Celebrating 33 Years of Legal Abortion in Canada
For Immediate Release: January 28, 2021
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Statement of The Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and NAF Canada:
Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the R v. Morgentaler decision, which decriminalized abortion in Canada. This landmark decision has undoubtedly protected the lives of countless individuals and made safe abortion in Canada a reality. As a result of the Morgentaler decision, people across Canada are able to safely terminate an unwanted pregnancy with the dignity and respect they deserve. Today, Canada is one of only a few countries without a federal law restricting abortion.
Still, as we celebrate today, we know that access remains an issue for many people in Canada. As we reflect on this important anniversary, we must remain vigilant in ensuring that people are able to access the abortion care they need. We will continue our work to help people overcome any and all barriers to access in Canada. And we will remember, with gratitude, the work and sacrifices of NAF member Dr. Henry Morgentaler who helped pave the way for legal abortion care in Canada.
Before Jan. 28, 1988, abortion was permitted only in very limited circumstances in Canada. Hospitals with Therapeutic Abortion Committees could approve and provide abortion care only in cases where the patient’s life or health was at risk. To get a legal abortion, people were forced to face an intimidating process of going before a hospital committee to petition for care. This policy made it particularly difficult for people outside major urban centers to obtain an abortion and only exacerbated the already unequal access to care. It is estimated during this time that 35,000 to 120,000 illegal abortions took place each year. We may never know the actual number of people who sacrificed their lives and health through unsafe procedures when safe abortion was criminalized.
The late Dr. Henry Morgentaler defied the Canadian criminal code by founding the first free standing abortion clinic in Canada in Montreal in 1969. For the next 20 years, he challenged the law and even served prison time for providing women with safe abortion care. His work eventually led to the 1988 landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision that gave people the right to obtain abortion care. The Morgentaler decision changed the legal landscape in Canada, and was named one of the most important and influential Charter cases of the last 25 years in 2008.
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