Monday, August 8, 2011

Canada Has No Abortion Laws...what?

As I was thinking about how to write my follow up to the previous post, I figured it might be best to include some stats and some history.  I assumed that our history must have mirrored the US in some capacity.  There must have been some great legal battle in which the right to abortion was forever enshrined in the constitution or something.  So, it came as a great shock to me to learn that we have no laws about abortion whatsoever.  It is as legal in Canada to have an abortion in the first month as it is in the 9th month.  There appear to be no age restrictions; no need for parental consent for anyone under is a wasteland of no law whatsoever.  For a very good discussion of how this came to be I recommend Andrew Coyne's article "It's time to talk about abortion".

I am not interested in rehashing the arguments about the legalization of abortion.  I believe that many of the claims of the pro-abortion (they prefer pro-choice...and you've just gained a glimpse into my leanings) side are probably true.  For that side of the argument please read this article: "Canada Does Not Need an Abortion Law".  What I am interested in is examining the difference between legality and morality.

The abortion argument has so far centered around its legality.  Andrew Coyne argues persuasively that the lack of a law--or better yet, the reluctance to debate the issue detracts from our democratic society.  The author of the pro-abortion article argues that we do not need a law because our history is different than the rest of the western world and that the statistics of the numbers of abortions performed is similar or better than those countries.

What are those statistics? 14.1 women out of 1,000 have abortions every year.  How many abortions is that? Well, the last year I could find numbers for was 2005 in which 96,815 abortions were performed, which was down from the all time high of 111,526 in 1997.  Statistically this is better than the US and only slightly worse that Western Europe AND, apparently the majority of abortions occur prior to 20 weeks.  In fact, only .3% of abortions occur after 20 weeks.

What is the significance of 20 weeks?  That is when the baby (fetus as some would like to say) would be able to live outside the womb; in medical speak "it is when the fetus becomes viable.  So, almost 99% of abortions happen prior to then.  In Canada, prior to 1988, it used to be that if you wanted an abortion a panel of three doctors had to agree that carrying to term would endanger the mother's life and health.  That law was struck down because not every hospital had a panel.  No law replaced it and so the fact is that in Canada, if you want an abortion at 15 weeks you can have it.  24 weeks?  No problem.  36 weeks?  Just ask.  Ah, but only .3% have them after 20 weeks.  In real numbers, of the estimated 3 million babies that have been aborted since 1969 that equates to 900 babies.

Now, without inflating the rhetoric any further, I would like to move the discussion from the realm of the legal into the moral for just a moment.  I do this because if I begin to ruminate on how we as a society can allow for the deaths of 900 (let alone the 2.99 million that had not yet reached 20 weeks) of our would-be citizens, I will lose those readers who as of yet do not view these fetuses as lives but rather as solely fecal matter.  And so it is expedient to move into the realm of morality.  Even if Canada at some point in the future decides to join the rest of the modern world and give guidelines on how to administer abortions, there will no doubt be no consensus.  Even if we decide, like all the rest of the modern world, to make abortions illegal in the 3rd trimester, there will still surely be some who disagree.  For this reason, I agree to some extent with the pro-abortion camp.  Regardless of the law, people will do what people will do.  If there is enough perceived gain in having an abortion then an abortion will be had.

So, what is the gain in Canada of having an abortion?  Let's eliminate for a moment the cases where the mother's life is in danger (approximately 2.8%).  In those cases, there is almost unanimous agreement that an abortion is acceptable. Let's also eliminate the cases where the pregnancy is a result of rape (approximately 4.7%).  That leaves us with approximately 92.5% of abortions that are performed for a variety of other reasons.  Of the 96,815 abortions performed in Canada in 2005 that is 89,554 abortions that were chosen out of convenience.  So, from a moral perspective it does come down to choice.  Do you live by the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you"? Or, do you live by the "me first" axiom of our modern generation.  That's your choice.

So what is the point of all this?  My goal here is two-fold.  It is not to force anyone to keep a baby that they don't want to keep.  Although I personally believe a baby is alive from the point of conception, I realize that many highly intelligent, well-meaning folks reading this will disagree.  And, our government doesn't legislate morality.  When was the last time we had a law about adultery?  So, should we legislate abortion?  Maybe.  But, as the pro-abortionists point out, a law against abortion is no guarantee that abortion rates will decline and, although I could point out numerous differences between Canada and Africa (the place with the highest number of abortions) that's a rabbit-hole for another day.

