Abortion Rights of Women in Canadian Society

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Social justice is “the equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society,” (Pachamama Alliance). With that being said, the topic of women’s abortion rights in Canada is a social justice issue given that it could not check those boxes even in today’s society. As a country, we are still fighting for greater rights as well as more accessibility to those who need it most. Women in Canada have faced many challenges over the years whether that be not having the right to vote, the fight for equal pay, or even trying to be accepted into the workforce. But just like all of these other injustices abortion rights have been a tough battle too, it lasted around 160 years and is still prevalent today (The Canadian Encyclopedia). The first legal restrictions on abortion appeared in the 1820s, forbidding the termination of a pregnancy, but by the late 1980s abortion at all stages of pregnancy was legal no matter the circumstances (The Canadian Encyclopedia). This shows the profuse amount of time the government took until the Supreme Court of Canada was ready to step in and make the right decision in 1988. 

The main injustice that this group had was the lack of support from the government and public figures who had a voice and could help make the much-needed change. If this had been different, then Canada’s abortion laws would have been changed long before 1988. Currently, abortion is legal in Canada and is free to many and in 2016, approximately 68% of Canadian abortions were performed in abortion clinics, whereas before it would have been mandatory to have the procedure done in a hospital (Guttmacher Institute). In 2017, 94,030 abortions were reported in Canada and since 2011 that number has been decreasing when 108,844 abortions were reported (Guttmacher Institute). As those statistics show, there has been a steady decline of abortions in Canada for many years, now that it is legal and contraceptives are more readily available, this could quite possibly be because women feel more prepared to decide to have children or to choose the right methods of prevention for them.

Historical Significance

The three moments on the timeline that are the most significant to the social justice issue of women’s abortion rights are, Pierre Trudeau’s decision in 1969, the petition delivered to Parliament in 1975, and the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1988. These events show leadership by many different parties to better our countries laws, without this, abortion would most likely still be illegal to some extent today. Pierre Trudeau started the movement by decriminalizing contraceptives and allowing for abortions under certain circumstances. This was soon followed by a petition with over a million signatures being sent to Parliament, which was a leading cause for the next event. The Supreme Court struck down all abortion laws and made it more accessible to all by ruling that it would be treated like any other medical procedure, therefore it would be governed by provincial and medical regulations (CBC News).

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Continuity and Change

This image was taken in 1968 at the opening of the Morgentaler Clinic, which was founded by Dr. Henry Morgentaler who was a human rights activist. He worked with many Canadian humanist associations and is mainly known for his protesting of Canada’s restrictive abortion laws. Dr. Morgentaler performed abortions at his clinic for many years, both before and after the law was changed, which made it legal in 1969 (The Canadian Encylopedia). Dr. Morgentaler struggled a lot to get his message across to others, some situations that prove this include, in 1970, when the clinic was raided by police and protestors and he was charged for the first time with performing illegal abortions. The next year he was charged in Montreal again. In 1973, Dr. Morgentaler released a statement to the public that he was providing abortions, and that May, he demonstrated his technique by performing an abortion on national television. Dr. Morgentaler estimated he had provided 5,000 safe abortions by that time. The Montreal clinic was then raided again and ten new charges were laid. In November, a jury acquitted Dr. Morgentaler and had to serve 10 months in Montreal’s Bordeaux jail (CBC News).

The picture above is of the Supreme Court of Canada, this image is significant to the topic of abortion because the ruling of R v Morgentaler that was made here in 1988 would change a lot for the young women in Canada (CBC News). Before this ruling, it was illegal for a woman to get an abortion without the approval of 3 doctors who would decide if continuing the pregnancy would harm the woman carrying or not. This was very tough for women who were not doing it for their health but for their lifestyle choices. The Supreme Court ruled that the abortion provision in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional because it violated a woman's right under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the security of a person (The Canadian Encyclopedia). This meant that from now on women could make the choice on their own, walk into a clinic, get the procedure that was best for them, and it was way more accessible because it was covered by their healthcare benefits.

These images show that there has been lots of positive change throughout the years when it comes to Canadian abortion rights. For example, Dr. Henry Morgentaler struggled tremendously throughout the years to find a way to help women, he went to extremes to get his point across and paid the price for breaking the laws including jail time. But now, in today's society, because of Henry Morgentaler’s work, women can make the important choices about their bodies without the involvement of the government, or approval from multiple doctors on whether or not getting an abortion is the best thing for them (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Without these strides to make the change, our country would still be where we were 60 years ago. This would mean that women would still be trying to find other more dangerous ways to self induce abortions, or keeping the baby and possibly not being able to provide financial and emotional support for the child and themselves.

The views of the authors behind the two quotes above show that they are pro-choice, but that can reflect the controversy between the political argument of pro-life or pro-choice that has gone on for years. There are solutions behind these quotes that could help with this particular social justice issue, for example, in Christiane Northrup’s quote she implies that she feels that if as a society we valued a woman’s choice more that soon the fight over abortion would have no practical relevance. In Stephen Singular’s quote, he gives a similar solution to the first, he says that society has tried to hard to control women’s and even men’s reproductive choices. Both quotes give the solution that people need to stop worrying about how others make their own choices and think about bigger world issues.

Conclusion

Though abortion is now legal in Canada, that does not mean that it is accessible to everyone. Clinics are all over Ontario but are not equally distributed across the province, most are only based in larger communities (TVO). The government needs to put more money towards opening up more clinics not only in Ontario and Canada as a whole but also all over the world. More than 289,000 women die from pregnancy, abortion, and child-birth complications around the world each year, which is 800 women a day. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries and the most shocking part is that 90% of those are preventable (Lee, 15). As a first-world country, we can better our system first but I think that it will be crucial to assist others globally.

Feedback/Reflection

We must be aware of the social injustices in our society today so that we can help the groups who are being affected. The Water Crisis is the most important social justice issue that Canada faces today, it is affecting First Nations People all over Canada. Justin Trudeau’s government committed to ending the over 100 drinking water advisories that are present at any moment, and he promised this by 2021 (The Conversation). But very little progress has been made and the funding that is needed has not been dealt with to end this crisis. There needs to be a change made soon because there is no clean water for most people living on reserves and nearly 80 First Nations communities are currently under long-term water advisories in Canada (BBC News). There are many solutions to this problem we just have to work harder to achieve them, such as, putting in better water filtration systems and testing equipment, as well as improving our ties to First Nations and creating a plan to improve the Canada Water Act. Even teenagers can help, by coming together to create awareness using social media and make a voice for themselves, a great example of this is Greta Thunberg, she is only 17 years old and she is the leader of a huge climate change movement for all ages. Things like this will truly make the biggest impact because the next generation is who will have to pick up the pieces that have been left for us.

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