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March 10, 2021 6 min read

"INFO: The team previously at hannahpad Canada launched their own new brand, illum! These blog posts have been written when we used to run hannahpad Canada. All information is still relevant and everything is the same! We simply changed the brand that we offer. :slightly_smiling_face: "


To many people, reproductive rights are synonymous with the legalization of abortion, but there is so much more to it. At the end of the day, women’s reproductive rights are established to give women control over their destiny and choices regarding their reproductive health – along with the needed resources to help them make the most informed decisions possible. 

There are mixed views about reproductive health all over the world. In Canada, reproductive rights are relatively extensive, however, this wasn’t always the case. It took years of hard work along with the courageous endeavours of numerous individuals for all this to be possible.

In this article, we honour the women like Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw, Madeleine Parent, and more, who fought for reproductive rights in Canada! 

Let’s get started!

Five women holding a sign that says women


The Status Quo of Women’s Rights and Women’s Reproductive Rights in Canada

It can be said that before any advancement in reproductive rights, there must be a stable foundation of gender equality. 

One of the earliest milestones of gender equality in Canada dates back to 1884 in Ontario and 1900 in Manitoba, when theMarried Women’s Property Act was established, thereby giving women in these provinces the same legal rights as men when it came to buying or owning property. During this period of time, women did not have the right to vote, the right to have equal pay, the right to hold political office, and more. It can be surreal to think of a time when these rights did not exist for women.

Through the years, numerous determined individuals worked to establish gender equality throughout Canada. Thanks to these efforts, a number of legal instruments are now in place to protect the rights of women such as:

  • The right to own property
  • The right to earn a fair wage
  • The right to vote in both provincial and federal elections
  • The right to be recognized as “persons” under the law and to hold political office
  • The right to be protected from discrimination based on gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation, and so on. 

Current Reproductive Rights in Canada 

Alongside gender equality, women’s reproductive rights in Canada have grown over the decades, with the following facets: 

The right to a legal and safe termination of pregnancy– In Canada,abortion is publicly funded regardless of the reason for abortion. There is also no legal restriction regarding at what stage the abortion can be performed.

The right to have access to birth control – Currently,birth control is only free for individuals under the age of 25 in the province of Ontario.

The right to take maternity leave – In Canada, a pregnant employee can take up to 15 weeks ofpaid maternity leave

The right to have access to quality reproductive healthcare/health services – When it comes to maternity care, Canada’s public healthcare system is available for citizens and permanent residents. Therefore, the medical costs associated withhaving a baby can be completely free. Regardingfertility treatments, however, there is no comprehensive coverage that currently exists. Additionally,STI testing is free nationwide.

The right to have access to education that enables free and informed reproductive choices– In Canada,formal sexual education is included in almost every province’s high school curriculum.

Freedom from any form of coerced sterilization/contraception Since 1972, the Sexual Sterilization Act in Canada, which legalized coerced sterilization (mainly for indigenous women) under eugenic principles, was eliminated. Currently, forced sterilization is considered as sexual battery or sexual assault.

Freedom from other forms of sexual violence including rape, forced pregnancy/abortion, and genital mutilation The Criminal Code of Canada lays stipulations against all forms of sexual assault and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw in her youth

The Notable Women That Fought for Women’s Reproductive Rights in Canada 

Though there may still be gaps in Canada’s laws surrounding women’s reproductive rights, we’ve certainly come a long way! In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the brave and determined women who helped in making it all possible. 

1. Elizabeth Bagshaw 

Elizabeth Catherine Bagshaw was born on October 19, 1881, on a farm in Victoria County, Ontario; the youngest of four daughters. Bagshaw got her medical degree from Women’s College Hospital where she then became one of Canada’s first woman physicians at the time. 

In 1932, in the middle of her60-year medical practice, she went against heavy criticism from medical and religious groups when she became the medical director of the first birth control clinic in Canada. 

Bagshaw served as the medical director of the Hamilton Birth Control Clinic for 30 years where she worked with dedicated volunteers to run the clinic and help provide women with inexpensive and effective contraceptives. 

2. Madeleine Parent 

Madeleine Parent was born on June 23, 1918 in Montreal, Quebec as theonly daughter of a wealthy family. She graduated with a B.A. from McGill University in 1940. Soon after obtaining her degree, Parent worked as a secretary for The Montreal Trades and Labour Council – it didn’t take long for her to take up union activity.   

Parent would be known as a fearless union organizer, labour leader, women’s rights activist, and community activist. She is best known for establishing theConfederation of Canadian Unions and theCanadian Textile and Chemical Union. On top of all these, she fought for aboriginal rights and was a vocal proponent of abortion on demand. 

3. Doris Anderson 

Doris Anderson was born on November 10, 1921, in Medicine Hat, Alberta. She graduated from teacher’s college and later on used her income to secure a B.A. degree from the University of Alberta. 

After receiving her degree, Anderson wrote and sold fiction pieces and spent some time in Europe before returning to Canada and getting a job as a writer for Chatelaine, a notable Canadian women’s magazine, in 1951. It didn’t take long before Anderson became thefirst female editor for Chatelaine. During her time, Chatelaine transformed from being a traditional women’s magazine into one that addressed the more challenging issues at the time.  

Under Anderson’s guidance, Chatelaine covered issues such as Canadian divorce laws, child abuse, equal pay for women, and legalizing abortion. She was then able to use the reach of the magazine to contribute to the feminist movement in Canada. 

In 1979,Anderson was appointed chair of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She fought for the inclusion of women’s rights in the Canadian Constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A sign that says “hands off my reproductive rights!”

4. Dorothea Palmer 

Dorothea Palmer was born in England in 1908 but immigrated to Canada in 1927 where she underwent training to be a nurse. By 1936, Palmer resided in Ottawa with her husband. Around this time, the birth control movement was gaining popularity even though birth control was still criminalized in the country. Alvin Kaufman, a businessman and philanthropist, established theParents’ Information Bureau (PIB) to spread information to the public regarding birth control. 

Palmer became interested in the birth control movement after witnessing poverty and overpopulation in England as well as in Canada, sparking her to pursue a job at the PIB.

Through the course of her work, Palmer would educate about birth control and distributed informative materials. Within six months of working for PIB, Palmer visited 100 women in the area who were receptive to her message. However, Palmer was soon arrested and charged for her work. Upon arrest, Palmer told the police, “A woman should be the master of her own body. She should be the one to say if she wants to become a mother.” 

After a lengthy trial, Palmer was acquitted. She would be the last person to be arrested for advertising birth control and her victory became a clear acknowledgement that women indeed had the right to contraceptives. The case also resulted in a greater acceptance of the movement, thereby playing a part in the legalization of birth control in 1969. 


That concludes our list of the brave women who fought for women’s reproductive rights in Canada! During a time like Women’s History Month it’s important to appreciate the contributions of these courageous and determined people who helped in providing the rights and freedom that we now have today.

Acknowledge the women in your life this month by sharing some#selfcare products from illum like ournatural soaps and hand sanitizer!

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