The Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics (OCAC) was started in 1982 by women health care workers from the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre, Hassle Free Clinic, and the Birth Control and VD Information Centre in Toronto. The coalition was founded on the idea that women have the right to control their bodies. This means the right to choose if and when to have children, and it means the right to safe, free abortions.
From 1969 to 1988 women could only receive an abortion in Canada if three doctors at a hospital could judge if her life was in danger. These were called therapeutic abortion committees, and they had many problems. Most hospitals didn’t set them up, for those that did have a committee it often took 6-8 weeks to process an application, the committees were overwhelmingly made up of men, and in practice, only women who could access abortion were educated, middle and upper-class women who lived in big cities.
OCAC was formed because the clinics wanted to challenge a system that was denying abortion to their clients. At the time, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a family physician from Montreal, and a Polish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps had lobbied for a change in Canada’s abortion law, stating that women had a basic right to abortion, that it was not just a privilege. With the help of Dr. Morgentaler, OCAC established an illegal abortion clinic in Toronto. It was raided, doctors were arrested, but they fought to keep it open so that abortion could be accessible to all women. They won. There are now several free standing abortion clinics in Ontario. OCAC works with these clinics to ensure that women have safe access to the clinics. OCAC also engages in political campaigns to keep abortion free, legal and accessible for all.