Abortion in Canada Timeline
1969 – The Criminal Code is amended to decriminalize abortions done by a doctor in a hospital after approval for the procedure has been given by a “therapeutic abortion committee” who judged that a woman’s life or health “would” or “would be likely” to be affected by continuation of pregnancy. No obligation for either doctors or hospitals to participate in abortion. Within a couple of years, abortions are covered under the publicly funded health care system even though government ministers had reassured opponents it would not be.
1973-74 – Henry Morgentaler sets up an abortion clinic in Montreal contrary to law. He is arrested, charged, found innocent, decision appealed, found guilty. This happens three times. Finally the Quebec government stops charging him and he continues to do abortions in Montreal.
1975 – A petition of over 1 million signatures, the largest in Canadian history, is presented to parliament requesting protection for the life of the unborn.
1975 – Joe Borowski, former NDP Minister of Highways in Manitoba, launches a court case asking that the 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code be declared invalid, and declaring that the outlay of public money for abortion is unlawful because it contravenes the Canadian Bill of Rights.
1981 – The province of Quebec sets up Abortion Clinics as part of its community health services. These CLSC’s operate outside Canadian law but with the financial backing of the government of Quebec.
1982 – Henry Morgentaler announces plans to establish a free standing abortion clinic in Winnipeg. Shortly thereafter he opens one in Toronto. In Manitoba, the College of Physicians & Surgeons refuses to license the facility.
1983 – Morgentaler is charged with illegal abortion, along with abortionists Dr. Leslie Smoling and Dr. Robert Scott. Morgentaler and Scott are also charged in Winnipeg.
1985 – The Ontario jury acquits the abortionists after accepting Morgentaler’s use of the defense of necessity. The Ontario Court of Appeal reverses the decision. Morgentaler asks the Supreme Court to hear the case.
1986 – Eighteen year old Erin Shannon dies at Ottawa Civic Hospital following a “legal” abortion.
1986 – Roussel Uclaf, manufacturer and distributor of RU-486 signs an agreement with the World Health Organization at the Population Council making RU-486 available to these agencies worldwide.
1988 – The Supreme Court of Canada in a split decision strikes down Section 251 of the Criminal Code; declaring it unconstitutional. Provinces respond by setting up their own regulations on the performance of abortion. In Manitoba where the Morgentaler case was in abeyance pending the Supreme Court decision, the government now permits abortions outside of hospitals but refuses to pay for abortions from public funds. Morgentaler announces a five year plan to open clinics in all provinces.
1988 – The Borowski case which had been going to court parallel with Morgentaler’s is declared moot since the law on abortion no longer exists.
1989 – Various proposals are made to draft a new abortion law. One submitted by Gus Mitges MP, which would have prevented all abortions, comes closest to passing. In the end no proposal receives majority support.
1989 – Barbara Dodd in Toronto and Chantal Daigle in Quebec go to court to try to get abortions after their boyfriends got injunctions to prevent them from doing so. Dodds gets the OK from the Supreme Court of Ontario, aborts, then regrets her decision. Daigle is refused by Quebec’s Superior Court, goes to Supreme Court and is given the go ahead even though she has already had an abortion in the U.S. Now no father can prevent abortion of his child.
1989 – A new abortion law, Bill C-43, is presented in the House of Commons. It passes May 29, 1990 and is sent to Senate for debate. Bill C-43 retains abortion as a criminal offence but permits it on very broad grounds.
1990 – Morgentaler opens an abortion clinic in Newfoundland
1990 – A court in Cambridge upholds an injunction prohibiting individuals from Cambridge Pro-Life from coming with 50 feet of the abortionists’ office. Drs. Assad and Chan drop a second part of the suit as claim for lost business.
1991 – The Senate defeats Bill C-43 in a tie vote.
1991 – The Supreme Court rules that a child in the process of being born was not “person” (even though the head was outside the mother’s body). Therefore, two midwives Sullivan and Lemay could not be found negligent in causing the death of the child whose mother they were attending. This confirms that unborn babies do not have legal rights unless they are born alive. (cc. Sec. 206)
1991 – Doctors at the Victoria Hospital in Halifax begin fetal tissue transplants after great objection from general public.
1991 – Life Chains begin in parts of Canada
1991 – Etienne Beulieu, the inventor of RU-486 tells CARAL that trial of the abortion pill will soon begin in Canada.
1991 – Saskatchewan’s College of Physicians & Surgeons recommends that abortions be done outside of hospitals. The Saskatchewan Minister of Health disagrees.
1991– The Supreme Court unanimously rules that it is constitutionally permissible for unions to use compulsory dues to finance causes which may be opposed by workers who pay those dues. College teacher Mervyn Levinge had objected his union’s support of the NDP and pro abortion causes.
1991 – Nineteen year old Myrna George of BC dies as a result of abortion.
1991 – Morgentaler opens abortion clinic in Edmonton.
