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An Act respecting Abortion
Sponsor: Hon. C. William Doody (NL)
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In 1969, Parliament amended section 287 (then section 237) of the Criminal Code to legalize abortion. Subsection (4) states that criminal sanctions against abortion do not apply to a doctor performing an abortion or a female obtaining one if the abortion has been previously approved by a therapeutic abortion committee of an accredited or approved hospital, and is also carried out in an accredited or approved hospital.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled this section (then section 251) unconstitutional because it infringes section 7 of the Charter which guarantees an individual's right to "life, liberty and security of the person". As the Chief Justice of Canada stated, "Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus an infringement of security of the person."
In 1989, the government introduced Bill C-43 in the House of Commons, where it passed a year later. It was then sent to the Senate for consideration. The bill proposed to make it a criminal offence to induce an abortion on a woman unless it was done by, or under the direction of, a physician who considered that the woman's life or health was otherwise likely to be threatened. "Health" was defined as including physical, mental and psychological health.
On 31 January 1991, the Senate voted on Bill C-43. As with the House of Commons, it was a free vote except for cabinet ministers in the Senate. Of 86 senators present, 43 voted for the bill and 43 voted against it. Under the Rules of the Senate, a tied vote is deemed to be a negative vote; therefore Bill C-43 was defeated. In Canada, abortion today remains a private matter between a woman, her conscience and her doctor.