Twenty-five years after the country's abortion law was struck down, Canadians are still divided on how – and whether – the procedure should be regulated.
But there is one area where there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum: This is not the time to re-open that debate.
That is what emerges from the results of a new poll being released Monday.
"Canadians have mixed feelings about abortion but the attitude is: 'Let sleeping dogs lie,' " Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, said in an interview.
The survey of 1,009 adults was conducted to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark Morgentaler ruling. On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that banning abortion was unconstitutional. There have been no criminal laws regulating abortion in Canada since.
The poll shows, however, that many people think there are strict laws. For example, 45 per cent of those surveyed believe that a woman can only have an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – which is the rule in much of the United States. (However, despite the absence of legislation, 90 per cent of abortions are performed in the 12-week window.)
Thirty-five per cent of those polled said there should be no restrictions on a woman's access to abortion, while 5 per cent said abortion should be illegal.
Between those two ends of the spectrum, there is varying support for regulations that would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, or depend on whether the woman's life is in danger, she has been a victim of rape, or the fetus has serious defects.
"Putting people in two camps, pro-life and pro-choice, isn't reflective of reality," Mr. Canseco said. "About 50 per cent of Canadians think there should be some restrictions." They are also divided on whether abortion should be paid for by medicare: 43 per cent said Yes, 7 per cent No and 42 per cent said the procedure should only be covered if it's a medical emergency. (The other 8 per cent were unsure.)
The one question in the poll that produced the most agreement was whether there was any point reopening the debate, with a solid majority, 59 per cent, saying No, compared to 30 per cent who want the discussion reopened and 11 per cent who are undecided.
Angus Reid also examined the issue based on voting preference and found that 55 per cent of Conservatives, 65 per cent of NDP backers and 66 per cent of Liberals do not want to reopen the debate.
In the years after the Morgentaler ruling, the number of abortions rose steadily to more than 100,000 a year from around 80,000, according to Statistics Canada. Since 2000, however, the numbers have dropped, settling at about 70,000 annually.
Attitudes on abortion
44: Percentage of Canadians who say abortions should be permitted in all cases
23: Percentage who say abortion should be permitted, but subject to greater restrictions than now
18: Percentage who say it should be permitted only in cases such as rape, incest and to save a woman's life
4 Percentage who say abortion should only be permitted to save a woman's life
5 Percentage who say abortion should never be permitted
59 Percentage who say there is no point in reopening the abortion debate right now
Source : Angus-Reid Public Opinion