1991 – A plebiscite held during a provincial election in Saskatchewan resulted in 62% of electors saying NO to the question, “Should the government pay for abortion procedures.” The results are not binding on the government.
1991 – The Federal Court of Appeal rules that Everywoman’s Health Centre, an abortion facility, is a registered charity and can issue tax receipts for donations.
1991 – Morgentaler and Theodore Busheikin open an abortion clinic in Calgary.
1991 – Nova Scotia government appeals to the Supreme Court to reverse two lower court decisions which acquitted Morgentaler of illegally performing abortions in his unlicensed Halifax abortion centre.
1991 – Quebec’s Civil code is revised to allow girls 14 years old to have an abortion without parental knowledge or consent.
1992 – Explosion and fire at Morgentaler’s Harbord Street abortion clinic destroys the building. This leads to unsubstantiated blame on the pro-life people and increased financial support by the Ontario government to Morgentaler.
1992 – Ontario NDP Government initiates an injunction against pro-life picketers near hospitals and abortion clinics. Freedom of speech is thereby limited.
1992 – The BC Court of Appeal upholds $3.5 million award to Jody Cherry after the failed abortion of her child. The abortionist “missed” aborting the baby girl then failed to detect the continuation of pregnancy. The baby was born at 32 weeks and has cerebral palsy.
1993 – In Ontario a blanket injunction against demonstrations, picketing etc. is sought by Ontario Attorney General Marion Boyd to prevent any activity within 500 feet of 23 abortion-related centres. Damages are sought against 18 named pro-lifers for having engaged in lawful activities such as sidewalk counseling around abortion clinics.
1993 – In Prince Edward Island, Morgentaler files suit to get payment for clinic abortions and claims PEI’s payment policy is discriminatory.
1993 – The Manitoba Court of Appeal rules 3-2 that a regulation by the Health Services Commission stating that abortion is not an insured service unless performed in an approved hospital is insufficient authority to prevent payment for abortions in Morgentaler’s facility. The Manitoba government promptly passes legislation to ensure no payments for abortions at Morgentaler Clinic.
1993 – The parents and boyfriend of Karine Rivard (mother of a 6 month old boy), who dies after an abortion at the University of Sherbrooke (QC) clinic, launch a civil suit against the facility. She died of severe allergic reaction which caused her to choke to death. Proper equipment was not available at the out-of-hospital facility.
1994 – Dr. Ellen Wiebe of Everywoman’s Health Centre recruits pregnant women to participate in clinical trials of medical abortions using methotrexate and misoprostol, both drugs commonly used for other purposes.
1994 – Morgentaler opens abortion clinic in Fredericton, NB.
1994 – NDP Attorney General of Ontario, Marion Boyd is granted an interim injunction which prohibits pro-life demonstrations and picketing closer than 500 feet from the homes of abortionists. Protesters must stay 30 – 60 feet away from entrances to abortion clinics. The use of signs is allowed despite the Attorney General’s request that they be banned.
1994 – BC abortionist, Garson Romalis, is shot in the leg at his home. Despite the lack of evidence from police that the shooting is linked to abortion, the media refers to this shooting as “abortion-related.”
1995 – Morgentaler’s challenge to PEI’s policy of funding only “medically necessary” abortions is successful. The judge rules that abortion is a basic health service and must therefore be included in the government’s health funding. The PEI government appeals.
1995 – In Alberta the Committee to End Tax Funded Abortion (CETFA) releases results of a poll showing 71% of Alberta taxpayers believe abortion should not be funded with tax dollars. The Committee argues against government funding of a non-essential service.
1995 – BC’s NDP government set up a “bubble zone” around abortion clinics which forbids leafleting, sidewalk counseling or any attempt to dissuade people from performing or submitting to abortion. The bubble zone, it is argued, infringes people’s freedom of expression.
1995 – Dr. Hugh Short, abortionist, is shot in the arm at his home near Hamilton.
1996 – The BC “bubble zone” law is greatly circumscribed when BC Provincial Judge E.J. Cronin dismisses charges against Maurice Lewis who had prayed and worn a sandwich board (asking God’s protection for the unborn) inside the bubble zone. Activists in other areas, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal decide to challenge the “bubble zones” in their areas, but are not successful.
1996 – Brenda Drummond, 28, is charged with attempted murder after she shot her nearly full term son with a pellet gun while he was still in utero. Jonathan was born 2 days later, was treated in intensive care and survived.
1996 – A Winnipeg woman, five months pregnant and abusing solvents, is ordered by Judge Perry Schulman into treatment to protect her unborn child after Child & Family Services and the woman’s family applied to the Courts for an order. The case is overturned on appeal. Winnipeg Child & Family Services launches an appeal to the Supreme Court.
1996 – BC Supreme Court Judge Mary Saunders overturns an earlier court ruling on BC “bubble zones” and the case of Maurice Lewis. Access to abortion is deemed to take precedence over freedom of expression.
