It was 25 years ago today…

28 01 2013

Today I got a shock. I’d even go so far as to say it was a nasty one.

Driving home, I heard a news piece about how today was the 25th Anniversary of a legal decision in favour of Dr. Henry Morgentaler. He’d been running an illegal abortion clinic in Toronto I believe, and had finally won his case that denying Canadian women timely access to safe abortions was a denial of their rights under the Canadian charter.

My shock though was that 25 years ago… was 1988!


That was when I bought my first house in the UK. Surely it was too recent. Surely abortion in Canada can’t have been illegal that recently. Actually, it turns out that it was actually de-criminalized in Canada in 1969, following the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, amending section 251 of the Criminal Code. However, this only allowed abortions to take place at accredited hospitals, and even then it was subject to the approval of a three-doctor committee, when the health of the mother was at stake. Unfortunately “health” was not well defined, and so it basically came down to who was on the committee as to whether a woman got access to safe and legal abortion or not.

In the UK, a similar law was passed in 1967. According to Wikipedia, it said “…a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith … that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated…

So – broadly similar, except the registered medical practitioner performing the abortion need not be in an accredited hospital, and only 2 medical practitioners were needed to decide.  The clincher seemed to be the following:

In R v British Broadcasting Corporation, ex parte ProLife Alliance, Lord Justice Laws said: There is some evidence that many doctors maintain that the continuance of a pregnancy is always more dangerous to the physical welfare of a woman than having an abortion, a state of affairs which is said to allow a situation of de facto abortion on demand to prevail.

It took nearly 20 years for Canada to catch up. That, dear reader, I find shocking.
To be clear – I am not suggesting abortion is a trivial thing in any shape, size or form. But a woman must surely have the right to safe choices where her own body is concerned. Of course she should have access to counseling and be made aware of other options. But ultimately that is the point I believe. She should have access to options, and sympathetic support to help objectively make the choice that is right for her.

Historical Morgentaler decision marks 25th anniversary | The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti | CBC Radio.

Supriya Dwivedi: Morgentaler 25 Years Later: We’ve Come a Long Way Baby.

25 years on, Canadians don’t want to reopen debate on abortion, Ambrose says – Health – Times Colonist.

Times Colonist: DR. Henry Morgentaler addresses a news conference in Montreal, Oct. 27, 1999.




One response

30 01 2013
Erin Zimmerman

We Canadians like to look south and pat ourselves on the back for our liberal abortion laws, but you’re right… it really wasn’t that long ago, was it?

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