A Direct Attack on Abortion Rights
by Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
June 26, 2006
On June 21st, Parliament saw first reading of a private member’s bill by Liberal MP Paul Steckle to re-criminalize abortion. Bill C-338, 'An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (procuring a miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation), would restrict later abortions performed after twenty weeks.
The bill would allow exceptions to save the woman’s life and “to prevent severe pathological physical morbidity of the woman.” It would impose a prison term of up to five years, and/or a fine of up to $100,000 on anyone who “uses any means or permits any means to be used” to perform an abortion past 20 weeks.
this bill is very disturbing on several levels — not the least of which
is the criminalizing of women’s healthcare — let's keep in mind that private
member's bills like this are unlikely to get very far. Parliament still
has a pro-choice
majority. Even in the unlikely event it ever came to a vote, such
a blatantly anti-choice bill would not pass. And since Parliament rose
for the summer the very next day (June 22), nothing will happen until
at least the fall.
this bill is significant in that it is the first private member’s bill
to directly attack abortion rights by attempting to return abortion to
the Criminal Code. Another bothersome aspect of the bill is that it's
an obvious cynical ploy by the "Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus"—made
up primarily of Conservative MP's—to get around Harper's promise not to
legislate on abortion.
On its face, the bill is seriously misguided and completely unnecessary. Instead of limiting access to abortion, we need to expand it. Access is still unequal and spotty across the country. For one thing, the main reason that some women need second-trimester abortions is because they were unable to access first-trimester abortions. So, the most effective way to reduce later abortions is to guarantee and fund widespread access to subsidized contraception, comprehensive sexual health education, and first-trimester medical and surgical abortion— none of which are included in Steckle’s bill.
Regardless, the bill is trying to solve a “problem” that doesn’t even exist. About 90% of abortions are done by 12 weeks in Canada, and about 97% by 16 weeks. Only 0.3% of abortions occur after 20 weeks gestation, almost all because of serious fetal or maternal health problems. So the reason for this bill is clearly cynical — it will be used as a foot-in-the-door to enact even more restrictions against abortion. Read our editorial on why Canada doesn’t need any new law against abortion.
To highlight Canada’s current access problems, here’s an excerpt from the January 2006 Choice Update (PDF file), published by Ottawa-based Canadians For Choice (thanks to Politics’n’Poetry for first posting this info):
have a baseline against which to measure whether a woman's right to choose
is being rolled back.
baseline shows that eighteen years after the historic Morgentaler decision,
Canadian women still face challenges with realizing choice, in particular
with access to abortion services. A recent national study of access to
abortion services at hospitals across Canada found that:
Please contact Mr. Steckle to tell him this. You won’t change the mind of this dogmatic anti-abortionist, but at least let him know his bill will face some stiff opposition. He can be reached in Ottawa:
or at his Constituency Offices:
Victoria St North,
Click here to read a recent position paper on late-term abortions in Canada (PDF file), covering the incidence and reasons for later abortions in Canada.
Following is a breakdown on the total numbers of surgical abortions by gestation time, based on StatsCan 2003 data (Excel spreadsheet), combined with a representative sampling of 2005 clinic data across Canada. This includes medical abortions by methotrexate, which are all done earlier than 7 weeks, and comprise less than 1.5% of all abortions in Canada.
320 abortions were done over 20 weeks gestation in 2003. Almost all of these occurred between 20 and 22 weeks, a small number for compelling social reasons — e.g., teenagers who were in denial of their pregnancy, women in abusive relationships, etc.— but most were done for serious maternal health reasons or fetal anomalies. Only a tiny handful of doctors in all of Canada are trained and willing to do abortions after 20 weeks.
The 3rd trimester begins after 24 weeks. The number of abortions done after 24 weeks in Canada amounts to a tiny handful, although we don't have exact numbers. Without exception, all are done in cases of lethal fetal abnormality, where the fetus cannot survive after birth.
 ARCC-CDAC collected and analyzed this data informally a couple months ago because most clinics don't report to StatsCan. Sorry, but we can't give out the clinic data we used for security/confidentiality reasons (sample size: 8 clinics).
This figure was obtained from
StatsCan on a proprietary basis and released by the National Abortion
Federation at the NAF Annual Meeting in San Francisco, April 22, 2006.
Bill Restricting Abortion Tabled in Canada Under Conservative Government