A large majority of Canadian women who have experienced an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy agree they made the right decision whether they chose to get an abortion or carry that pregnancy to term, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The Angus Reid Institute poll also suggests while three in 10 women in Canada have personally experienced an unwanted pregnancy, another 40 per cent said they are close with someone who has had an abortion, and 20 per cent had a close friend or family member who carried that pregnancy to term.
“I think these data show us that these are issues that, number one, have affected and touched a huge number of women in this country,” Angus Reid Institute president Shachi Kurl told Global News.
“And at the end of the day, for them, they are making decisions or have made decisions that they felt was the right decision for them to make.”
Over 1,800 Canadians were surveyed in late August for Tuesday’s poll, which is the first of a three-part series looking at abortion in Canada.
The focus on abortion was renewed this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 1973 court decision that enshrined Americans’ right to the procedure. The June decision allowed individual state governments to legislate whether abortion would be allowed, with more than a dozen states outright banning it. Courts in nearly a dozen more states have blocked efforts to enact bans or severe limitations.
In Canada, the issue was also brought up during the most recent Conservative Party leadership contest, which forced candidates to take a stand on if they were pro-choice and if they would allow anti-abortion legislation to be introduced by party members as leader.
Kurl says the new polling is an important way to reframe the issue of abortion as a personal choice, rather than a political or moral issue.
“Everybody is entitled to have an opinion on this,” she said. “But ultimately, I think the opinions of those who have been through it carry a certain amount of weight that needs to be brought forward.”
The poll found that, among women who had personally had an abortion, 65 per cent said they made the right decision and had no regrets. Another 28 per cent of women also said they ultimately made the right choice, but had some regrets about it.
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Just six per cent said they made the wrong decision and that a different choice would have been better.
The poll found women across all ages and political affiliations have either personally experienced an abortion or know someone who has. In fact, more Conservative voters surveyed — 18 per cent — said they had ended a pregnancy than Liberal (14 per cent) or NDP voters (16 per cent).
Those who have had an abortion generally had few difficulties accessing the procedure, although 16 per cent said it was either quite difficult or close to impossible. Another nine per cent of those surveyed, who knew someone who had an abortion, said that person experienced difficulty.
While not a majority, Kurl says one in eight women having difficulty accessing the care they need is still concerning.
“If you’re in a rural community, if you’re in a northern community, if you’re in an Indigenous community, access to care in general is problematic,” she said.
“That ends up being a life-changing factor for (these women), or has the potential to be a life-changing factor.”
Carrying to term brings more choices
Roughly the same consensus was found among those who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term, yet the number who said they made the wrong decision was slightly higher, at 10 per cent.
For those who said they made the right decision, 54 per cent said they had no regrets, while 25 per cent said they had a few.
Although fewer people said they had carried an unwanted pregnancy to term or knew someone who had, that experience also touched women across all ages.
That decision itself also carried a range of other choices. Nearly 60 per cent of those who gave birth ultimately kept and raised that baby, 22 per cent placed the baby for adoption and 21 per cent found another arrangement.
Kurl says the variety of choices women have made when confronted with an unwanted pregnancy — and the general belief that their decisions were the right ones — further highlights the complexity of the issue. But she adds the perspective is necessary to understand before taking a political or moral stance.
“The issues around abortion go well beyond the choices that Canadian women have to make,” she said. “They spread into the courts, they spread into Parliament and other places. But at their essence, at the end of the day, this is an issue about women making decisions that they have to make and making the best decisions they think are right for them.
“We’re not just talking about laws. We’re talking about people.”
The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from Aug. 29-30, 2022 among a representative randomized sample of 1,805 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.