Nearly three-quarters of Canadians believe the federal government should let lie the abortion issue, instead of reopening the debate, according to new polling from Maru Public Opinion, yet nearly 80 per cent believe the Liberals should move to legislatively protect the right to abortion.
The poll, released roughly one week after the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that shows the nearly half-century old legal precedent legalizing abortion in the United States could be overturned, shows that 72 per cent of Canadians believe abortion should be left how it is in Canada — with no federal law whatsoever.
Just 11 per cent of Canadians believe the government should revisit the question of there being no limits by law on abortion, while a further nine per cent don’t care, and eight per cent say they don’t know what government should do. Seventeen per cent of those in Atlantic Canada feel the debate should be reopened, followed by 15 per cent in Alberta, 13 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 12 per cent in Ontario, eight per cent in Quebec and seven per cent in British Columbia.
“Politicians have been really, really reluctant to touch this issue, really since the 1970s,” said Kelly Gordon, a McGill University political scientist who studies abortion politics. “Since 1991, when Mulroney tried to pass an abortion law and it failed in the Senate, no sitting government has tabled any abortion related legislation.”
The figures suggest some inconsistency in Canadians’ views. While 72 per cent don’t want the debate reopened, 63 per cent say they’re O.K. with the current situation. And, in spite of both those things, 78 per cent of Canadians believe the federal government needs to pass laws to protect abortion rights.
“You can say that you would like to have the legislation or you’d like to have the federal government be able to settle this issue. On the other hand, by reopening it, it is going to cause great debate, consternation and division,” said John Wright, executive vice president of Maru Public Opinion.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court leak, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed that his government would protect abortion rights in Canada — although it’s unclear how the Liberals might go about this.
“He probably has the majority in Parliament to pass something and it will put the conservatives on the defensive,” said Wright. “On the other hand, by reopening something it unleashes views in this country which are volatile.”
Eighty-eight per cent of Quebecers support introducing law to protect abortion rights, followed by 83 per cent in B.C., 77 per cent in Ontario, 71 per cent in Atlantic Canada and 65 per cent of those in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Indeed, 50 per cent of Canadians believe abortion rights in Canada are now under threat because of the U.S. court decision and 70 per cent believe Trudeau’s promise is a genuine one, and not a “cynical political ploy.”
“So his commitment to women in this country has laid the groundwork for him if he wishes to bring in greater protections for this,” said Wright.
A further substantial majority — 73 per cent — believe a woman should be able to get an abortion “no matter what the reason.” Twenty-one per cent believe abortion should be legal only in certain circumstances: 70 per cent say it should be legal if the mother’s life is at risk, 63 per cent if the pregnancy is from rape or incest and 44 per cent if the baby “may be severely physically impaired,” 43 per cent if the baby may be “severely mentally impaired.” Just 28 per cent believe an abortion should be legal if the mother’s mental health is at risk, 13 per cent if the pregnancy is unwanted and 10 per cent if the baby “cannot be financially supported.”
Six per cent of Canadians say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances; of this group, 66 per cent say their religious beliefs inform that view.
Still, nearly one-quarter — 23 per cent — of Canadians believe governments and courts should make it tougher to get an abortion than it is now; 26 per cent of those in Atlantic Canada believe that, followed by Manitoba and Saskatchewan at 25 per cent, Ontario at 24 per cent, Alberta at 23 per cent, Quebec at 20 per cent and B.C. at 19 per cent. Men (25 per cent) are more likely to believe this than women (21 per cent) and young Canadians between 18 and 34 are more likely to believe this (25 per cent) than older Canadians (21 per cent.)
“The textbook answer to that or my intuition would be, you know, maybe it’s because they didn’t live the abortion politics of the ’80s,” said Gordon. “One of the products of like the debate in Canada being framed about whether we should have a debate about abortion or not, is that we’re missing out on having a debate about why abortion care is important.”
These figures at times conflict widely with those of our closest neighbours where, since 1973, the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion.
“It’s a really different context for a lot of reasons. It’s different public opinion, there’s a different role for religion and social conservatism in the political realm,” said Gordon.
A slim majority of Americans, 53 per cent, would find a Supreme Court decision that overturns Roe v. Wade to be unacceptable. Just 52 per cent of Americans believe a woman should be able to get an abortion for whatever reason — including only 55 per cent of American women. Thirty-eight per cent believe abortion should be legal in some circumstances — 68 per cent in a case of rape or incest, for example — compared to 10 per cent who believe it should be illegal in all circumstances. Thirty-five per cent also say they would vote for a politician who wants to make abortion illegal.
With abortion laws likely to come into effect in roughly half of all U.S. states, 77 per cent of Canadians agree that an American woman who wants an abortion should be allowed to come to Canada and pay to receive one here. Those most likely to say so live in Quebec (83 per cent) and those least likely to say so live in Manitoba/Saskatchewan (68 per cent.)