Definition of Abortion

An abortion is a medical or surgical procedure that terminates a pregnancy. The Oxford Dictionary defines pregnant as “having a child or young developing in the uterus”. It follows, then, that terminating a pregnancy also means terminating the child developing inside the uterus (womb).

Legal Status of Abortion

Abortion was legalized over 30 years ago, prior to ultrasound and other medical advances which make detailed images of the fetus readily accessible. Through scientific developments in ultrasound technology, we now know that fetuses respond to light, sound, touch and pain from about 8 weeks from conception.

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 to be 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 have failed to bring about legislation on the matter.

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
  • 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 (a child inside its mother’s womb) is not homicide; however, injuring a fetus so that it dies after being born is a homicide.

By omitting the 1969 law, an abortion can be performed for any reason at any time throughout pregnancy. Canada is the only country in the western world without any legal restrictions on abortions. While it is true that many doctors refuse to perform late-term abortions and many clinics have policies that will not permit abortion past 24 weeks, The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that 2% of abortions (approx. 2000 every year) are performed in Canada past the point of fetal viability.