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Facts and Figures on Abortion in Canada   Return to Gender & Health theme page

1. Core Knowledge

Clinical Roles

A major clinical challenge is to provide appropriate, patient-centered and sensitive support for a woman who experiences an unwanted pregnancy. It can be very difficult to balance an understanding of her preferences, which may be clouded by the stress she is currently experiencing, and your own perspectives. Not least, the time pressure works against making a fully balanced decision. Here is a link to a poignant story on an abortion in Quebec by Margaret Somerville, Director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, that raises some of the ethical issues involved.

There are various resources to assist a woman in making the supremely difficult choice between continuing with the pregnancy, terminating the pregnancy or seeking an adoption. Here is a useful decision aid: Decision-making for an unplanned pregnancy from the Alberta Options group. Other materials from a pro-life perspective are available through the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services.


Spontaneous and Induced Abortions

Spontaneous abortions (or miscarriages) refer to the loss of a fetus due to natural causes before 20 weeks of pregnancy (not due to human intervention). Miscarriages are common, and are strongly related to the mother’s age:

Graph showing rising numbers of spontaneous abortions by age of the mother


2. Nice to Know



3. Additional Information

Safety of Abortions

Obviously, concern over the safety of abortions is paramount. The risk of death from induced abortions in the U.S. has been put at 1 in 160,000 – lower than the mortality risk from childbirth. (Source: JAMA 1992; 268: 3231-9).

Psychological trauma following induced abortion may occur: it is logical that a woman will feel sadness or regret. The strongest predictor of a more extreme reaction is the woman's mental health before the abortion. However, the mental well-being of most women improves following the abortion (Robinson GE et al. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 2009; 17(4):268-290).

The quality of research on the existence of a 'post-abortion syndrome' varies widely and is clouded by partisan stances on both sides of the debate. You should carefully examine the quality of studies on the topic: How representative was the sample studied? What was the comparison group? How was mental distress measured? Was the wantedness of the pregnancy controlled for? How were pre-existing mental conditions handled in the analyses? What other stressful circumstances did the women experience?

Here is a perspective from Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence:

“I don’t believe anyone, including myself, is pro-abortion. I am pro-choice because there are times when abortion is the least damaging course. Those who would give the fertilized egg the same rights as a born child seem to me to have precious little regard for those children once they are born. Nor do the anti-abortionists show much concern over the rights and life of the mother. I have never met a woman who has had an abortion flippantly or easily or without searching her heart and her soul. No doubt such women do exist, but I believe they are in a small minority, and should be cared for, for their shadowed pain. As for the young girls-terrified children, really-who have been molested, subject to rape or incest, or simply, out of desperate need, have sought what they mistakenly believed to be love and caring, I think it is wicked to force them to bear the children of such frightening unions, of such traumatizing and wounding encounters… The fires at the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto, the bombing of various abortion clinics in America, the harassment of women entering these clinics – all these demonstrate to me not a concern over the sanctity of human life but, on the contrary, a deeply aggressive and punitive attitude towards women on the part of a basically male establishment.”


We have some estimates of the prevalence of unsafe abortions in the world (figures per 1000 women aged 15-49):

1996 World map showing rates of unsafe abortions

See Grimes DA, et al. Unsafe abortions: the preventable pandemic. WHO, 2006.


World Figures on Abortions

The UN Population Division offers international information on abortions by country. The report illustrates the legal status of abortion in each country and reports rates for many of them (the document is from 2002; statistics are from a variety of previous years).

Some highlights:
Abortion rates vary from a high of 53.7 per thousand women aged 15-44 in Russia, through 38 per thousand in China,  35 (Viet Nam and Kazakhstan);  33 (Estonia);  32 (Belarus);  27 (Ukraine and the USA);  20.2 (USA);  19.7 (Australia and New Zealand);  16.9 (France);  15.2 (Canada);  10.6 in Italy;  10.4 (Netherlands);  to 0.2 (Portugal). Reassuringly, no abortions were reported from the Vatican City.


Doctors Talk about Conscience in Medicine

The Medical Post reported comments by clinicians on how they balance their personal beliefs with their obligations to patient care, including abortions (September 23, 2014, page 5). Here are the quotations:




Law on abortion in Canada
        Planned Parenthood provides resources to help women choose between parenthood, adoption or abortion.
        First Place Options similarly provides women with counseling; they use a decision aid to assist women in reaching a decision over an unplanned pregnancy.
        The Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists of Canada provides clinical guidelines
        The Pro-Choice group offers a history of abortion in Canada
        The Medical students for choice site contains a wide variety of information, as does the Medical Students for Life
        Canadians for choice has some useful information, while the Canadians for Life site covers a wide range of pro-life topics, not just pregnancy, but also including palliative care.
        The de Veber Institute produces literature reviews concerning health problems associated with abortions.

Updated July 24, 2015