Abortion in Canada: Frequently Asked Questions
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1. Is there a law restricting access to abortion in Canada?
No. 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. Can anyone access abortion in Canada?
While it is legal for anybody to get an abortion in Canada, this does not mean that everybody has access. Recent immigrants, migrant workers, international students, foreign workers, people without their OHIP card, and other people who do not have OHIP may experience financial barriers to abortion, which can cost thousands of dollars without healthcare coverage. People living outside of city centres may have to travel long distances to get an abortion, which for many may be difficult or even impossible. Individuals may also experience barriers due to racism and ableism that are prevalent in the healthcare system in Canada. A person’s family doctor may deny to refer them for an abortion, or the person may be lied to by a fake, faith-based agency masquerading as an abortion clinic.
Here in Niagara, we have very few abortion providers that only provide abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and require the client navigate numerous appointments that may not be possible for some. Most people have to travel to Hamilton or the GTA to access abortion, which can create challenges such as missed work, childcare needs, and transportation.
Niagara Reproductive Justice administers an Abortion & Reproductive Support Network that provides practical support for people seeking an abortion in Niagara. For more information, visit niagarareproductivejustice.com/support.
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 supposed to be governed by medical standards instead of politics. Each hospital and clinic has its own standards and policies that guide its decision making. 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.There are no reported cases of someone having a therapuetic abortion (as opposed to a spontaneous abortion, also called a miscarriage) at nine months pregnant. When a fetus is lost at nine months, it is due to medical complications.
Abortion Statistics in Canada | Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
Induced Abortions Recorded in Canada in 2016 | Canadian Institute of Health Information
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 medical term 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. Can 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.
Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S | Stanger-Hall & Hall | 2011
6. Is abortion dangerous?
Abortion is normal and safe. In 2019, a study of the safety of abortion in Canada published by the Canadian Medical Association found that about 0.16% of surgical abortions had severe adverse outcomes, whereas childbirth had a 1.38% rate of severe adverse outcomes (or over 8x higher than surgical abortion).
The decision to undertake the risks associated with abortion or with birth should only be made by the person who is pregnant.
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 could lead to infection and death. 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.
Abortion services in Canada: access and safety | Canadian Medical Association Journal | 2019
The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United States | Raymond & Grimes | 2012
7. Does having an abortion increase your risk of breast cancer?
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. 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.
There are about 200 CPCs in Canada, and there are six here in Niagara. Please see niagarareproductivejustice.com/materials for more information.
Countering Anti-Choice Misinformation and Harassment | Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
Emotions and decision rightness over five years following an abortion: An examination of decision difficulty and abortion stigma | Social Science & Medicine Journal | 2020
8. What are the ways you can access an abortion in Niagara?
For updated information on how to access abortion in Niagara, please visit niagarareproductivejustice.com/niagara-resources.
9. Will Canada make abortion illegal again like the United States did?
Because there is no law governing abortion access in Canada, it is much more protected than in the States. However, there is an active and well-funded anti-abortion movement in Canada that mirrors the anti-abortion movement in the States. With so many people still lacking access to affordable and safe abortion, as well as other reproductive and sexual healthcare, and with the growing anti-choice and anti-trans movements, now is not the time to let down our guard. We must continue to fight for reproductive justice and sexual liberation.
U.S. debate could 'normalize' anti-abortion ideas in Canada, warns Ontario expert | CBC Hamilton | 2022
10. What do I do if I see anti-abortion activity in Niagara?
If you wish to report anti-choice activity in the Niagara Region, please use this form.
Niagara Reproductive Justice administers a Rapid Response Network that responds to anti-choice activity in the region. For more information, visit niagarareproductivejustice.com/monitoring-anti-choicers.