Abortion, law and the ideology of motherhood: new perspectives on old problems


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Many feminist analyses of abortion law in Canada over the last two decades have been characterized by criticism of the failure of legislation and case law to appreciate adequately the interests of women in the matter. As a result they have advocated the pursuit of legislative reform and the demand for legal recognition and judicial protection of women's "right to choose". Despite the substantial fulfilment of these aims, problems of availability and access to abortion services continue to be experienced by Canadian women. This thesis purports to adopt a new, more critical perspective, incorporating an ideological analysis of both past restrictions and current conflicts over abortion regulation, in an attempt to develop fresh insights into the possibilities for feminist strategizing in this area. In highlighting the subtle ways in which law itself facilitates the continued denial of women's reproductive choice, it seeks to discourage the future reliance upon law alone to redress these current injustices. The concept of a "dominant ideology of motherhood" is employed as the theoretical framework from which to examine the role of law in reflecting, and reinforcing dominant ideas about women and their relation to motherhood. An investigation of the ideas most influential in shaping the first nineteenth century prohibition on abortion and, of the understandings manifested in the legal developments secured since, discloses the constancy of certain, oppressive constructions of women in legal forums. Further analysis of how ideological anti-abortion messages have been imported into judicial discourse via the recent abortion injunction cases, suggests that law may not be the most appropriate forum in which to challenge and modify these dominant ideas. Upon these findings, the scope for constructing alternative, revolutionary feminist discourse on abortion is examined. The thesis concludes that deconstruction of the particular and oppressive ideas informing the past and present legal treatment of abortion, and of the ideological nature of law itself, may provide a basis for developing oppositional, "woman-centred" ideas and understandings on the issue. Finally, it is suggested that feminists might make greater progress in the current debate through promoting these ideas in the extra-legal sphere.

Date Available



For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.




Law, Peter A. Allard School of