History of the Medical Discourse on Abortion

My dissertation examined the discourse as evident in the medical press in English Canada during this period.[1]  In my current work editing this project for publication, I am writing an additional chapter on other testimony to the Standing Committee (women’s groups, etc.) that I did not deal with in the dissertation originally.  Demonstrating concretely how the medical testimony was shaped by shifts, which occurred in the medical discourse on abortion in the twentieth century, this research makes it clear that women’s welfare was actually at the centre of physicians’ arguments about abortion.[2]  Whether they argued for or against changes to the legislation on abortion, the discourse shows that doctors had what they perceived to be their patients’ best interests in mind.  The testimony of women’s groups indicates that, rather than being excluded from discussions about changes to the legislation, they also presented briefs which supported the view that doctors should be at the centre of the decision to terminate pregnancies.  This suggests that the exclusion of women from the recommendations to the Standing Committee (and the changes to the legislation) was, to at least some extent, perceived.[3] This expands the work I have already done and will allow me to connect my previous work to the post-1969 period when I will examine the discourse beyond the revision of the Canadian abortion law in 1969.  The revised monograph is to be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press.   I plan to submit it to the press at the end of 2011.  In addition to traditional publications, I would like to (eventually) explore the creation a documentary film about this important topic.


[1] Penny Light, Tracy, “Shifting Interests: The Medical Discourse on Abortion in English Canada, 1850-1969,” unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Waterloo, 2003.

[2] Penny Light, Tracy, ““They Die Smiling”: Doctors, Maternal Welfare and Abortion, 1940-1969,” in progress.

[3] Penny Light, Tracy, ““A General Consensus” or Excluding Women?: Testimony to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare on Abortion, Canada, 1967-68” in progress.