Reproductive Rights . . .

. . . have been on my mind recently:

  • The Liberal Party weirdly insists that applicants for Canada Summer Jobs grants must attest that they support reproductive rights (link).
  • I happened to be downtown on the second Thursday of this month and saw the annual pro-life march.

Digression: The protest march was all that I thought it should be; thousands of people, diverse crowd, focused on one issue. Not like the Islamophobia protest that I attended a couple of months ago (Rally Against Islamophobia).

And since I know nothing about reproductive rights, I thought that I should look into it.


  1. Reproductive rights = right to have an abortion.
  2. There are no restrictions on a woman’s decision to have an abortion in Canada.
  3. Canadian women do not have an unlimited constitutional right to an abortion.
  4. No one knows how many late-term abortions are performed on Canadian women each year.


Question #1: What exactly are reproductive rights in Canada?

Short Answer: Reproductive right = right to have an abortion.

Longer Answer: As odd as it sounds, I couldn’t find a Canadian definition of reproductive rights The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows:

Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

In Canada it seems that reproductive rights is synonymous with the right to have an abortion since I haven’t heard of any Canadian controversy concerning the other elements of the WHO definition. For the remainder of this post, I will assume that reproductive rights = right to have an abortion.

Digression: Using the term ‘reproductive rights’ instead of ‘right to abortion’ seems to be an attempt to ‘Frame the Debate“.

Question #2: What restrictions are there on a woman’s decision to have an abortion in Canada?

Short Answer: None.

Longer Answer: Since January 1988 and as of May 2018 there is no laws limiting abortions (link); a woman can legally have an abortion at any point in her pregnancy, technically up to the time at which she goes into labour! In 2016, a woman in Montreal had an abortion at 35 weeks (link)! In general, abortions in the third trimester are usually because of medical issues, either abnormalities in the fetus or the safety of the mother.

Provincial health care plans do provide some financial support for abortions. In Ontario, abortions are available up to 24 weeks, and are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). A request for an abortion after 24 weeks usually results in a referral to a clinic in the United States.

Question #3: Do Canadian women have an unlimited constitutional right to an abortion?

Short Answer: No.

Longer Answer: Prior to 1988, Section 251 of the Criminal Code limited access to abortion, requiring that an accredited hospital committee deem it would put a woman’s life in danger. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) declared that Section 251 was unconstitutional. Three key elements are worth noting (link):

  • The SCC found that procedural requirements of Section 251 infringed upon the constitutional right of ‘security of person’. It is reasonable to assume that there are procedural requirements that would not infringe on the right to ‘security of person’.
  • The SCC did not explicitly state that there was a constitutional right to abortion. In judgements concerning other rights, the SCC has been explicit.
  • The SCC did say that balancing the protection of the fetus with the safety of the mother is a valid government objective, effectively inviting Parliament to propose new legislation. Note that a fetus is not a legal person in Canada, and thus has no legal rights.

Taking these three bullets together, it seems clear that the there are limits to the right to an abortion that the SCC would not deem unconstitutional.

Question #4: How many late-term abortions are performed on Canadian women each year?

Short Answer: No one knows.

Longer Answer: Information is very sparse. See link of the Canadian Institute for Health Information. In 2015, there were 100,104 abortions in Canada; 23,561 in hospitals, 76,543 in clinics. There is no reliable data on the number of abortions, based on gestational period.

Summary: It disturbs me that a perfectly healthy Canadian fetus could be aborted without legal consequence in the final week of pregnancy, somewhat mitigated by the fact that there is no evidence that it has ever happened in Canada. But, even though it hasn’t happened yet, all it would take would be one bad decision on the part of one woman (and with seven million women in Canada of child-bearing age, I don’t like the odds).

Personal opinions:

  • I largely agree with the pro-life side that abortion should be a woman’s choice. To paraphrase Pierre Elliot Trudeau “There is no place for the state in the uteri of the nation”. However, I don’t agree that a woman’s right to control her body is always more important than the life of the fetus . The pro-life slogan “My body, my decision” is too simplistic.
  • On balance, I would support Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada sorting this out.

Digression: Simplistic slogans make me less sympathetic to a cause because it implies that the sloganeer has no nuances in her worldview. I prefer the slogan “My body, my decision*“, with the asterisk indicating nuances that don’t fit on the placard.


One thought on “Reproductive Rights . . .”

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