Two-thirds of Canadians are unaware that life begins at conception–and a majority supports abortion restrictions

By Jonathon Van Maren

Earlier this year, the National Post published an excellent essay on the state of the abortion debate in Canada, and with a bit more time for writing (social distancing is hard on pro-life public outreach), I thought I’d walk through some of the relevant excerpts and add a bit of context based on my own experience and research. To start off with, the essay confirmed—once again—that a super-majority of Canadians think that late-term abortion should be illegal, a fact that is steadfastly ignored by every single Canadian political party:

A vast majority of Canadians believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy, from 28 weeks onward. But if a fetus could be grown in “biobags,” how might we feel about abortions even in the second, between 14 and 28 weeks? Debating such questions in Canada is difficult when both sides of the abortion argument are so polarized that those in the middle are effectively silenced.

“There’s a middle group that, if there was anybody interested in organizing them, could probably mediate some of the stuff at the far ends of both spectrums,” says Frances Kissling, president of the Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy in Washington and a pro-choice Catholic who once directed a New York State abortion clinic after abortion was made legal in that state in the 1970s. “It wouldn’t make everybody happy. But nobody is happy now, anyway.”

A note on Frances Kissling: She used to run Catholics for Choice, and she noted in an L.A. op-ed titled “Abortion’s battle of messages,” which I cite in my 2017 book Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion, that it is because Americans have been confronted by the gruesome details of what abortion actually is that pro-lifers have consistently held their ground and achieved so much electoral success. Interestingly, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, an extremist group willing to defend any and all abortions, actually objected to the fact that the essay quoted Kissling and stated that “It’s unclear why the reporter relies mostly on an American pro-choice spokesperson known for her fetus sympathies, but the fetuses are nobody’s business except if it’s your own fetus in your own uterus.”

Yeah, you read that right: Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada actually condemned a pro-choice spokesperson for having “fetus sympathies” because she was willing to admit that abortion is a difficult issue. It appears that Arthur, who wrote recently about her own abortion for Chatelaine magazine, is going to spend the rest of her life attempting to justify abortion by taking a position so extreme that even Dr. Henry Morgentaler would have opposed it.


Although two-thirds (62 per cent) of Canadians, led by Quebec and B.C., identify as primarily pro-choice, and only one in 10 as pro-life (led by Alberta, at 19 per cent) one quarter of Canadians said they don’t fit neatly into either category. Moreover, the poll found a surprising consensus when abortion should and should not be legally permitted: Nine in 10 Canadians believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest. But then it bridges into tough areas of ethical and moral debate.

Three quarters believe an abortion should be legal when there’s evidence the fetus may be mentally or physically impaired. Six in 10 believe abortion should be legal if the woman or family can’t afford to raise the child. Almost unanimously (93 per cent) Canadians believe doctors should be required by law to inform women about potential risks of surgical abortion before performing the procedure, which, while rare, include infection and hemorrhage. More than three quarters favour a law requiring doctors to inform women about alternatives to abortion, such as adoption. Two-thirds would back a law requiring women seeking abortion to wait 24 hours between counselling and having the procedure done. Half believe there should be a law requiring women under 18 to get parental consent for an abortion. Seven in 10 say abortion should be generally illegal in the last three months of pregnancy. Only 57 per cent believe abortion should be generally legal in the second trimester.

A dominant majority reject outright abortions for sex (usually son) selection.

A few things should be noted here. First of all, decades of legal abortion has created an ugly, eugenic mindset in the consciousness of Canadians. It is not only considered acceptable, but preferable, to abort babies with disabilities (including Down syndrome.) The fact that eliminating children with disabilities is often put forward by abortion supporters as a key reason for the necessity of legal abortion shows just how much this eugenic view has taken root.

Further to that, Canadian politicians regularly claim that there would be no public support for any pro-life laws or regulations on abortion. This data—along with every other poll taken in recent years—illustrates the fact that there are many different laws that the public would support, from a ban on sex-selective abortion (a bill that would do that was recently put forward by MP Cathay Wagantall) to informed consent laws. The public support exists—the political will, thus far, does not—unless we successfully elect a pro-life leader like Leslyn Lewis to run the Conservative Party of Canada, which could change things. More:

When told Canada is unique in the world in that it has zero legal boundaries on abortion, half of Canadians think politicians should at least be willing to talk about providing some regulatory framework. In Quebec, where 73 per cent described themselves as primarily pro-choice, people are more likely than the Canadian average (52 per cent vs. 49 per cent) to support some kind of national dialogue on abortion.

