There is no abortion law in Canada. It is neither legal nor illegal, it is simply a medical procedure and covered by universal health care. Universally, abortions performed at hospitals are free. Whether abortions at free-standing clinics are covered varies by province/territory. Some provinces and territories with limited providers pay travel costs when women have to go to a different province for the procedure. There are no mandatory ultrasound laws and no 24 hour waiting periods.

Abortion became legal in Canada in 1969 as part of a massive reform to “get the government out of the bedrooms of the nation.” While abortion was decriminalized, it could only be performed in cases to preserve “life and health.” Women had to prostrate themselves in front of a committee of three doctors and plead their case. Many doctors told me they rubber stamped these requests. “To see these poor women pouring out stories of misery, it just broke my heart,” one told me. However, other providers could be less understanding.

In 1988, The Supreme Court of Canada deemed this pleading for abortion to be unconstitutional and the law was struck down. A bill was introduced in 1989 to once again ban abortions unless the life and/or health of the mother were in jeopardy. While the bill was passed by the House of Commons (elected Members of Parliament), it was defeated by the Senate who are all, interestingly enough, political appointees. No political party has introduced any abortion legislation since, and so there is no abortion law.

Now contrast the American experience with complicated laws, far greater cost (the average amount paid for a 1rst trimester abortion is $451, with 60% of women paying out-of-pocket for their procedure), indignities (mandatory ultrasound), and inconveniences such as 24 hour delays and uncompensated travel.

So how does lawless Canada stack up against regulated America?

In Canada, the teen birth and abortion rate is 27.0/1,000 women between the ages of 15-19 versus 61.2/1,000 in the United States.

The abortion rate among all women of reproductive age (15-44) in Canada is 14.1/1,000 versus 20/1,000 in the United States.

Put another way, the teen birth and abortion rate is more than 50% higher in the United States versus Canada and the abortion rate is about 25% higher in the Unites States.

Canadian women also have something else. They have access to health care and sex education is widely taught in the schools.

Laws, cost, and indignities don’t reduce abortion, knowledge and contraception do.


Join the Conversation


Leave a Reply to Dr. Jen Gunter Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Hi, great article but it is a little bit misleading. Teen pregnancy rates are 3 times higher, the percentage of pregnant girls that get an abortion is actually lower in US. There are less abortions in Canada because there are fewer teen pregnancies, not because of liberal laws. If 5/10 girls get pregnant and 2 have an abortion, its 40%. If 2/10 girls get pregnant and one has an abortion, it’s 50%. Total number is lower, but the ratio is higher.

    1. Justsayin: This article is not misleading. The point is that countries with better healthcare and more sex ed have lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions. There have been multiple large studies showing this effect, including two in the Lancet. The abortion rate, per 100,000 women, is higher in the U.S. because the U.S. has more unwanted pregnancies. If you want to reduce abortions, you need to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The percentage of pregnant girls is not the stat that you want to look at, unless you think it’s impossible to change the number of unwanted pregnancies, which would also mean that it’s impossible to change the number of abortions. Laws against abortions are literally counterproductive and lead to more abortions (see Lancet study).

      1. How would a law against abortions cause more people to get abortions? A law is not going to change someone’s mind towards getting an abortion. Let’s use some logical thinking. Would laws against drunk driving lead to more drunk driving?

  2. Can a US citizen travel to Canada to receive an abortion? If so, what is the cost and the time required? Can she come alone, or does someone need to travel with her? Also, are there any special challenges if she is a minor? I can’t seem to find this info anywhere on the web. Thanks!

  3. I am not a troll, I am actually a 28 year old eating disorder awareness advocation blogger. Female. But thanks. I had my procedure done in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a little over 10 months ago. There they will not perform the procedure until the 12 week mark. That is what I was told when I went to my referral at the sexual health clinic. The referral was a positive experience with nurses, a counselor and I had a routine pelvic exam to determine my conception date. My ultrasound was booked (all procedures are performed through the hospital, in a closed ward, where one is escorted by staff), blood work and etc. In Halifax, ultrasounds are mandatory. I am a bit naive and unclear of how clinics in varying provinces conduct the routine of the day, but when I was told that this would be an anonymous one-on-one with my doctor on the morning of June 1st, I wasn’t expecting be stuck in a waiting room with 8 other women and their significant others. My fault, though, for expecting more privacy. Apparently the abortion doctor is only in the city once a month.

