Law Prof. Karen Busby outlined the history of abortion rights in Canada at a Nov. 6, 2019, seminar, including efforts in the 1990s to reinstate restrictions following the Morgentaler decision. “It was a wild time.”

Current issues include:

Embryo sex selection

The Assisted Human Reproduction Act bans sex selection of embryos for in vitro fertilization – unless it’s to prevent a sex-linked disease. However, some Indian-born parents appear to abort female fetuses, especially if their first two children were girls.

Canadian obstetricians used to refuse to share ultrasound results showing the sex of the fetus until it was too late to have an abortion, but the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologist of Canada now supports a pregnant woman’s right to that personal health information.

Busby said it’s a tricky issue for feminists. “Feminists believe women should be able to control their own reproductive schedules – they should be able to have children when they want to have children – and law should not restrict their ability to have an abortion but is there a ‘but?’”

Abortion access

Legalization of abortion pill Mifegymiso in Canada has increased access to abortion, especially for women who live far from surgical abortion clinics. However, there are still barriers to accessing the drug. This year, the Canadian government lifted the requirement that women have an ultrasound before being prescribed the drug. Busby said in some countries, the pill does not even require a prescription.

In many U.S. states, accessing an abortion is becoming more and more difficult as clinics are forced to close because of over-regulation. People who work in abortion clinics need to be very dedicated because opponents have made the work so dangerous and complicated, Busby said.

Should Canadians worry that American anti-abortion politics could gain traction in Canada? “Don’t take abortion access for granted,” Busby said, recalling a time when Canadian women, ironically, used to go to the U.S. for abortions that were hard to access here. “The world is a very different place if you don’t have access to abortion.”


Listen to podcasts from seminars in this series.