PBP100H: Pro-Life Politics in Canada

This is an introduction to pro-life politics in Canada, with a focus on three areas:

  1. Policy
  2. Parties
  3. Pro-Life Political Groups

Policy: The Pre-Born Child and Canadian Law

Canada has no abortion laws, and is one of the only countries on the planet like that, if not the only country.


  • 1869: Abortion was a crime at any time in Canada's first Criminal Code
  • 1969: Pierre Trudeau's omnibus bill decriminalized abortion
    • Omnibus Bill: meaning there was no dedicated debate, but it was one of many changes in an omnibus bill
    • Therapeutic Abortion Committees regulating abortion: panel of three doctors needed to approve
  • 1988: R. v. Morgentaler: 1969 law ruled unconstitutional on procedural grounds
    • therapeutic abortion committee provided unequal access (pro-lifers controlled some committees, pro-choicers controlled others)
    • Canadian Supreme Court asked Parliament to craft a new law, suggesting that restrictions later in pregnancy might be considered constitutional
  • 1991: Bill C-43 fails, dies in a rare tie vote (see Missing Project trailer)
    • pro-choice and pro-life movements opposed the legislation
      • pro-choice movement didn't want any restrictions
      • pro-life movement wanted more restrictions
  • 1991+
    • A Canadian government has not attempted to pass updated abortion legislation ever since
      • Conservatives didn't touch it again in their last couple years in power
      • Liberal government from 1993 to 2006 left Canada lawless
      • Conservative government from 2006 said they weren't going to reopen the debate
    • Private Members Bills have been attempted, but none ever passed
      • e.g. Pre-Born Victims of Crime
        • Ken Epp?
        • Cassie and Molly's Law
      • e.g. against coerced abortion (Roxanne's Law)
      • e.g. M-312 to form a committee to study when life begins (Stephen Woodsworth)
      • e.g. Paul Steckle's 2006 late-term abortion ban (Liberal MP), 20 week ban
      • e.g. M-408 simply expressing an opinion that sex-selective termination of pregnancy is wrong, never came to a vote
      • e.g. Bill C-233 The Sex Selective Abortion Act, failed in ~May 2021 - first time a criminal code provision on abortion had been proposed in several years

The Present

What does the criminal law say about the pre-born child?

Section 223(1), (2):

“child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother whether or not (a) it has breathed, (b) it has independent circulation, or © the navel string is severed. (2) A person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being”

Section 238.(1)

(1) Everyone who causes the death, in the act of birth, of any child that has not become a human being, in such a manner that, if the child were a human being he would be guilty of murder, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life

* This is never enforced, hundreds of children have been born alive and left to die and nobody is enforcing the law or investigating these cases

Other issues:

  • conscience rights
  • poor statistics and non-mandatory reporting for clinics


  • Federal
    • WeNeedALaw identifies three priorities for laws in line with public opinion
      • late-term abortion ban
      • sex-selection abortion
      • pre-born victims of crime
    • Personhood amendments (like Stephen Woodsworth M-312 was driving at), but this is an unlikely jump from no laws to total ban
  • Provincial: Criminal law in Canada is a federal matter (unlike the US where there is state criminal law as well), but healthcare is a provincial issue
    • provider regulations
      • abortion clinic regulations
      • regulate as surgical centres
      • require licences
      • require physicians only
    • Informed consent
      • risks of procedure, gestation and development of child, information about complications from procedure
      • waiting periods
      • ultrasound requirements
      • fetal pain
      • independent counselling requirement
      • coercion signage and signing requirement
    • parental rights / consent
    • Reporting: collecting accurate and complete statistics
    • Conscience rights
    • Defunding

Why? Because Joyce Arthur:

“because we have virtually no restrictions against abortion, we've been able to spend our time working on access and funding issues, instead of fighting oppressive laws, which is what our American friends must do. Restrictions such as consent laws, waiting periods, and the like are simply cruel and unnecessary obstacles that impede a woman's ability to get a safe, early abortion. There is no question that the absence of restrictive laws against abortion places the struggle for abortion rights on the fast track for success.”


  • NDP: Consistently pro-abortion, no free votes
    • Interesting side note: Joe Borowski, pro-life hero and former Manitoba NDP cabinet minister in the 1970s, brought a case to the Supreme Court in the 1980s to try to argue that pre-born children deserved human rights under the Charter, but Morgentaler ruling happened first and Borowski case was considered moot
  • Liberal: Under Justin Trudeau, no free votes allowed and all members forced to vote pro-choice
    • Before Trudeau, Liberal party had 10-25% of caucus voting pro-life on various private members bills between Morgentaler and 2015
  • Conservative Party:
    • Party policy
      • free votes
      • Conservative government won't reopen abortion debate
        • Government = cabinet (still allows private members bills)
        • Effort to delete this resolution narrowly failed at 2018 policy convention
      • FIXME is there a resolution opposing sex selective abortion?
    • Caucus
      • The last time a vote happened was M-312 in 2012
        • 50% of the Conservative caucus voted pro-life
        • 1/3 of cabinet voted pro-life
      • Big internal debate within the party, party divided on the issue
        • Many pro-life MPs
        • Many pro-choice MPs
        • contentious issue during leadership campaigns, etc
    • History
      • Mulroney PC party decimated in 1993 election
      • Reform Party, eventually Canadian Alliance, forms to the right of Progressive Conservatives
      • 2003 PC Party and Canadian Alliance unite into Conservative Party of Canada
        • coalition of big tent of conservatives
          • “Red Tories”: fiscally conservative, socially liberal
          • social conservatives
  • Green Party: official pro-abortion, says they'd allow free votes
    • unclear how many Green candidates are pro-life, if any
    • leader Elizabeth May suggested pro-lifers not welcome as candidate or caucus not free to vote pro-life in 2019 election with attention to some pro-life Green Party candidates
  • Fringe Parties:
    • Christian Heritage Party: 100% pro-life, but receives about as many votes as the Communist Party of Canada (<1% of the vote)
    • People's Party of Canada: 2019 election, leadership took pro-life talking points but leader Maxime Bernier was not pro-life, failed to win any seats

Political Pro-Life Groups

  • Campaign Life Coalition:
  • New pro-life groups emerged in past decade to take new strategic approaches
    • WeNeedALaw: lobby group, advocating for incremental pro-life legislation to shift momentum
      • Canada went from criminalized (1869) to regulated (1969) to unregulated (1988)
      • Goal is to shift from unregulated to regulated, as incremental step towards criminalization
      • proposing pro-life legislation that has a chance of passing, given public opinion
    • RightNow: nominate and elect pro-life candidates (video)
      • formed by two ex-CLC staffers
      • working with pro-life politicians to get them nominated and elected so that there are enough votes in the House to pass pro-life legislation
      • working within political parties to advance pro-life policies (e.g. Conservative Policy, delete resolution that a government will not re-open abortion debate)