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 Title

Canada's Lop-Sided Abortion Debate

 Synopsis

Pro-abortionists in Canada frequently complain that the right to end a pregnancy is under unprecedented attack. Where's their proof?

 Author

Lorne Gunter

 Author Notes

Regular columnist with The Edmonton Journal, and frequent contributor to the National Post, National Report, and other publications.

 Essay - 2/24/1998

What more do Canada’s pro-abortionists want?

To hear them talk last month (January 1998) -- first during the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion there, then during the festivities surrounding the 10th anniversary of the Canadian court’s elimination of all abortion law here--one could be forgiven for thinking that abortion is difficult to obtain in Canada. It would also have been easy to get the idea that what limited access there is to the procedure is in jeopardy of being cut off. And sinister anti-abortion forces hold the nation’s politicians in their thrall.

During a one-sided discussion of abortion rights on C-PAC, Parliament’s cable television channel, featuring the nation’s most famous abortionist, Henry Morgentaler, but not a single pro-life leader, all the panellists moaned and fretted about how a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is being daily eroded in Canada.

Elsewhere, viewers and readers were told that provincial governments are constantly looking for underhanded ways to restrict funding for abortions, especially abortions performed in one of Canada’s 30 free-standing abortion clinics.

The pressure on abortionists and pro-abortion politicians is unrelenting, Canadians were notified unblinkingly. Withstanding the constant pressure is withering away the will of these brave crusaders to defend the gains that have already been made on behalf of women. Just holding on is consuming all their energy. Women should expect no further gains until someone can break the iron grip “anti-choice” groups have over the public debate.

My personal favourite is a little gem reprinted without critical examination by the Globe and Mail: Access to abortion is in peril because there is so little money in it for the doctors who perform the procedure. Doctors get paid as little as $90 per abortion.

The truth is, in most provinces, an abortion nets the physician about one-third the fee an obstetrician receives for an uncomplicated delivery of a healthy infant. But the single well-baby delivery fee also covers six to eight prenatal office visits, and a follow-up visit six weeks after the birth of the child.

For that, provincial health care plans pay doctors between $245 and $305. An abortion, which takes as little as 10 minutes to perform, and seldom more than 30, brings between $90 and $135. And often the physician never meets the patient face-to-face. She is prepped by a nurse, then wheeled into the operating room as the previous patient is being wheeled out.

It is quite easy for a full-time abortionist to do a dozen or more abortions a day, and earn well over $1,000 in less than eight hours.

Moreover, if the abortions are performed in a clinic, the physician is usually also part owner and receives a share of the profits or an administrative stipend from the facility fees paid either by the patient or the taxpayer.

Poor, noble, suffering abortionists.

It has to be assumed that most of the activists spewing forth these arguments sincerely believe what they are saying. But in that case, abortion providers and their defenders must be among the most deluded people in Canada. On few issues, and on no other similarly contentious issue, are the scales tipped so completely to one side as they are in favour of pro-abortionists. Yet they perceive themselves as not unlike the horsemen of the Light Brigade, courageous underdogs subjected to blistering attacks from all around, willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause.

It would be easier to respect the pro-abortionists (although no easier to agree with them) if their claims about the threats to abortion access were merely cunning ruses; if they were saying what they are saying simply to make their side look good, while sniggering in private about the truth of the matter.

Yet they have repeated their half-truths and half-baked proofs about shadowy plots so often they no longer hesitate swallowing these whole themselves.

Nor has it helped that their version of things has never received from the media the same scrutiny editors and reporters give the menu at a drive-thru. Few Canadian daily newspapers, and no national or regional television network, so much as hiccups before regurgitating the views fed them by pro-abortionists. If the people running a private clinic feel abortion is teetering on the brink, then it must be so. Print it. Air it. In the abortion debate, Canada’s media have deemed one of the interested parties to be the sole and final judge of fact--the pro-abortionists.

On one point--and it is a major one--pro-abortionists have a legitimate concern. On or near Remembrance Day, in three of the past four years, an unknown gunman has shot a leading abortionist in that doctor’s home, from long range. In each case the doctor has lived. No one has yet been charged.

