Involuntary Motherhood: Abortion, Birth Control and the Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada

Posted: 11 May 2013

See all articles by Constance Backhouse

Constance Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 1983


Professor Backhouse suggests that before the nineteenth century abortions and birth control were largely considered private matters. However, beginning in the early nineteenth century and continuing until the Criminal Code of 1892 there were several waves of legislation which Professor Backhouse traces and analyses that made abortions and birth control crimes. She also explores court cases dealing with abortions during that century ad compares them with prosecutions for infanticide during the same period. Taking as her point of departure the burden that unwanted pregnancies could be for women, particularly the poor and unmarried or unhappily married, Professor Backhouse argues that much of the evidence suggests that the legislation was passed, not as a response to any upsurge in public opinion, but as a result of a determined group of male physicians who wished to assert monopoly control over a profession they were struggling to create.

Keywords: Backhouse, nineteenth, 19th, century, historical, history, abortion, birth control, reproductive, women, feminism, woman, physician, sex, gender, Criminal Code, criminal, law, legislation, infanticide, pregnancy, pregnancies

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance, Involuntary Motherhood: Abortion, Birth Control and the Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada (1983). Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, Vol. 3, 1983, 61-130, Available at SSRN:

Constance Backhouse (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics