Politics

An abortion divide: Taking stock of Canada's debate then and now

Fifty years ago, hundreds of women from across Canada arrived in Ottawa to protest an abortion law passed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government in 1969. Kristin Nelson, senior producer of CBC Radio's The House, looked into the movement and what advocates on both sides of the debate are calling for now.

The House explores a landmark trek for reproductive rights 50 years ago, and where the debate stands today

Scott Hayward runs RightNow, an anti-abortion group that employs data, targetted voting and incremental legal change to achieve its goals. 1:44

Fifty years ago this month, hundreds of women from across Canada arrived in Ottawa to protest an abortion law passed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau's government in 1969.

They argued that the existing law was too restrictive — that it forced women to seek unregulated abortions by unqualified practitioners, resulting in hundreds of deaths each year.

After government representatives refused to meet with them, dozens of protesters chained themselves to chairs in the visitors' galleries of the House of Commons.

Today, a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy remains a divisive point of political debate. But many historians argue that what happened decades ago was the beginning of the end of illegal abortion in Canada.

Senior producer Kristin Nelson explored the cross-country movement — known as the Abortion Caravan — on the May 9 episode of The House.

On Mother’s Day weekend in 1970, hundreds of women from across Canada arrived in Ottawa to voice their opposition to an abortion law passed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government the previous year. Judy Darcy, British Columbia’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, was one of the women who participated in the Abortion Caravan. She recollects what happened that historic weekend. 9:25

Two movements at odds

It would be another 18 years before the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law as unconstitutional, leaving a legal vacuum in its wake.

Canada still does not have a law governing abortion. Anti-abortion advocates have continued to push for one.

For the second part of this story, The House looked into the state of anti-abortion and pro-choice movements in Canada — and the increasingly sophisticated efforts by those advocating legal restrictions on abortion.

Listen below for the conclusion to this report.

The House’s Kristin Nelson speaks with advocates on both sides of the abortion divide to gauge the state of abortion politics in Canada today. 10:31

Thanks to the CBC`s Max Paris for his help tracking down the archival tape for this story.

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