Abortionists are worried, with some justification, that the shooter--presumably a pro-lifer, and presumably acting alone--is still out there, and next Remembrance Day another one of their number may be his target.

That is something real to be worried about. Still it hardly justifies all the recent hysteria about the alleged difficulty of receiving an abortion in Canada.

Because the pro-abortionists believe so fervently their own ball of yarns, it is hard to know which thread to begin unravelling first, or from which end.

So let’s start with a little fact you are unlikely to hear a pro-abortionist admit: Among industrialized democracies, Canada has the most liberal abortion laws.

That is such an astounding surprise to most Canadians, let me repeat it again: Among industrialized democracies, Canada has the most liberal abortion laws, because it has no abortion law at all. Thanks to the 1988 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down the abortion law that existed at the time, and to timid politicians who have never even attempted to replace it, Canada is the only western nation in which a millionaire expectant mother can receive a legal, state-funded abortion on the day before she is due to deliver her baby, no questions asked.

Legally, it is possible in Canada to kill a baby up to the moment it has fully passed through the birth canal. Before the official moment of birth neither the mother who procures an abortion nor the doctor who performs it can be charged with anything. And tax dollars will pay for the whole thing.

Very few Canadians ever give much thought to abortion. It is a discomforting subject they would rather put out of their minds and keep out of the public forum. So the assertion that Canada is even more liberal on the issue than “progressive” European states, strikes most middle-class Canadians as absurd. They would rank it right up their with an eye-witness spotting of a living Elvis Presley or the announcement of the birth of a two-headed ape to a teeny-bopper in Arkansas. It seems like the stuff of supermarket tabloids. Nevertheless, it’s true.

England and Switzerland require a women seeking an abortion to obtain the signatures of two doctors certifying the legal grounds for an abortion have been satisfied. In France, abortions after the first 12 weeks are rarely permitted, and those performed in the first trimester require the approval of a hospital or local abortion committee. (France, however, does permit woman to obtain “morning after” pills from their physicians without a committee’s consent.)

Women seeking to end a pregnancy in Germany or Greece need to find a doctor to approve the procedure, other than the doctor who will perform it. True that might not be much of a restriction. It would be a simple one for a couple of friendly practitioners to circumvent by agreeing to approve each other’s patients. Still, it is more of an impediment than has been erected in Canada.

Even in Sweden, where tax-paid abortion-on-demand is available, it is permitted only until the 18th week of gestation. In Canada, there are no restrictions up to and including the 40th week.

Canada doesn’t have abortion-on-demand, the pro-abortionists assure us. And they’re right. In Canada, we have abortion-on-a-whim.

Only the United States comes close to matching Canada. There, between Roe v. Wade (1973) and the lesser-known Casey case in 1992, no practical restrictions were permitted on abortions before the first 24 weeks. Since 1992, the Supreme Court has permitted states to pass limited obstacles, such as requiring parental consent for minors seeking the procedure, one-day waiting periods to permit women time to contemplate their decision, and compulsory counselling on fetal development or alternatives to abortion (prenatal care, child-support programs and adoption). At present, 13 states impose one or more of these minor delays.

According to UCLA Professor James Q. Wilson, the difference between abortion laws in North America and those in Europe is that here, the laws were set by judges. In Europe, the were written by legislators.

Since judges tend to be more liberal than legislators, particularly on social matters, it is hardly surprising that judge-set abortion laws are the most liberal. And since politicians are more liberal as a class than voters, it is also hardly surprising that countries where judges dictate the law have abortion regimes at least two steps removed from the will of the people.

During the abortion debates of the late 1960s and early 1970s (the Trudeau government permitted the first legal abortions in Canada in 1969), feminists and other pro-abortionists pledged that their goal was simply to make abortion “safe, legal and rare.” Well it is legal. And safe, although I suspect there are more health problems from abortion, both short- and long-term than pro-abortionists admit, fewer than pro-lifers guess.

Legal and safe were governments’ part of the bargain. Governments have more than fulfilled their obligations. It is the feminists and pro-abortionists who have failed to keep their end. Indeed, the vehement opposition that greets any attempt to make abortion less common, to say nothing of rare, would indicate that pro-abortionists never intended to work to keep abortion numbers down. The more that are performed, the freer they perceive women to be. (“Look at all those sisters exercising control of their bodies!) Like everything feminism touches, abortion has become nothing but a political issue.

