As Canadians began living with the reality of legalized abortion, it became apparent that a united effort was needed to combat the prevailing culture of the day. Pro-life groups and organizations began popping up all across the country. These groups had a strong emphasis on both providing support for women who were experiencing unwanted pregnancies and on educating the public as to what abortion was. Not only did they engage in this important work, they also took their concerns directly to the government. Alliance for Life, a national pro-life group, initiated a petition campaign that became known as the “Petition of One Million” in which they collected 1,027,425 Canadian signatures asking for full legal protection of unborn children. The petition was tabled in the House of Commons on May 29, 1975 and was soundly ignored by the government led by Mr. Trudeau.
It was during this period that Dr. Henry Morgentaler began challenging Canada’s abortion laws. Dr. Morgentaler performed abortions illegally and on March 15, 1973, he went so far as to publically announce that he had personally performed over 5,000 abortions since 1968. Over a period of almost two decades Dr. Morgentaler challenged abortion laws in various provinces. This culminated with the infamous R. v. Morgentaler case heard by the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of Canada. The result was that the Court ruled 5-2 that Section 251 of the Criminal Code violated Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More information can be found here, but it’s important to note that the Court did not say that women had a constitutional right to abortion. Rather, the section was struck down on procedural grounds; the law could not be applied equally across Canada and so it violated the security of the person guarantee found in Section 7.