Abortion Rights in Canada: Morgentaler and Beyond

In June 2022, the US Supreme Court made global headlines when it overturned Roe v Wade, a nearly 50-year old precedent that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion in the US. In the blink of an eye, the Court’s intervention ended this protection, and flipped the question of abortion regulation back to the 50 states, resulting in extreme disparities in the accessibility and legality of abortion across the country.

While none of this in any way altered the legal or constitutional status of abortion in Canada, it did lead Canadians to wonder about the long-term security of their reproductive rights. Could the same thing happen here?

In this 4-part podcast series produced by summer students at the Centre for Constitutional Studies, legal and constitutional experts address this question by providing insights on the constitutional implications of abortion regulation in Canada. The series tells the stories of how the Supreme Court of Canada effectively decriminalized abortion; how the federal and provincial governments responded post-decriminalization; and how the debates surrounding abortion regulation and its constitutional implications have evolved in recent years.

Series Credits: This series was hosted by Tina Tai, and produced by Tina Tai, Hassan Ahmed, and Zachary Fischer in collaboration with the Centre for Constitutional Studies (University of Alberta). Sound editing and music by Mike Contos.


Episode 1: The Story of Henry Morgentaler
July 4, 2023

In this first episode, Edmonton-based lawyer Marie Gordon provides some background on the story of Henry Morgentaler, a physician who successfully challenged the validity of Canada’s criminal restrictions on abortion. Marie also talks about her own work with Dr Morgentaler, and offers reflections on the psychology that fuelled his fight for abortion rights in Canada.

Episode 2: Morgentaler at the Supreme Court
July 12, 2023

In this second episode of our four-part series, Professor Kerri Froc (University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law) provides a comprehensive survey of the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1988 Morgentaler decision — the decision that invalidated Canada’s criminal restrictions on abortion while stopping short of recognizing a constitutional right to abortion.

Episode 3: The Politics of Abortion Access Post-Morgentaler
July 19, 2023

In the third episode of the series, Professor Rachael Johnstone (Dalhousie University, Department of Political Science) talks about the politics of abortion in the years since the 1988 Morgentaler judgment. In particular, Professor Johnstone focuses on the Mulroney government’s failed attempts to pass a new abortion law, and on the regulations that provincial governments have used to limit abortion access despite its decriminalization.

Episode 4: The Future of Reproductive Justice in Canada
July 26, 2023

In the fourth and final episode of the series, Professor Joanna Erdman (Dalhousie University, Schulich School of Law) discusses the future of the reproductive justice movement in Canada. Professor Erdman also provides reflections on the precise role that constitutional law — and especially the equality rights section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — might play in advancing the goals of this movement.

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Centre for Constitutional Studies
448D Law Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2H5
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