There is no abortion law in Canada. It is neither legal nor illegal, it is simply a medical procedure and covered by universal health care. Universally, abortions performed at hospitals are free. Whether abortions at free-standing clinics are covered varies by province/territory. Some provinces and territories with limited providers pay travel costs when women have to go to a different province for the procedure. There are no mandatory ultrasound laws and no 24 hour waiting periods.
Abortion became legal in Canada in 1969 as part of a massive reform to “get the government out of the bedrooms of the nation.” While abortion was decriminalized, it could only be performed in cases to preserve “life and health.” Women had to prostrate themselves in front of a committee of three doctors and plead their case. Many doctors told me they rubber stamped these requests. “To see these poor women pouring out stories of misery, it just broke my heart,” one told me. However, other providers could be less understanding.
In 1988, The Supreme Court of Canada deemed this pleading for abortion to be unconstitutional and the law was struck down. A bill was introduced in 1989 to once again ban abortions unless the life and/or health of the mother were in jeopardy. While the bill was passed by the House of Commons (elected Members of Parliament), it was defeated by the Senate who are all, interestingly enough, political appointees. No political party has introduced any abortion legislation since, and so there is no abortion law.
Now contrast the American experience with complicated laws, far greater cost (the average amount paid for a 1rst trimester abortion is $451, with 60% of women paying out-of-pocket for their procedure), indignities (mandatory ultrasound), and inconveniences such as 24 hour delays and uncompensated travel.
So how does lawless Canada stack up against regulated America?
In Canada, the teen birth and abortion rate is 27.0/1,000 women between the ages of 15-19 versus 61.2/1,000 in the United States.
The abortion rate among all women of reproductive age (15-44) in Canada is 14.1/1,000 versus 20/1,000 in the United States.
Put another way, the teen birth and abortion rate is more than 50% higher in the United States versus Canada and the abortion rate is about 25% higher in the Unites States.
Canadian women also have something else. They have access to health care and sex education is widely taught in the schools.
Laws, cost, and indignities don’t reduce abortion, knowledge and contraception do.
As I’ve said before, if you’re serious about reducing the need for abortion your priorities and focus should be on preventing unintended pregnancies with comprehensive sex education and affordable, accessible contraception (like, you know, the ACA mandate). Making burdensome, medically unnecessary, unscientific abortion restrictions does nothing to curb incidence; it just makes it more expensive and less accessible thereby disproportionately affecting low-income people and people of color. Most people getting abortions say they would have liked to get their abortion even earlier and it was abortion restrictions and cost that were standing in their way. Perhaps if antis actually took the time to understand why people need abortions they’d understand that the solution would be tackling the problem of unintended pregnancies. But valid, helpful solutions have never been their aim, it’s always been about punishment, sex shaming, and embryo worship, which is why they are utterly ineffective.