1996 – Judge Inger Hansen rules on the Drummond case. Brenda Drummond is acquitted of attempted murder of baby Jonathan, because, according to law, a baby is not a legal “person” worthy of legal protection until it is born.
1997 – Dr. Jack Fainman, a Winnipeg gynecologist and obstetrician who performs abortions, is shot in the right shoulder through the back window of his home. Police believe the shooting is linked to the shootings of Drs. Hugh Short and Garson Romalis as they all occurred near Remembrance Day.
1998 – Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Douglas MacLellan awards Wanda MacPhail $724,547. MacPhail blacked out and collided with another vehicle after she drove home after having an abortion in March 1993. MacLellan concluded that MacPhail had “a severe emotional reaction” to the abortion.
1999 – After a six-year battle, nurses at Markham Stouffville Hospital reach an agreement with their employer allowing them the right to decline assisting doctors performing abortions.
1999 – Nurses at Calgary’s Foothills Hospital complain about late abortions in which babies are born alive and left to die. They specifically mention one 35 week baby who lived for 12 hours. Hospital officials initially deny the accusation but in late summer admit that the case did occur. Calgary police find no evidence of criminal wrongdoing without interviewing any nurses. Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons initiate investigation and amend the Pregnancy Termination guidelines for late abortions to say “patient and physician may consider feticide prior to initiating the termination procedure. Feticide may be done by intracardiac injection of KCl into the fetus in utero.”
1999 – Preven, a morning after pill, is approved by Health Canada for sale to the Canadian public.
2000 – Rebecca Davis launches a $100-million dollar lawsuit against the province of Ontario claiming she was forced to undergo an unwanted and illegal abortion while a resident of the Grandview School for Girls in 1976. The suit also claims Henderson General Hospital in Hamilton was negligent in aborting her fetus because she was considered healthy and there was no risk to the baby.
2000 – Clinical trials on the RU-486 “abortion pill” begin in British Columbia under a shroud of secrecy. The public isn’t notified until late July.
2000 – Police warn doctors who perform abortions to go on “high alert” after Dr. Garson Romalis is stabbed outside his clinic. It is the second attempt on his life. Pro-abortion politicians and advocates call for amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code to classify attacks on abortion providers as a “hate crime.”
2000 – The B.C. government allows for morning-after pills to be available in that province without a prescription.
2001 – The Hull Region Women’s Clinic, a Quebec abortion clinic, withdraws its legal action against the pro-life group Respect de la Vie Outaouais. The clinic was contesting a pamphlet by RVO noting that one in 25 women “are hospitalized up to 7 days after legally induced abortion in Canada.” The clinic claimed “irreparable damages” caused to its business by the RVO pamphlet. The statistics RVO used came from Statistics Canada.
2001 – Federal Health Minister Allan Rock threatens to fine the province of New Brunswick under the Canada Health Act if they do not pay for abortions in private clinics.
2001 – A Canadian woman dies during testing of the abortion pill 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 – In a submission to the House of Commons Finance Committee, Canadian Abortion Rights Action League Executive Director Marilyn Wilson says that women who seek abortions: “…do so for socio economic reasons. Sometimes it is a desire to complete their education and become financially independent. In many cases, couples with children wish to restrict their family size in order to provide adequate financial support. Often, choosing abortion is a conscious decision not to become a socio-economic burden on society.”
2001 – Quebec announces that pharmacists may dispense the abortifacient ‘morning-after pill’ without prescription.
2002 – Liberal, N.D.P. and Bloc MPs refused consent in the House of Commons to accept a motion from Canadian Alliance MP Garry Breitkreuz to protect unborn children. A year earlier, Breitkreuz tried to convince the House of the need to modify the definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code, which he calls “scientifically incorrect.”
2002 – The South East Health Authority in Moncton, N.B., says that after December 31, 2002, it would not perform elective abortions. The Authority explained that specialists at the hospital made a joint decision to stop based on frequent no-shows which waste already limited operating time.
2002 – B.C pro-lifer Jim Demers loses his challenge of the provincial bubble zone legislation at the B.C. Court of Appeal. Demers argued that the bubble zone infringed on his right to freedom of speech under the Charter.
2005 – Winnipeg judge Jeffrey Oliphant ruled that the failure to pay for private clinic abortions was a “gross violation” of women’s rights. The decision was overturned in 2006 by the province’s Court of Appeal because the judge had not heard any evidence on the issues involved. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was refused. The provincial government had already begun paying for all abortions in 2004 but not as a result of the court case.
2006 – A Quebec judge ordered the province to pay the full costs of private clinic abortions. The province had been covering a portion of these costs. The provincial government complied without appealing the decision.
2006 – Alberta MP Leon Benoit introduces a Private Members’ Bill C-291, to make it a separate crime to injure or kill a fetus in the course of an attack on the mother. The bill is declared unvotable 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 – Alberta 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 fetus in the course of a violent attack on the mother. The bill includes an exemption for women who consent to abortion. The bill is declared votable and is debated for one hour in the House of Commons.
This page is also available in: French