Over and over again, those of us at the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform—and other pro-life activists across the country—find that the vast majority of Canadians do not know that we have no laws whatsoever. Some polls found that roughly 80% of Canadians are unaware that there are no legal restrictions on abortion, and this rings true to me based on my own experiences. The abortion activists know that keeping this fact secret is important, which is why they even called for We Need A Law’s billboards reading “Canada Has No Abortion Laws” be taken down. More:

Just over 85,000 abortions were performed in hospitals and clinics in Canada in 2018, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported this week. That’s down from 94,000 in 2017, the year the abortion drug Mifegymiso became available, allowing women to have an abortion in the privacy of their own homes. The pill, which is actually a two-pill regimen, can be prescribed within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.

When in that pregnancy does human life begin? Again, the views are complicated and nuanced. More than one third of Canadians polled by DART & Maru/Blue believe life begins at conception, even though the majority believes abortion should be fully legal in the first trimester. One in five believes life begins at birth, and one quarter when a fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb.

This highlights the necessity of public education on these issues. One in five people believe that life begins at birth? Who are these people? Have they seen a sonogram? An ultrasound? Do they think that a baby kicking in the womb is not alive? The ignorance surrounding the science of embryology at a time when we are capable of doing unprecedented things (like performing in-utero surgeries) is stunning. When two-thirds of Canadians are unaware that life begins at conception—although many of them are probably choosing this belief to prop up their pro-abortion beliefs—the pro-life movement clearly has a lot of work to do. More:

Roe v. Wade made the viability an important legal concept; a position reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992, when it ruled that, “prior to fetal viability, a woman has a constitutional right to obtain an abortion.” A state can prohibit abortion after viability, unless the woman’s life or health is at risk.

According to the Canadian Medical Association’s policy on induced abortion, viability may be possible if the fetus weighs more than 500 grams or is past 20 weeks gestation. The Canadian Paediatric Society’s view is that “survival is uncommon” for infants born below, or at, 22 weeks…Prenatal surgery — surgery on the unborn fetus to fix devastating defects of the brain or spinal cord such as spina bifida — is one of the most rapidly growing fields of pediatric medicine. The mother is anesthetised, her uterus exposed via an incision in the abdomen (or the womb accessed through portholes) and the necessary surgical repair completed.

The Daigle case found a fetus has no legal status in Canada as a person. But Caplan argues that “the more you personalize the fetus through trying to repair it, or visual it or diagnosing it, the more it becomes a real person, even if it’s lacking traits that would say it’s a person. That makes them rise up in moral standing.”

There have been no successful bids in Canada to legislate restrictions on abortions since the Morgentaler ruling. Policing goes on in both camps to keep the base firm, says Kissling. But Andrea Mrozek, of Pro Woman Pro Life, believes there are compromise, even consensus positions to be found, “like nobody supports sex selection abortion and we know that that happens.”

…The DART & Mar/Blue poll was conducted among 1,515 randomly selected Canadian adult members of Maru/Blue’s online panel on Dec. 5 to 8 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Two key takeaways from this essay:

  1. There is no reason, beyond a lack of will, that regulations or restrictions on abortion could not be passed in Canada. The Liberals like to rage that Conservatives want to ban abortion while Conservatives assure everyone that they will do nothing whatsoever, but the reality is that the Liberals are out of step with the public on this issue. The Conservatives, however, have thus far refused to take advantage of public opinion and advocate for limited restrictions or incremental legislation that would both have wide public support as well as assist them in keeping their tenuous electoral coalition together.
  2. Canadians are ignorant of nearly every aspect of abortion: The violent nature of the procedure, when life actually begins, the fact that there are no laws governing abortion. That makes the educational arm of the pro-life movement absolutely essential—and makes it even more necessary to be doing constant, year-round outreach on these issues. Information saves lives, and Canadians are obviously sorely lacking in this area.

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