Abortion and the law in canada

Abortions in Canada in 2011

Making a decision about your pregnancy can be overwhelming. Statistics can help provide some perspective on what is going on in Canada and that can help with the decision making process.

Statistics Canada began reporting the total number of annual abortions in 1970. 11,152 abortions were performed that year. Since then, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has taken over the responsibility of reporting abortion statistics.

The CIHI recently released their 2011 report and unfortunately, much of the data is incomplete. There is no legal requirement for clinics to report their activity so the only accurate numbers we have access to are from abortions that have been performed in a hospital. Even some hospital reports are incomplete (Quebec only requires that abortions covered by their respective provincial health insurance plans need to be recorded).

So with the knowledge that much of the information is missing, we can see that the CIHI has reported a total of 92,524 abortions in Canada in 2011.

Doctors have admitted that the number of reported abortions does not reflect the actual number. Health care providers have been quoted as saying that thousands of procedures aren't being counted - referring to abortions done in doctors' offices or clinics that are not licensed. (1)
In addition to incomplete reports on the numbers of abortions performed in Canada, we also lack information that helps us formulate a profile of women who undergo this procedure. Information such as the patient's age, the gestation of the fetus, previous abortions or births, types of abortions being performed, demographic information and medical case data including abortion complications is missing.

The lack of concrete or complete data from the CIHI (and previously Statistics Canada) means that these reports are not providing a clear picture of what the effects of abortion are. Without this information, it is more challenging for women to make fully informed decisions for themselves and their pregnancy.

From the incomplete data obtained by CIHI for 2011:
• 13.5% of women who had an abortion in Canada were aged 19 and under.
• 46% of the women who had an abortion in Canada were between 20-29 years of age.
• 27.3% of the women who had abortions in Canada were aged 30 and over.
• 38.6% of women who had abortions performed in Canadian hospitals had one or more previous abortions.
• The majority (93.8%) of abortion procedures performed in Canada were surgical. Only 3.7% of the abortion procedures performed were medical.

The CIHI is not our only source for abortion statistics. WM. Robert Johnston has been curating global abortion statistics as far back as 1970. His website offers an in-depth view of abortion ratios in Canada broken down by regions. Find out the statistics for your own region here: http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/mapcanabrate.html
1. Hayley Mick, Abortion rate keeps dropping, Globe and Mail, May 22, 2008, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/abortion-rate-keeps-dropping/article18450526/

The Law

Abortion was legalized in Canada over 30 years ago, prior to ultrasound and other medical advances which make detailed images of the fetus readily accessible. We now know from standard university textbooks that the fetus startles and responds to light, sound, touch and pain starting at about 8 weeks after conception.(1)

Prior to 1969 the law permitted abortion only when necessary to preserve the life of the mother. This law was amended on May 14, 1969 to allow abortion in cases where "the continuation of the pregnancy...would be likely to endanger the life or health of the mother." The word "health" was never defined. At the time, abortions were performed in accredited hospitals with the approval of a therapeutic abortion committee of three doctors.

On January 28, 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the 1969 law (Section 251 of the Criminal Code of Canada) for procedural reasons related to Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court deemed it an infringement on the security rights of a woman to have a panel of doctors decide whether she could obtain an abortion. No other laws have been adopted to replace the law that was struck down.
Since 1988, there has been no law in Canada regarding abortion. Attempts by Parliament to bring about legislation on the matter have failed.

As it stands today, Section 223 of the Criminal Code of Canada states:
A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not:
• it has breathed;
• it has an independent circulation;
• or the navel string is severed.

A person commits homicide when he or she causes injury to a child before or during the child's birth, which results in the child's death after birth. R.S., c. C-34, s. 206. ( According to the Code, killing a fetus is not homicide; however, injuring a fetus so that it dies after being born is a homicide.)

By omission of any law, an abortion can be performed for any reason at any time throughout pregnancy. Although there is technically no cut-off point at which abortion is prohibited, access to late-term abortions is difficult in Canada. Most doctors refuse to perform them and many clinics have policies that will not permit abortion past 24 weeks. There is, however, evidence that late term abortions are performed in some hospitals and clinics in Canada, and/or referred to the United States (Kansas, Washington State or Colorado) with the costs and associated expenses sometimes covered by some Canadian provinces.(2)

A recent survey revealed that 92% of Canadians don't know that there is no law restricting abortion.(3) Just because abortion is legal does not mean that it is without risk. Any woman contemplating an abortion should take the time to determine for herself the physical, emotional and psychological consequences.
1. Overview: Fetal Development. In Pregnancy.org. Retrieved Nov. 23, 2009, from http://www.pregnancy.org/article/overview-fetal-development
2. Position Paper #22 Late Term Abortions (after 20 weeks), Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, July 2005, from http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/postionpapers/22-Late-term-Abortions.PDF
3. Angus Reid Strategies Poll August 2008