Proof of Third Trimester Abortions in Canada

Tue Nov 18, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

MONTREAL, Quebec, November 2008 ( – While the legal situation in Canada is such that, in theory, abortion on demand is permitted up until birth, there has been a dearth of information regarding how late into pregnancy abortions are routinely performed in Canada, or elsewhere with Canadian taxpayer funding. A recently unearthed report, however, produced in January 2007 by the Bio-Ethics Committee of Ste. Justine Hospital in Montreal sheds light on the situation of third trimester abortions in Canada. Ste. Justine is known primarily as a children’s hospital, but it also has a maternity ward.

The purpose of the report, entitled “Interruption de grossesse du troisième trimestre pour anomalie fœtale” (“Third Trimester Abortion for Fetal Anomaly”), was to determine whether performing abortions after viability for fetal anomaly was ethically acceptable. The Hospital considers 24 weeks to be the threshold of viability.  The report concludes it is ethical to perform third trimester abortions when the diagnosis is certain and the defect is grave and incurable. This, in effect, expands the time frame that abortion may be performed at Ste. Justine.

The report also accepts that there are “grey zones” and that sometimes third-trimester abortions are done in particular “precise situations” in regards to “social conditions.”  It recommends that when medical professionals are confronted with these cases, that they act in the “spirit” of the report. 

The authors never put forward their ethical arguments for their recommendation; instead they simply point out that professionals surrounding the abortion issue are perfectly at ease in allowing the practice of post-viability abortion for these grave diagnoses. The report said that almost all the third trimester abortions performed at the hospital are of a medical nature, a statement that implies that there may have been some third trimester abortions performed for other, non-medical reasons.

The committee behind the report said the hospital provides first and second-trimester abortions on demand for teenagers. If the pregnancy is beyond 20 weeks LMP (18 weeks gestation), however, and the abortion is not medically motivated, then they are referred to other establishments.

In Quebec, there are a few abortuaries that perform abortions up to 22 weeks. Those that seek abortions later than that are taken care of by the CLSC des Faubourgs in Montreal. CLSC is responsible for making arrangements to obtain an abortion in New York State or Kansas. The Ministry of Health and Social Services covers the cost of the abortion; however, in cases of dire poverty, it will also pay for food, lodging, transportation and incidentals.

The method of late-term abortion used is superficially described in the report. It consists of committing feticide, with an injection of potassium chloride to the unborn child’s heart or umbilical cord. This assures that no live baby is delivered. Labour is induced in a birthing room. After the abortion, the mother is given post-partum care with an emphasis on mourning the lost child.

The authors note that the subject of fetal suffering is controversial, but that many practitioners administer an anesthetic called Fentanyl. The document underlines that this is done for the peace of mind of the medical professionals and the parents. In that vein, the committee recommended that fetal suffering be avoided.

Some medical professionals in the report expressed discomfort at being involved in third trimester abortions, notably in cases of Down syndrome and Spina bifida. Some feared that by allowing more third trimester abortions, the practice would become routine, and raise the specter of eugenics. Another fear that was raised was that third trimester abortion was the reaction to a lack of resources for handicapped children. Others worried that by raising these concerns, access to abortion might be limited.

In the section dealing with the ethical dilemmas raised by the technological progress in the field of prenatal diagnostics, the report cites a French bioethicist, Robert Rochefort, who justifies eugenic abortion, saying that parents have the “responsibility” to give birth to healthy children.

“Rochefort mentions that prenatal diagnostics is now considered a ‘legitimate right’ that permits a woman to give birth to a normal child,” says the report. He adds that ‘the use (of this technique) is a duty that implies a responsible attitude of avoiding giving birth to a handicapped child.’”

The document can be found here:ème%20trimestre%20pour%20anomalie%20foetale.pdf

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