Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the decision in the R. v. Morgentaler case. In its ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law criminalizing abortion, creating a legislative vacuum at the federal level. That is, there is no federal law criminalizing or protecting abortion procedures, so theoretically a woman can terminate a pregnancy during all nine months for any reason.
In some provinces, there are legal and/or practical restrictions on abortion. In Quebec, for example, there are currently no doctors who will perform an abortion procedure after 22 weeks of gestation. Women who want the procedure are sent to the United States to obtain it, which is funded by Medicare.
In Canada, nearly all abortion procedures are covered by taxpayers, a point to ponder as the current debate rages in the United States over health care. One of the biggest obstacles to American president Barack Obama’s heath-care plan is the fact that a majority of Americans refuse to recognize abortion as health care and refuse to fund it with taxpayer dollars. Abortion is not a rare procedure in Canada.
Since Morgentaler, about two-million abortions have been performed in this country at an annual rate of about 100,000. Statistics Canada stopped collecting numbers on induced abortions in 2005, but according to the most recent figures, this works out to about three abortions per 10 live births in Canada as a whole. The rate is nearly four per 10 live births in Quebec.
According to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, many women get abortions because of relationship issues, for financial and practical reasons, because they feel unready, because their birth control fails, or because of genetic defects. The Women’s Care Clinic in Toronto adds that some women get abortions because a pregnancy will interfere with their career or education.
Like all medical procedures, abortion carries some medical risk. Some of the most common short-term complications associated with induced abortion include infection and hemorrhaging. Commonly reported statistics for complication rates are generally around one to two per cent for first-trimester abortions, and are closer to 12 per cent with second- and third-trimester procedures.
Abortions have been associated with some long-term risks as well. The most widely recognized of these is the elevated incidence of preterm births in future pregnancies. In a 2009 study – the “Swingle study” – that appeared in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, for example, meta-analysis indicates that there is an increased risk of pre-term birth after either spontaneous or induced abortion. In another Journal of Reproductive Medicine study by Byron Calhoun and other researchers reported on by Barbara Kay of the National Post, it was found that 1,096 “excess cases” of cerebral palsy in newborns under 3.5 lbs in the United States can be directly traced to previous induced abortions.
The most common reasons cited by women for choosing abortion reflect a society that is not meeting the needs of women. Women should not feel that they bear all the responsibility of caring for a child. Most children have two parents who should be held equally responsible, both legally and socially, for the child. Educational institutions could do more to support pregnant and parenting students – for example, through maternity leaves, better daycare services, and housing for parenting students.
In the 22 years since the last laws restricting abortion were struck down, we have maintained legal reproductive choice for women, but have done little to provide real, practical choice. If women are having abortions because they feel they don’t have the necessary support structure to carry their pregnancies to term, then something needs to change. Let’s work together to create a society that addresses the real needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion.
Andrea Paolucci received her B.A. in psychology in 2009, and is currently a special student. She’s also a Choose Life member. Write her at email@example.com. Natalie Fohl is a U3 Biology & Political Science student and the president and founder of Choose Life.