FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

The right to abortion: still fragile

Last month, in this column, I stressed the importance of dreams, the fact that dreams have often been the motor for change, and I paid tribute to those women and men who were daring enough to dream. Here is another good example of this.

In the seventies, in Quebec, women had a dream of a world where they would have the control of their bodies, where they could have the children they want, where they could decide to interrupt a pregnancy without endangering their life, health and safety. Quebec women waged a relentless battle during 20 years: demonstrations, lobbying, press conferences, operation of illegal abortion clinics, legal battles, etc.

Finally, on January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered a historical decision in the case of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, crowning two decades of struggle. This decision invalidated the provisions of Section 251 of the Criminal Code, in effect since 1969, which stated that an abortion was a criminal act, except if it was approved by a therapeutic abortion committee, composed of three physicians, when the latter concluded that the continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman’s life or health.

In its decision, the Supreme Court stated that Section 251 was a breach on the “security of the person”, because “forcing a woman by threat of criminal sanction to carry a foetus to term […] is a profound interference with a woman’s body and this a violation of security of the person.”

Thus, twenty years ago, abortion was decriminalized. However, a right is never established once and for all; as witnessed by the current dismantling of the public health system. This is all the more true with the new right in power in Ottawa and the wind of conservatism blowing over our society. If the government presented a bill before the House, the right to abortion could become a thing of the past.

Dreams are not enough, we must also make sure that no one will destroy these dreams once they have become a reality!

In solidarity,