Abortion became legal in Canada in 1969. In the 1970s, the government created therapeutic-abortion committees at hospitals to approve or reject requests for abortions. Pro-lifers who were elected to these boards denied most abortions while abortion advocates would allow almost all abortions. While this helped prevent many abortions, these elections had no impact on the legality of abortion.
Furthermore, in 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the 1969 abortion law that required these therapeutic-abortion committees to approve abortions. This law effectively allowed for abortions on demand and has remained the status quo ever since.
In other words, while pro-lifers had no impact on public policy, abortion advocates did by eliminating the aforementioned committees. Thus they achieved their goal of abortion on demand, dismantling the shaky political framework pro-lifers were using to save lives.
Since then, pro-lifers have lost court cases, elections, and legislative initiatives dealing with abortion on all governmental levels. Even a 1991 referendum that pro-lifers won in Saskatchewan to defund abortion was never made into law.1 Defunding initiatives in other provinces have yet to even reach that level of “success.”
Because criminal law is a matter of federal jurisdiction, the only way for the pre-born to be protected is for Parliament to pass legislation recognizing the pre-born as human beings deserving of the right to life that born human beings already enjoy.
The most prominent effort to provide any protection thus far failed in 1990 when the Senate rejected Bill C-43. This bill would not have even outlawed abortion, and its compromising nature satisfied neither the pro-abortion nor the pro-life movements. Other efforts have not even made it this far.
Moreover, it is virtually impossible for political lobbyists to amend the law on abortion (or on any law for that matter) if they cannot convince politicians that voters want change. As we’ve seen through public opinion polls, there is no determined public interest for changing the status quo to protect the pre-born from fertilization onwards.
And because Members of Parliament rely on being re-elected to maintain their jobs, they tend to focus on issues they believe will get votes and stay away from issues they believe will cost votes.
The fact that there haven’t been significant improvements politically does not negate the pro-life movement’s responsibility to work for political changes. This is essential. But what it does reveal is that convincing politicians to change the law first requires convincing voters to change their minds.
Back to Challenges Facing the Pro-Life Movement
- Joyce Arthur, “Why Abortion Won’t be Defunded in Canada,” available from www.prochoiceactionnetwork-canada.org/articles/defunding.shtml, viewed on March 10, 2006.