25 years of reproductive freedom
From Gaelick contributor, Lou
This January will see Canada marking 25 years of reproductive freedom. Up until 25years ago – due to a law that had been introduced in 1969 – it had been illegal to seek an abortion in Canada ‘except where life or health of the woman [is] endangered’ . Sound familiar?! In1988, a few doctors, lead by Henry Morgentaler (below) challenged the 1969 law in the Supreme Court, resulting in the decriminalisation of abortion. Since then Canada has lead the way in how to implement safe and legal abortion without any laws defining practice. In many ways they can act as an example for countries who wish to decriminalise abortion.
Over the last number of years Canada has experienced decreasing numbers of women who seek an abortion, at approximately 14 per 1000 females of childbearing age; the majority of which occur early on in the pregnancy and with no complications. 97.6%of all hospital terminations performed do not encounter any difficulties and maternal mortality due to abortion is at 1 per 100, 000, or ‘about one every ten years’.
Equal to all
Canadian policy also acts to allow equal and equitable access to abortion, where it is in place that income levels should not determine whether a woman can access an abortion or not. There are also extensive support services in place both during the decision stage and for those who choose to end a pregnancy. The decriminalisation of abortion has also helped to elevate women’s status and to empower them, both within society and in the eyes of the state, as females now have control over decisions regarding their own reproduction.
How do they do it? Of course, all of the positive results Canada has seen since abolishing laws surrounding abortion did not come about by simply removing the legal barriers. Abortion was integrated into the healthcare system, which also meant that females would be protected under the Health Care Act, which guarantees funding and equitable access to all people for medical treatment. This contributed to normalising abortion and reducing the stigma attached to it.
Simultaneously, attempts to reduce unplanned pregnancy have been introduced, such as improved access to contraception and family planning. There are also policies and a code of ethics to be adhered to, which are in place to protect the female, and those involved in the provision of abortion services. According to this policy there should be no delay in access to abortion and that it should be uniformly available to every female in Canada. The policy also emphasises that abortion services should meet specific standards in the areas of informed choice, counseling, medical and surgical procedures, nursing and follow up care.
No healthcare system is perfect, and there are still women who for many reasons, such as stigma or geography, cannot access an abortion if they decide they want one. However, despite the flaws the statistics show that Canada has one of the safest and most equitable abortion practises in the world, alongside decreasing numbers of those seeking terminations.
It is not lost on me, that as Canada sees the 25th anniversary of the removal of the law that prohibited abortion unless in certain limited circumstances, Ireland is still in debates about legislating for those same circumstances, a full 30 years after constitutional provisions where originally put in place for such. A three day long Dáil debate concluded on Thursday, which discussed the ruling in ABC vs Ireland in relation to Article 40.3.3 in order to gather information in preparation for creating legislation and regulations on this subject.
Despite the similarities in the restrictions on abortion, which were abandoned 25 years ago in the case of Canada, I don’t think Ireland will be rushing to follow the Canadian example anytime soon.