Empowering autonomy : a novel approach to the right to accessible abortion : exploring realities from the perspective of abortion seekers in Canada and England and Wales


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Women’s reproductive rights are consistently threatened globally. Timely access to safe and respectful abortion is unobtainable for many. This is a human rights violation. Accessible abortion is necessary for the exercise of autonomy and female flourishing. This thesis presents an updated understanding of accessible abortion as a human right based on the following rights well-established in international law: the right to life; the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; the right to health and the right to equality and non-discrimination. Furthermore, this thesis will analyse the often-competing rights: freedom of religion and conscience, and the freedom of expression. From these rights emerge a ‘constellation’ of State obligations that form the international right to accessible abortion, including both international and regional obligations. This thesis then considers the implementation of the right to accessible abortion in two jurisdictions with unique legal and policy frameworks on abortion: Canada and England and Wales. Whilst abortion was completely decriminalised in Canada by the Supreme Court in 1988, abortion remains a criminal offence in England and Wales by virtue of historic legislation. Instead, a lawful abortion in England and Wales is provided by way of a defence for the doctor who provides a termination in accordance with the Abortion Act 1967. Adopting a socio-legal and critical feminist methodology, this thesis focuses on the lived realities of abortion law. Examining policy, healthcare guidelines, and the experience of abortion care by real life women goes beyond mere statistics. Ultimately, after establishing the existence of a robust international right to accessible abortion, this thesis sheds light on the domestic failure to fulfil women’s right to accessible abortion in two jurisdictions often overlooked by the abortion conversation. It suggests necessary reform so that everyone with the capacity to become pregnant has access to safe and respectful abortion care.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Peter A. Allard School of