    Yes, there was a procedure room where it was me, the doctor, and the nurse, after which I was escorted to a recovery room with three beds. When my cramping had hit a level 2 (5 being the highest) on the pain scale, I was sent back to the change room, alone, where the other women waited for the procedure. When I left with my clothes, and started to walk out out of the ward, I was stopped by a nurse from the recovery room who brought me back in, gave me a paper-bag filled with notes, asked me if I had checked my pad for bleeding, and asked how I felt. I told her I had heavy cramping, she gave me some more pills, and then walked me down to the waiting room to pick up my partner. We walked home. I went back in the next day because my bleeding was still heavy. There are more details, but I am not comfortable sharing them.

    My original comment was out of frustration over the lack of realities many women go through in Canada to get an abortion. It’s not as easy – or relaxing, or civil – as many perceive. Women’s health isn’t welcomed in many provinces, particularly the maritimes.

  4. I feel that the reason men keep rehashing the same arguments against abortion etc., is becuase they know they don’t have to solve a real problem and can just posture and debate. It draws attention away from the fact that they can’t or won’t solve the real issues probably due to the fact that to solve real problems might expose their greed and inability to care about humankind as a whole.

  5. Men used to own women in this country in many ways and still have not evolved enough to keep their heads out of their crotches long enough to relaize that we are capable of being more than pregnant and barefoot. This is in part our fault for not teaching our girls that matrimony should not be our first choice of careers. We as women still have the burning desire to be loved and taken care of while we bear children and nurture family. This has proven to be our downfall as most men here think more about Harley Davidson and their own ego trips. My father and I have this discussion periodically and he still can’t give me three names of men who have fullfilled their obligations to their families, much less have seen the children grown with their original spouses. I don’t know what the answere is, but I’m very sure we won’t solve the problems we have as women by allowing men to make crucial decisions for us. We need more women in polotics, we really need women to take this ship over and leave the men to their bridge building , their porn and motorcycles.

  6. It’s a standard, free, hospital procedure in the UK too. The vast majority of procedures happen under 8 weeks since LMP, lessening risk and enabling women to recover as quickly as possible.

    Oh, and all contraception is free of charge too, for citizens and visitors alike.

    The US system and culture (around reproductive choice) baffles and scares me. The vile and violent rhetoric around a concept as simple as “Women deserve to choose what happens to them” seems like dystopian fiction writ large. I mean, it’s 2012 in the rest of the world, so why are some Americans desperately trying to recreate policies that would send the country hurtling back 100 years?

  7. I think it is disingenuous to continually repeat that there is no abortion law in Canada. There is no “Criminal Law”, but like all medical procedures, abortion is governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. It is illegal for a non- medical person to induce an abortion and a physician who does not conform to the medical protocol set out by the College, could lose her/his license. The protocol of the College act as a law governing the practice of medicine and is very effective. Henry Morgenthaler (Canadian doctor who challenged the Canadian criminal law) went to prison for performing an abortion when is was illegal in Canada, but when challenged with losing his medical license by the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons, stopped preforming abortions in Manitoba until the criminal law was changed. We do have laws in Canada and they work just fine in limiting who can preform abortions and the gestational age of the fetus at which a physician can perform them.

    1. That is the point of the post. Criminal law. Hospital regulations, the Royal College, etc etc is a different subject. The issue in the US is restricting abortion by ways of enacting criminal laws. Criminal laws don’t work and are not in fact needed or a reasonable approach. Tackling hospital regulations is another issue entirely.

  8. The problem with your article is you are citing facts and statistics as apposed to anecdotal possibilities that can’t be backed up and those who say outlawing abortions, making contraception difficult to get and limiting or excluding sex education are the way to approach this “problem” do not and will not have a rational debate. If they were open to that we wouldn’t need a debate.

    Seriously now, this really is a great article and I hope the more people are exposed to the actual facts the more likely we are to arrive at sensible solutions.

