On April 27 in 1970, seventeen women left from the Vancouver Art Gallery in a cavalcade of cars going to Ottawa. They were inspired by the On-to-Ottawa trek of unemployed workers of 1935. Their bold demand was the repeal of all abortion laws – or they would declare war on the government, because women were dying from illegal abortion.
The 17 women stopped in cities across Canada to inform the public and mobilize other women, and the Caravan grew as many others joined. Their slogans were “Abortion is our Right”, “Every Child a Wanted Child” and “We are Furious Women”.
In Ottawa, 400 women assembled for a strategy meeting. They organized marches and demonstrations in Ottawa and at the Prime Minister’s house. On May 11, 1970, 80 women circled the eternal flame outside Parliament shouting slogans, while more than 30 women surreptitiously entered the House of Commons. They chained themselves to seats in the Visitors’ Gallery, then at 3pm took turns to stand up and shout for abortion rights. They succeeded in shutting down Parliament for the first time in Canadian history!
Although it took another 18 years for the Supreme Court to declare Canada’s abortion law to be unconstitutional, the women’s movement never gave up. Today, we continue to fight because some people are still being denied their right to choose.
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC)
For more on the history of the Abortion Caravan:
- Listen to 50 years ago, the women of Canada’s ‘Abortion Caravan’ stormed Parliament for reproductive rights, a 2018 CBC radio documentary by Karin Wells. Her new book The Abortion Caravan: When Women Shut Down Government in the Battle for the Right to Choose is featured in the the April 2020 issue of Ms Magazine.
- Read Pat (Hoffer) Davitt’s full account in Abortion – The Origins of the Abortion Campaign on the Vancouver Women’s Caucus – A Women’s Liberation History Project website.
And A Call to Action now:
Then and Now: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the 1970 Abortion Caravan is a series of issue papers exploring abortion rights organizing in Canada from 1970 onward and showcasing the movement’s gains, concerns and demands. Intended as a “virtual Caravan for 2020”, the series begins with the Abortion Caravan Anniversary Primer. All papers are posted on the Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights website.
The Abortion Caravan Documents
|Abortion Caravan Demands and Brief (May 1970)||1970||National (all of Canada)|
|Abortion Caravan Scrapbook: Labouring Under a Mis-Conception; Legalize all Abortion Now!||1970||National (all of Canada)|
|Abortion Laws are Killing People||1970||British Columbia|
|Abortion: A Human Right for Women||1970||British Columbia|
|John Turner’s Reply to Vancouver Women’s Caucus March 19th Letter||1970||National (all of Canada)|
|Letter to B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Health Services – March 10, 1970||1970||British Columbia|
|Vancouver Women’s Caucus Letter – Abortion Strategy||1970||British Columbia|
|Vancouver Women’s Caucus Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau||1970||British Columbia|