The Politics of Abortion in the United States and Canada: A Comparative Study

By Raymond Tatalovich | Go to book overview

2

Judicial Activism and Judicial Activity
Is Canada Becoming Like the United States?

The argument of this chapter is that there is a fundamental difference between what the U. S. Supreme Court did in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and what the Supreme Court of Canada subsequently did in its 1988 ruling in Morgentaler v. The Queen. In the United States the high court created a constitutional right to an abortion, thus barring any governmental regulation unless it could withstand the highest judicial standard of strict scrutiny (and few could), whereas in Canada the high court declared the existing statute unworkable and, furthermore, invited Parliament to rework that legislation. To say that today both countries have legalized abortion as an elective procedure is to miss the point. In the United States elective abortions during the first trimester have been constitutionalized as a right; in Canada elective abortions are legal only because Parliament thus far has refused to act. If Congress wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, it would have to garner two‐ thirds votes in the House and Senate and then obtain the approval of three‐ fourths of the states for a constitutional amendment. Parliament, to reverse the effect of Morgentaler v. The Queen (1988), would need only to enact new legislation (which presumably also would be challenged in court). In other words, the legal status quo in Canada is the result of legislative default—the failure of Parliament to act in the affirmative.


American Judicial Activism

What led the Supreme Court in 1973 to legalize abortion during the first trimester of a pregnancy was the privacy doctrine articulated in Griswold v.

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