Abortion Law in Canada
1960 - 1969

1960’s: Efforts to promote legalized abortion.

The public discussion of abortion was limited to an article in Chatelaine, a woman’s magazine, a campaign by the Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, The United Church Observer, and increasing pressure on the part of the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Medical Association. The chief argument for a new law was that it would legitimize in law what was already happening in Canadian hospitals.(2)

December 20, 1967: Introduction of law to legalize abortion.

Parliament BuildingsThe Liberal government under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson notified Parliament of its intention to liberalize the abortion law in an Omnibus Bill. Justice Minister Trudeau introduced the 72 page Omnibus Bill which contained over 100 clauses on issues ranging from contraception, divorce, homosexuality and abortion, to passport regulations and jury rules, to permitting lotteries and relaxing marijuana laws.

July 6, 1968: Omnibus Bill is reintroduced.

Pierre TrudeauUnder the new Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justice Minister John Turner announced he would reintroduce the Omnibus Bill. He insisted that the amendments to the Criminal Code required to implement the Bill would not promote abortion.
View abortion statistics

May 9, 1969: Omnibus Bill is passed.

The entire Omnibus Bill is voted upon for the final time with 149 (119 Liberals, 18 NDPs, 12 PCs) voting in favour of it, and 55 (43 PCs, 11 Creditistes, 1 Liberal) voting against it.

The Omnibus Bill maintained abortion as a criminal offence under Sec. 251 of the Criminal Code, but permitted it when an application for an abortion was accepted by the majority of a three-person therapeutic abortion committee (TAC). Because “health” was broadly defined, the TACs were soon authorizing almost every application. Before long, abortion was the second most common surgery after tonsillectomies.(3)

The Omnibus Bill represented a major shift in federal dealings with abortion. In the words of Mark MacGuigan, Liberal MP:
“I believe that this omnibus bill reflects an entirely new governmental approach to criminal law...The bill would bring about a change not only in criminal legislation but also in the philosophy behind it, for it apparently indicates a determination that law shall no longer be thought of as a mirror of morals, and that from now on, crime and sin, law and morals, must be distinguished.”(4)
Read sections of the Criminal Code pertaining to abortion as revised in 1969.

(2) Alphonse de Valk, Morality and Law in Canadian Politics (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1974) pp. 19 – 42.
(3) Paul Tuns, “Why the Abortion Law was Changed” (The Interim, April 1, 2009) p.13.
(4) Hansard, 24 January 1967: 4191


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