Henry Morgentaler challenged the constitutionality of the federal abortion law and won in R v Morgentaler in 1988. In 2008, Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada partly "for his commitment to increased health care options for women". He died at 90 years old, May 2013. Register file photo

Canada's bishops keep up abortion fight 30 years after Morgentaler decision

  • January 30, 2018
OTTAWA – Thirty years after Canada’s abortion law was struck down, Catholic bishops and pro-life groups are as determined as ever to battle for the protection of unborn human life.

On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s abortion law was unconstitutional in an historic case involving long-time abortion activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

To mark the anniversary, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) added its voice to other pro-life organizations in publicly objecting to federal Liberal government claims that abortion is a right. The bishops also pointed out the 1988 Morgentaler decision recognized Parliament’s interest in protecting unborn human life.

There is no “right” to abortion, the bishops said in a statement.

One pro-life group, WeNeedaLaw.ca, marked the anniversary by calling for a proposed law making abortion illegal after 13 weeks of gestation, with a number of safeguards such as a 48-hour waiting period, coercion protection and required counselling on the possible health and psychological effects of abortion.

In a Jan. 27 statement, the CCCB noted that Justice Gerard Mitchell, Prince Edward Island’s retired chief justice, wrote in 2014 that “none of the seven judges (in the Morgentaler decision) held that there was a constitutional right to abortion on demand.” In fact, “all of the judges acknowledged (that) the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the unborn.”

“While unrestricted access to abortion continues to be touted by some as the guarantor of women’s freedom, the truth is that abortion does nothing at all to address the very real challenges which confront a woman when she finds herself facing an unintended pregnancy,” said CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil in the statement. “Nor does it address any of the other conditions in a society that unjustly limit a woman’s freedom.”

Instead, abortion “makes it easier for society to avoid its moral obligations to ensure protection and shelter for the most vulnerable,” the bishops said.

Science and reason both place “the humanity of the unborn child beyond question,” the bishops said, making defense of unborn human life not merely a “theological opinion.”

“As Canadians, we take pride in our record of upholding international human rights, while at the same time failing to provide the most basic protection for the child in the womb and so contradicting and eroding our own humanity.”

WeNeedaLaw.ca spokeswoman Anna Nienhuis pointed out in a release the justices who ruled in the Morgentaler case expected Parliament to craft a new law “that protected pre-born children at some stage of pregnancy.”

“They certainly did not think that 30 years later the status quo would remain,” she said.

“Canada is way of out of line with our international counterparts when it comes to protecting pre-born human rights. As much as the prime minister would like to think that abortion is a Charter right, that simply is not the case.”

Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes noted that long before the Morgentaler decision, a 1969 government bill to allow abortion in certain circumstances “basically opened up the door to abortion-on-demand.”

That’s why the National March for Life takes place as close as possible to the May 14 anniversary of that bill’s passing. Hughes noted the Brian Mulroney government tried to craft a new abortion law but it failed in the Senate.

“Here we are 30 years later, with fewer and fewer medical students wanting to learn the grisly business of abortion, which explains in large part the push for chemical abortions,” Hughes said. 

He pointed out the new bubble zone legislation in Ontario includes pharmacies, and in some countries as many as 80 per cent of abortions are chemically-induced and take place in the first weeks of pregnancy.

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