2000.
Twenty first century
In June 2, 2004, Stephen Harper, a conservative leader, tried to retain the country’s abortion rules and regulations. In 2006, Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton announced to stop all kinds of such services due to workload problems. The Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital was the last hospital in New Brunswick that performed publicly funded abortions. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that is not paying for abortions in clinics, in spite of the 1988 ruling of Supreme Court of Canada (CBC News, 2013).
Ken Epp, a conservative, introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons in March 2007. According to this bill, the killing of a fetus was considered as a separate offense from the killing of the pregnant woman. The Unborn Victims of Crime Act survived a vote in the House of Commons, but finally got rejection and was not able to come into the law.
In 2008, Private Member's Bill C-484, the "Unborn Victims of Crime Act," passed the Second Reading in Parliament. The bill was endangering the abortion rights by making fetal personhood. However, after the national pro-choice campaign against the bill, the Conservative government withdrew its support for the bill that was removed after the federal election in October. It was the first anti-abortion bill that moved past the Second Reading.
Presently, Canadian women have access to funded abortion in most of the major centers. Medicare is paying for abortion in hospitals. New Brunswick is the sole province in Canada that is continuously refusing to pay for abortions in clinics. Moreover, rural women in Canada are still facing the problem of access to abortion.
In the absence of law restriction abortion, the pro-choice movement in Canada concentrates on considering abortion as a part of the provincial health care plans to confirm that it is available to all people in all areas, particularly to those who wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Dr. Henry Morgentaler is considered as the one individual, who worked on the Canadian pro-choice movement. Some organizations such as the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL), the Pro-Choice Action Network, and the Canadians for Choice, also worked a lot on the advancement of the pro-choice movement agenda in Canada. CARAL was then replaced with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, which was working on the same objectives. The Pro-Choice Action Network represents nearly six like-minded groups throughout Canada such as the Halifax Pro-Choice Action Group, and the British Columbia Coalition for Abortion Clinics (Tatalovich, 1997). Moreover, Feminist or pro-feminism organizations also worked a lot in promotion of the pro-choice approach.
The Canadian affiliate of Planned Parenthood, presently known as the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health also worked on the pro-choice approach. Although it refers pregnant women to abortion services, it is not found to be involved in legalization of abortion.
The pro-life movement concentrates on the provision that there are no legalized restrictions against abortion in Canada, and that abortions have to be funded by provincial health programs, even if the procedure of abortion is not for therapeutic purposes. Now, a medical reason is not necessary for obtaining an abortion in Canada (except some areas such as Prince Edward Island). This provision is working since the 1988 removal of abortion from the Criminal Code.
In Canada, the Alliance for Life was the first pro-life organization that was founded in 1968. It concentrated on the nonpolitical educational work, whereas the Coalition for Life concentrated on the political activities for educational work (Corporation, 2010). The Catholic Church, Life Canada, Campaign Life Coalition, Alberta Pro-life, REAL Women of Canada, Canadian Physicians for Life, Action Life (Ottawa) Inc., and Abortion in Canada are some of the other organizations or parties that are representing the pro-life movement.
In addition to these movements, some Crisis pregnancy centers are also working to provide anti-abortion counseling to pregnant women. These are working to provide alternative choices to abortion, and are not permitted to directly advise to not go through the process of abortion.
CBC News. (2013). Abortion rights: significant moments in Canadian history. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/abortion-rights-significant-moments-in-canadian-history-1.787212
Corporation, M. C. (2010). Sex and Society: Marshall Cavendish.
Haney, C. M. (2011). Nursing identity and abortion work: interrupting 50 years of professional discourse.
Pal, L. A., & Weaver, R. K. (2003). The Government Taketh Away: The Politics of Pain in the United States and Canada: Georgetown University Press.
Tatalovich, R. (1997). The Politics of Abortion in the United States and Canada: A Comparative Study: M.E. Sharpe.
Turner, F. J. (2005). Encyclopedia of Canadian Social Work: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.