Frequently Asked Questions about Abortion in Canada

1. Is there a law restricting access to abortion in Canada?

No. Some history: Abortion became legal in Canada in 1969 through the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the same act that legalized homosexuality and contraception. However, abortions were restricted to people who could prove that the pregnancy was life threatening. 

In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in R. v. Morgentaler that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional because they infringe on a person’s right to “security of the person” as protected by s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Chief Justice Dickson put it, “forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations” infringes upon her rights and freedoms as a Canadian.

2. Why is abortion access important?

Before abortion was legal in Canada, it was common for people to perform their own abortions at home, or pay a physician to do it illegally, which was often unsafe and led to infection and death. The former executive director of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League stated that before legalization, “several hundred women per year died from botched abortions.” It is not known exactly how many people were harmed or died from unsafe abortions prior to 1988, but the fact remains that criminalizing abortion does not stop abortions, it stops safe abortions.

Access to abortion and reproductive/sexual health services are still limited for many Canadians. Despite abortion being fully legalized for over thirty years, many Canadians still struggle to access abortion services. There is also a growing anti-choice presence in Canada, mirroring the anti-choice movement in the United States. Even in our own community, conservative Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff came out strongly against abortion in 2019. Check out the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s website for how to take action to protect abortion rights:

3. Can you get an abortion at any stage of pregnancy in Canada?

No. When Canada legalized abortion, they shifted responsibility for regulating abortion from the state to physicians. This means that abortion is governed by medical standards instead of politics. Each hospital and clinic has its own standards and policies that guide its decision making. While medical decisions should only concern the patient and their doctor, this has its own downsides too, because it means that people needing to access later-term abortions may be denied by their doctor or clinic.

About 90% of abortions take place before 12 weeks gestation. Currently, there are no providers that offer abortion past 23 weeks and 6 days in Canada. In 2016 the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported about 2.7% of abortions were performed after 20 weeks gestation. When abortions are performed during the second or third trimester of pregnancy, it is because the fetus or the parent is experiencing life-threatening complications. There are no reported cases of someone having an abortion at nine months pregnant. When a fetus is lost at nine months, it is due to medical complications. 

4. What does “late term” abortion mean? 

You may have heard the phrase “late-term abortion.” This term is incorrectly used to describe people who get an abortion in the third trimester. “Late term” is a phrase used by doctors to describe a pregnancy that is past its due date (40+ weeks). There is no such thing as a “late term” abortion.

5. Do fetuses deserve human rights?

There are many different opinions about when an embryo or a fetus becomes a baby. Currently, legally and scientifically, a baby is classified as a human only after it is born. Regardless, granting it human rights has a number of consequences. Fetal rights treat the fetus as though it is a separate entity from its parent, when it is actually still a part of it. Granting a fetus rights takes away from the pregnant person’s rights because it prevents them from exercising bodily autonomy (i.e. having a say in what happens to their body). Women and other people who can get pregnant have long been denied equal rights based on their reproductive capabilities, and it is only recently that their right to control what happens to their own body has been legally recognized. Forcing a person to continue a pregnancy regardless of their own desires or health infringes on their rights.

6. Whose rights should we be concerned about?

Many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), transgender, and disabled people are being denied their rights. For example, Indigenous people and disabled people have been forcibly sterilized in Canada for the past century. Indigenous people have reported having their fallopian tubes tied non-consensually as recently as 2017. Anyone concerned with reproductive justice should direct their efforts toward preventing injustices such as these.

7. Does abstinence-only education help prevent abortions?

No. Some people believe that one way to prevent abortion is to teach abstinence — that is, teach people not to have sex at all unless they are intending to reproduce. Abstinence-only sex education is frequently taught in schools, churches, and communities in Canada, but it has been proven ineffective. Study after study shows that “increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates.” Telling kids to not have sex, and therefore not teaching them about safe sexual practices, does not stop them from having sex, it just stops them from having safe sex. 

8. Is abortion dangerous?

Only when it’s been criminalized. About 1 in a million people who have an abortion experience life-threatening complications, while 1 in 10,000 people who give birth experience life-threatening complications, making it 100 times more risky to give birth. The decision to undertake the risks associated with abortion or with birth should only be made by the person who is pregnant. 

9. What are some other myths about abortion?

Some people and organizations who are against abortion will falsely claim that abortion is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and mental illness. Crisis Pregnancy Centres (CPCs) are anti-abortion, Christian facilities that masquerade as reproductive health clinics and are known for spreading these myths. There are about 200 CPCs in Canada, and there are six here in Niagara. Please see our Niagara Resources page for more information.

More about crisis pregnancy centres:

The CPCs in Niagara have been known to tell people that receiving an abortion will be detrimental to their health. They spread misinformation about the risks associated with abortion, claiming that people who receive abortions may suffer afterward from breast cancer, “post-abortion syndrome,” and hemorrhaging leading to death as a result of their abortion. 

The myth that abortions cause breast cancer has been debunked by every major medical agency for the past 20 years. “Post-abortion syndrome,” which is described as a decline in mental health, has also been proven false; the most comprehensive study on this topic to date found that 95% of people who have an abortion say that relief is the strongest emotion they feel afterward, and 99% of people do not regret it.

10. What are the ways you can access an abortion in Niagara?

For updated information on how to access abortion in Niagara, please visit our Niagara Resources page here.

11. How can I report anti-choice activity in the Niagara Region?

If you wish to report anti-choice activity in the Niagara Region, please use this form.

Map of Anti-Choice Activity