Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Commentary

Abortion care in Canada is decided between a woman and her doctor, without recourse to criminal law

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 24 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1506
  1. W V Norman, associate professor1,
  2. J Downie, professor2
  1. 1Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2Faculties of Law and Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
  1. Correspondence to: W V Norman wendy.norman{at}

Regulation as a standard medical procedure has been associated with improved accessibility and fewer, safer abortions, write W V Norman and J Downie

As the UK debates decriminalisation of abortion and people wonder about the effects it might have,1 it may be useful to consider the Canadian experience of nearly 30 years without a criminal law to police access to abortion.

For many years, abortion was prohibited under the Canadian criminal code unless provided in a hospital after a “therapeutic abortion committee” confirmed that the continuation of a woman’s pregnancy “would be likely to endanger her life or health.”2

However, in 1988 the Supreme Court (in what is known as the Morgentaler case) struck down that abortion provision on the grounds that it violated the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms.3

In 1990, …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription