Saturday, January 17, 2009

Late-Term Abortion, Cutting Through The Rhetoric

This will likely be my last blog entry on the topic of abortion for a long while. When emotion comes into play rationale discussion becomes almost impossible. And there is no shortage of emotion on either side of this contentious issue. One need only glance over the 40 or so comments my two most recent entries have generated to see that reasonable debate is at best rare.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the dearth of solid information and statistics on abortion in general and late term abortion in particular. Most of the data presented typically comes from advocates for one side or the other, from either the Pro-Choice or Pro-Life camps.

I attempted to stake out what I thought would be reasonably safe ground, that of placing restrictions only in the case of 'late-term' abortions where the health of the mother and/or child wasn't in question. Even Henry Morgentaler, a saint in the eyes of Pro-Choice advocates, is quoted as having issues with terminating pregnancies around the 24 week mark.

The crux of the matter is the question of whether or not such procedures even take place. If no late-term abortions ever take place then the entire debate is moot and not even worth pursuing. But as I mentioned, there is not a lot of information available. I haven't been able to come up with any concrete numbers, I did however come across something of interest.

What I came across is a group called 'Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada' or ARCC for short. This is a decidedly Pro-Choice group, one that was cited at least once in comments to my previous two posts on this topic. Lest there be any doubts about their commitment to the Pro-Choice movement I invite you to read their Mission and Vision Statements here:

ARCC put out a position paper entitled "Late Term Abortions (after 20 weeks)" which is available on-line in PDF form:

According to the statistics provided by ARCC only 0.4% of abortions taking place in Canada occur after the 20 week mark. They state the reason these abortions take place is because the fetus is gravely or fatally impaired, or that the woman's life or physical health is at risk...or both. In the absence of conflicting data I'm willing to accept these numbers as accurate. And being one who considers himself fair and reasonable, I certainly would never be in favour of restricting a woman's access to an abortion on these grounds, irrespective of how many weeks into the pregnancy.

But even ARCC concedes that not all late term abortions fall into this category. They make the point that:

"Most women who terminate their pregnancies after 20 weeks wanted to have a child, and were forced to consider abortion for medical reasons. Other women may be in desperate social circumstances, such as an abusive relationship, or they may be very young teenagers who have delayed abortion care because they were in denial about the pregnancy".

Later the paper goes on to say:

"However, most of the very small number of abortions performed over 20 weeks gestation in Canada are done to protect the woman's physical health, or because of serious fetal abnormalities".

The key word here is "most". Most does not mean all, leaving me no alternative but to infer that there are in fact late term abortions taking place in Canada for reasons other than the health of the mother and/or child. The question is pretty straight forward at this point. Should Canada create legislation to protect viable fetuses (those so far developed even Mr. Morgentaler calls them babies) except in cases where the life of the mother and/or fetus-baby is at risk?

My opinion? Absolutely.

That's not to say I'm not empathetic to the teenager who was in denial about her pregnancy, or the woman in an abusive relationship. But that empathy does not go so far as to condone the killing of a viable and healthy living human being. I know some consider the removal of abortion from the criminal code as progressive. But isn't true progression extending rights and legal protection to those most vulnerable?

Some will see any restriction, no matter how small as a potential wedge. And we are talking about something small. Something that only happens in very rare instances, a small percentage of the .04% of total abortions taking place according to ARCC. Assuming 200,000 abortions in a year, with 800 being late-term (using ARCC's .4% number), let's assume that only .4% occur for reasons other than mother/fetal health. We're talking about restricting abortion in 3 or 4 cases out of every 200,000.

It would not deprive women of their choice to have an abortion. All it would do is place a time constraint on when the procedure could take place unless there were health issues for the mother and/or fetus.

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