The state of abortion in Canada is little understood, even by people who claim to support or oppose it. Here are a few quick facts:

· there were nearly 110,000 abortions performed in Canada in 1997.

· that is up from just over 65,000 the year before the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s abortion law. Even allowing for the rise in population in the past 10 years, that’s an increase of 49 per cent. And the pre-1988 number demonstrates abortion was already easy to obtain when the prior permission of a hospital abortion committee was required.

· about half of the real increase since 1988 was the result of the striking down of the 1969 law by the Supreme Court. The other half resulted from the rapid expansion of free-standing clinics after some provinces started funding abortions there.

· a 1996 Statistics Canada study revealed that over 16 per cent of Canadian women have had abortions. Among women who were in their child-bearing years at the time, more than one-third are expected to have an abortion in their lifetimes.

· most abortions in Canada are performed on women between the ages of 20 and 29, not teens who make mistakes.

· more than one-quarter of abortions are performed on women who are having their second, third or fourth one.

· 1,000 or more annually are performed in the final three months of pregnancy, so-called late-term abortions.

· one in five pregnancies now ends in abortion.

Abortion is also the only medical procedure the federal government has ever told the provinces they must fund. Four years ago, the government of Alberta asked Ottawa for a list of procedures a province must pay for to be in compliance with the Canada Health Act, and thus eligible for federal transfers. After months of dithering, Ottawa responded that only abortion funding must be guaranteed. Protecting universal accessibility to heart surgery or tumour removal is not as important as preserving a woman’s right to end her pregnancy.

To be frank, the pro-life movement in Canada is feeble. It would have trouble organizing belches at Oktoberfest, must less marshalling legislators to chisel away at the gains made by pro-abortionists. Most Canadian pro-lifers are isolationist evangelicals or demure Catholics who are either too suspicious of politics, or too frightened by it, to get involved.

In Ontario and British Columbia, the two provinces where pro-lifers are the most active, abortion-friendly governments have made it all but impossible for their protests to be effective. “Bubble-zone” laws keep picketers out of sight, or at least out of earshot, of abortion clinics and abortionists’ homes. (I have to say I agree with the bans on demonstrations outside abortionists’ private residences.)

In 1996-97, a pro-lifer spent 71 days in jail in B.C. awaiting a trial that never came. He was charged with violating that province’s bubble-zone law by standing outside a Vancouver abortion clinic, blindfolded, wearing a placard containing nothing more than the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights--no pro-life slogans, no appeals to patients’ consciences, nothing but the declaration. Yet because the declaration makes reference to the right to life, the protestor was arrested and held without trial for longer than the maximum sentence he could have received had he been found guilty. Only then was he released.

So pro-abortionists have the newsrooms of the nation sewn up. The federal government has declared it will cut transfers to any province de-insuring abortion. The number of abortions performed in Canada has risen almost every year since 1969, and dramatically increased since 1988, to the point where 20 per cent of all Canadian pregnancies now end in abortion. Protestors are kept away from the doors of abortion clinics. And no where are women required to convince doctors of their grounds for seeking an abortion, or pay for the procedure themselves.

So when pro-abortionists claim the right to abortion is under attack, what more could they want than what they already have?

The only thing left to give is an enforced end to dissent.

In April, four Ontario pro-lifers will stand trial for displaying pictures of aborted fetuses on the steps of city hall in St. Thomas. A judge decided in January that the quartet should be tried, in part because witnesses claimed the pictures made them ill or weepy.

The dead-baby-picture ploy is one of the most ill-conceived tactics used by pro-lifers. They think it will shock the public out of its complacency. In truth, it probably makes ordinary people bury their heads even further in the deafening sand.

But such displays are far from criminal. And they do seem to prick the sensibilities of abortionists and their supporters. On a subconscious level these pictures seem to tweak their minds to the reality of what they are doing. And they don’t like being reminded.

Pro-abortionists will never be happy until their opponents are silent and invisible.


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