My contention is the following: in the absence of a law regarding abortion, (excepting the cases where the mothers life is in danger and even those cases where rape is involved), why are these voluntary procedures covered by Medicare?  No government has ever released the actual costs of performing abortions but the estimates are that each abortion costs roughly $800.  Why are the folks receiving the elective procedures not footing the bills themselves?  The total amount the taxpayer spends on abortion is roughly $80M/year.  $80,000,000 every year on abortion.What is the difference between this electoral procedure and plastic surgery for example?  If folks must have abortions--why do I have to pay for them?

And again, lest you think I am heartless and would force these women to become mothers.  Adoption is and always has been an option.  Many of the pro-life camp have done life a disservice by attempting to threaten and intimidate women into not having abortions rather than empathizing with them and providing them with viable alternatives...I do NOT condone firebombing or any form of violence.  If governments won't fund adoption, pro-life groups MUST come up with ways of caring for the lives of not just the unborn, but also the traumatized pregnant mothers who see no options.  Both lives are important.

Legally, it would be nice if we could democratically decide what we want to do in terms of reproductive issues.  Morally, we'll never all agree and it isn't my intent to force my beliefs on anyone.  But, pragmatically, I ask, why is the taxpayer footing the bill to provide elective surgeries that provide no overarching societal benefit?  I can't walk into any drugstore in this country and get any type of contraceptive that I want--and yet, we still allow publicly-funded abortions to be used as a form of contraception.  Why is that?

This topic is "Up For Discussion."


  1. What is the socio economic status of the mothers that are having these abortions? Are they upper middle class woman that just find it “inconvenient” to have a baby due to career demands or other things going on in their lives? If that is the case then I completely agree that we should NOT be funding these selective procedures…..
    I do however suspect that most terminated pregnancies are being done by low income, disadvantaged, young/teen moms. For these moms I feel we should continue to offer them choice by funding their procedures. My fear is that if we don’t cover these procedures we are facing a much larger burden of raising their children through welfare and other social services all funded by our tax dollars. How does the cost compare? I don’t know, but I suspect it is a better use of tax dollars to fund the procedure for young mothers than to pay to raise their children.

  2. By that same token, old people and those on life support also over-burden the system. I think we should also extend abortion to them.

  3. Your argument about the cost of abortion being a waste of tax dollars may not be valid. The average cost of a normal vaginal delivery is $2,700 and caesarian deliveries average out to $4,600. This does not include pre-natal visits, ultrasounds, etc. Nor does it include the costs of deliveries where there are complications, in which case the costs skyrocket.

    If abortions were no longer covered by health care, it would undoubtedly force some women to carry their babies to term because they would not be able to afford the abortion. If that is the point you are going for then congratulations, but $800 vs. $3000 is not good math to the already strained health care system and I can pretty much guarantee that those are the numbers that the law-makers are looking at.

    I am not pro-abortion by any means but I am realistic. Abortions happen and will always happen. I do agree that there should be some guidelines in place and I agree with the majority of what you have said here.

  4. Thanks anonymous. My argument isn't that it's a waste of tax payers dollars (it may or may not be...I'm not taking a stance on that issue). My argument is why am I--a person who holds that ALL life, including the life of the unborn, is sacrosanct--being forced to pay for the equivalent of elective surgery?

    Thank you for pointing out the costs of life and for clarifying that the "cost" is not at all my objection.

  5. Because you live in a secular society where the majority doesn't agree with you. You don't always get your way.

    "The right to liberty... guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting his or her private life. ... The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state." (from the 1988 Canada Supreme Court decision)

  6. The decision you quote from is the ruling of the Supreme Court to strike down the law that allowed a panel of doctors to prohibit a woman from having an abortion. That existing law was perhaps (as the article I link to suggests) poorly written. The Court cannot write law and our government has failed to address this issue which is why we currently have no laws at all protecting the rights of the unborn.

    As there has never been a referendum on this issue we cannot say with certainty what the majority of Canadians believe. Further, in the post above, I am not suggesting that abortion be illegal but simply questioning why the procedure (when there is no risk to the mother) which is completely elective is covered by medicare.

    Lastly, I would argue this isn't about "getting my way" but rather about what's morally right. The Supreme Court can rule as it did if it has no direction about where life begins. If the fetus is alive and considered a person then the law has a responsibility to protect that life. As it stands right now, the fetus has no rights because it isn't viewed as being alive. I think that's as wrong as 18th C Western Europeans view of black slaves. I think it's as wrong as how society used to view women as lesser citizens.

    We do such a good job of fighting for the visible underdog...why are we silent on the invisible underdog?