Canadian pro-life groups are renewing calls for Parliament to pass legislation protecting the unborn child as the country marks the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's striking down of the former abortion law.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled Jan. 28, 1988, that the former abortion law conflicted with security of person guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under the old law, Canadian women seeking an abortion had to appear before a hospital therapeutic abortion committee. A panel of four doctors would then determine if continuing the pregnancy posed a risk to the woman's life or health.

“The system of therapeutic abortion committees doesn't comply with the principle of fundamental justice,” Justice Brian Dickson said in striking down the old abortion law.

The Canadian court ruling left the country with no restriction on abortion, and Parliament has since lacked the political will to enact new legislation. More than 1 million unborn children have been aborted in Canada since 1988. Approximately 100,000 abortions are performed annually in the country.

The Canadian anniversary comes just days after the 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in the United States that legalized abortion on demand.

“We call on Prime Minister Jean Chretien to restore full legal protection of the right to life in Canada immediately,” said Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, Canada's leading pro-life organization. He described the Supreme Court decision of 1988 as “an unprecedented case of Charterbased judicial activism.”

Many pro-life, pro-family groups in Canada believe the Charter of Rights, enacted in 1982, gives the Supreme Court too much power in determining the constitutionality of legislation. Some say the Charter allows justices of the Supreme Court, who are appointed rather than elected, to bypass the will of Parliament.

Ten years ago Canada's Supreme Court opened the door wide for abortion

Hughes also criticized “the abortion industry” for hiding the truth as to the humanity of the unborn, and for its failure to report on the various risks associated with abortion.

The executive director of the Winnipeg-based Alliance for Life Association said the Supreme Court decision has left Canada a legacy of suffering and broken families. Michelle Lavergne called attention to the number of repeat abortions had by Canadian women and to the fact that the majority of abortions are committed for socio-economic rather than medical reasons.

Lavergne, however, expressed hope that the public perception of abortion has changed since the landmark ruling.

“There has been a change of heart because of the negative effects abortion has on women,” she said.

Other Canadian pro-life organizations believe the 1988 ruling has resulted in greater public sympathy for the unborn child in the womb.

“The decision reinforces the fact that children in the womb have no legal protection and are treated like property,” said Barbara LeBow of the Winnipeg-based Alliance Action group. “People never before involved in the pro-life movement are joining it because they recognize there is no genuine alternative to the traditional view that all human beings are persons entitled to full legal protection.”

Officials with the Toronto Right to Life Association took exception to the party-like mood with which the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) greeted the anniversary of the Canadian Supreme Court ruling.

“Abortion supporters intend to mark the anniversary with cake and champagne,” said June Scandiffio, president of Toronto Right to Life. “Rather than celebrating death, Canadians should take this opportunity to address the injustice and recommit ourselves to protecting the youngest members of the human family.”

Pro-abortion groups seized on the anniversary to celebrate what they described as a victory for reproductive choice. They urged the federal government to ensure easier access to abortion services throughout the country. Abortion services are readily available in larger urban centers, but some women in rural areas are required to travel long distances in search of an abortion.

CARAL has urged that training in abortion techniques be stressed at Canadian medical schools. At a Jan. 28 media conference, Canada's leading abortionist, Henry Morgentaler, announced the start of a new $25,000 fund to facilitate training of new abortionists.

Much of the justification for the call for stepped-up training of abortion doctors is based on the declining number of physicians willing to perform the procedure in Canada. Pro-abortionists claim that harassment by pro-lifers is a major factor in this trend. However, a 1997 study by the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Services found that “personal choice” was the number one reason for doctors opting not to commit abortion.

Many pro-life supporters believe doctors are turning away from abortion in droves because they find the procedure distasteful, and because they are more accepting of the humanity of the unborn child.

CARAL backed its demand for greater emphasis on abortion techniques by unveiling the results of a public opinion poll that found that more than 70% of Canadians support abortion as a private matter between a woman and her doctor. The poll was commissioned by the abortion rights group. Church and pro-life groups, however, were quick to dismiss the survey as biased and misleading.

“Abortion advocates are afraid to ask meaningful questions that would give politicians some policy direction,” said Joanne Hatton of the Edmonton, Alberta Pro-Life Alliance Association. “In the last 10 years, Canadians have paid for a million abortions,” Hatton said. “Women can have abortions for any reason and the procedure is legal until the moment of birth. Let's ask Canadians what they think of that.”

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto, Canada.