THE Supreme Court of Canada recently reaffirmed a woman's right to have an abortion, but there is still no abortion law in Canada. The lack of a nationwide standard on abortion has given the lower courts wide discretion, as in the case of Chantal Daigle of Quebec. Miss Daigle was prevented by a lower court from getting an abortion by an ex-boyfriend who got an injunction against the abortion.
The father, Jean-Guy Tremblay, said while he wanted Daigle to have the child, he had no time to raise it. Miss Daigle had accused her ex-fianc'e of being violent and she said she wanted out of the engagement and the pregnancy.
The lower-court decision was overturned by the Supreme Court on Aug. 8, but not before Daigle defied the injunction and traveled to the United States for an abortion. The Quebec woman has become a heroine of groups who favor the right of a woman to decide whether to have an abortion.
The legal uncertainty about abortion coincides with violent demonstrations against abortion clinics in Canada. Some protesters have been jailed after ignoring court orders to stop picketing abortion clinics.
Canada has been without an abortion law since January 1988, when the Supreme Court overturned existing abortion legislation, and nervous politicians have not been in a rush to pass such a law. The Supreme Court ruled that the arbitrary nature of the old law violated a woman's constitutional rights.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has promised that abortion legislation will be introduced this fall, but not until after the government has studied the written decision by the Supreme Court.
The prime minister also promised a free vote on abortion, meaning members of Parliament would vote with their conscience and not be bound by party affiliation. But the spectacle of civil disobedience and the likelihood of further litigation like that involving Daigle could mean the government will push for quick passage of an abortion bill.
``We're going to have to do something because we have a bit of a mess on our hands,'' says Conservative Member of Parliament Donald Belnkarn, who is not in favor of abortion on demand but who - like other MP's - may compromise because of what is seen as a crisis. ``That is not going to make a lot of people happy, but these are not happy times.''
In spite of the lack of an abortion law, abortion clinics and hospitals in Canada regularly perform abortions. The injunction against Daigle was a first in Canada.