By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
MONTREAL, June 2, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After surveying available statistics on Canadian abortions, a prominent ethicist at McGill University has taken apart the myth that few late-term abortions are committed in the country.
Margaret Somerville, the Samuel Gale Professor of Law, and the Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill stated in an article in the Montreal Gazette that there are two abortion myths in Canada: "one is that there is a general consensus on the issue (of abortion) and the other is that late-term abortions are rare. Both are wrong."
Somerville quotes Margaret Wente, who wrote recently in the Globe and Mail that "there are virtually no late-term abortions" in Canada. The Canadian Medical Association considers a child viable after 20 weeks gestation.
After she suspected that the facts about "an issue as ethically fraught as abortion" might be intentionally made difficult to obtain, Somerville found that "not only do we not have them, but they are intentionally not gathered or, if some are or might be available, access to them is denied."
Somerville says that, when she contacted Statistics Canada to inquire about late-term abortion numbers, she was told that "they were instructed for political reasons not to collect statistics on the gestational age at which abortion occurs," but also that "hospitals must report the number of abortions and about 45 per cent had continued to report gestational age."
From such unsolicited reports, she writes, "it's known that at least 400 post-viability abortions take place in Canada each year and the actual number is most probably more than twice that."
Furthermore, Somerville found that the organization recorded some late-term abortions in a category that includes infanticide: "Statistics Canada's records on causes of death in the perinatal period (defined as after 22-weeks gestation) list a category 'Termination of pregnancy, fetus and newborn,' which shows a total of 241 deaths for the years 2000 to 2005, inclusive, the latest numbers available," she notes.
Somerville recounts that she had been professionally consulted on two late-term abortions, one at 34 weeks and another at 32 weeks, both of which were carried out. In the latter case, she said, the child's married parents "did not want to have a 'defective child' - the baby had a cleft palate (a relatively minor physical deformity that can be largely corrected with surgery)."
Considering the blocking of abortion information, Somerville mentions the case of two British Columbia hospitals, Vancouver General and Kelowna General, that have blocked a freedom-of-information inquiry initiated by local pro-life activists in the province.
British Columbia's Freedom of Information Act was amended in 2001 to deny access to information about abortion - but the pro-lifers argue that the release of the information is in the public interest and should not be suppressed.
“If abortion statistics are going to be hidden in British Columbia, they will be hidden everywhere,” said John Hof, head of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) BC, one of the petitioners. “What better way to win an argument –'Oh, how can you prove that? There's no counting of those numbers.'”
Somerville argues that such obstructions raise ethical issues. "Such blocking is not neutral, but a strategy to help to maintain the status quo of the complete void regarding abortion law," she explains.
"The unavailability of this information makes the pro-choice lobby's claims that late-term abortion is rare and that there is a consensus on abortion in Canada, much less likely to be challenged, and, therefore, bolsters its case that we do not need any law on abortion."
Somerville concludes that, though politicians and pro-abortion advocates are "terrified of an abortion debate," they should respond to Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet's recent demand for a national debate on abortion.
"Provided the debate is open and honest, the myths about late-term abortion being rare and that in Canada there is an overall consensus on whether we need some law to govern abortion will be exposed," she writes.
"It would then be up to Canadians to decide what to do."
Read related LSN coverage:
B.C. Pro-Life Researcher Calls on Province to Release Abortion Info
BC Hospitals Refuse to Release Abortion Data