Abortion And Reproductive Rights

The "pill" hit Canada in 1961. Doctors could prescribe it for therapeutic purposes such as regulation of the menstrual cycle. However, birth control wasn't legalized until 1969. The same law also made abortions legal if approved by a hospital medical committee as necessary to preserve the pregnant women's life or health.

– Excerpt from “The birth control pill” by Martin O'Malley, Owen Wood, and Amy Foulkes, CBC News Online, July 3, 2001

Birth control did not become legal in Canada until 1969, so there was a still a need for information about it and access to it for many Newfoundland women in the 70s and even the 80s. In 1985, the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women reported that in Newfoundland and Labrador: “The birth rate to women under age 20 is double the national average.”

To help address these kinds of issues, Dr. Helen McKilligan and several other concerned people organized a public meeting at City Hall in St. John’s in 1972. The Family Planning Association of Newfoundland and Labrador was formed and soon opened a birth control centre in St. John’s, the first of its kind in the province. Fran Innis was its first President. In 1978, the Centre was incorporated as Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador. (In 2005, its name was changed to the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Health Centre.) Other Planned Parenthood centres opened in Corner Brook, Grand Falls, Bay St. George and Grand Bank/Fortune, but were later forced to close due to lack of funding.

While birth control was a controversial issue to some members of the public, the question of abortion was even more so. There was also disagreement around this issue within and among the Status of Women Councils in the Province. As early as 1972, the Newfoundland Status of Women Council (later known as the St. John’s Status of Women Council) decided to publicly support the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women to remove abortion from the Criminal Code. In 1975, the NSWC joined the Canadian Association for the Repeal of the Abortion Law (CARAL). The Bay St. George Status of Women Council and the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women also adopted pro-choice policies. However, the rest of the Status of Women Councils did not make a public stand on the issue.