  9. I think Canada’s lower abortion and teen pregnancy rates are more a factor of sex education in schools and a general lower birth rate. While abortions are a medical procedure, they aren’t as accessible as you’ve made it seem. Major cities in only some provinces have clinics. While hospitals can legally perform them, most don’t. If you live rural or in the maritimes, you cannot access an abortion without travel. That travel isn’t usually paid for. Canada still has a long way to gonon supporting women.

    1. Yes, but that is the point. Laws don’t reduce the abortion rate. Sex education and contraception do.

      Abortion is a problem for rural women everywhere. Small communities often ostracize providers.

  10. As a Canadian who has had an abortion and become an advocate for women’s health up here; our country isn’t as delightful as it seems. There are several Provinces that do NOT allow abortions, nor educate about the dangers to which women who carry to term with certain illness may have. It’s not a private affair in the cities that DO allow it. My procedure was a bulk “slaughter house” line up. No privacy. No respect. It was done in an unsterile ward, we were all kept in small rooms, our robes were stained yellow and had dried blood on it. The doctor was rushed. I was escorted out of the hospital while still bleeding heavily and left to walk home in a drugged state. In under 60 minutes, 8 abortions were done, using the same tools.The process leading up to the abortion was just as difficult. It’s mandatory for women to have ultrasounds, do blood work, and make very public their ordeal. Further, you can only HAVE the abortion at the 12 – 14 week mark. You have to wait until then, and if the ultrasound shows you “lied about the conception date”, then you are denied the procedure.

    While I do agree that the current US non-sense is horrid, and every woman (including myself) am enraged over the lack of respect towards females; Canada is not as saintly as many perceive. There have been attempted bills in our current Government that want to bring the abortion debate back into Parliament, and very much want to pass into law similar zygote legislation as many US States have.

    Also, when I went in for my ultrasound, I was told I needed a transvaginal, but flatly refused and threatened to go to the media.

    1. A a gynecologist who has practiced in Canada I can tell you women do not have to wait until 12-14 weeks nor would any clinic ever use the same equipment on multiple patients. If they did, they should be closed down. I have also never heard of procedures done in anything but a private procedure room. Recovery may happens in a ward room. I have also never heard or seen anyone making the ordeal public. Ultrasounds are not mandatory, but many doctors want them. It depends on training.

      There is no abortion provider in PEI and they have some legal restrictions that are decidedly different from the rest of the country. Also, up North there is a shortage of doctors in general, so many women do have to travel. I included a link in the article to how it works by province and territory.

      I am sorry for your experience, but I think that was the exception, not the rule.

      1. I think you’re being way too charitable to the person writing this comment. Seriously, where in Canada is any medical procedure done this way? When was the last time you sent a patient home drugged and bleeding heavily? I smell a Cheetos-stained troll, probably male, making up a horror story so that someone can quote him as a “source.”

      2. To add to the list of special restrictions, in New Brunswick, women must still have convince two different doctors that an abortion is medically necessary (and she may have an anti-choice doctor in the first place, which forces her to find two others) and then obtain an appointment with one of two doctors in the province that perform abortions, one in the Northern part of the province & one in the South-Eastern part of it. This is the only way that Medicare will cover it.
        Women who can afford to pay out of pocket also have the option to obtain an abortion from the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton without jumping through the 2 doctor hoop.

    2. If that was actually your experience, I feel sorry for you, but I have never heard of anyone having that experience before. The claim that you can only have the abortion at the 12-14 week mark is a lie – I had an abortion at 6 weeks. I live in a city that allows it and it was a totally private affair. I wasn’t allowed to leave without a ride home either – they said if I couldn’t find a ride they would arrange one for me. I have never heard of anyone being denies the procedure because they “lied about the conception date”. I didn’t even know my conception date.

    3. I don’t usually reply to these things, but I cannot let this pass. I am from Canada, and I have serious doubts that this happened. I suspect that this person is trying to promote some personal agenda here.There is nothing here that is “slaughterhouse.” Left to walk home in a drugged state? Same tools? Unsterile ward? I have been in many hospitals and doctor’s offices and I have never seen anything like this. I would have to look it up, but I doubt that there are any provinces, or territories, that don’t allow abortions. It would be covered under our Universal Medicare. I am not saying that things are always perfect here in Canada, but there is nothing like what is described here.

%d bloggers like this: