The ugly truth about abortion in Canada

Unlike other nations forged by revolution, civil war or other violent means, Canada has always prided itself on its rule of law. More than one of my professors drummed into my head that Canada has always been about "peace, order and good government."

But when it comes to abortion in Canada, Canadians seem perfectly fine to bury their collective heads in the sand about the fact that Canada is the Wild West of abortion, with pretty much no legal rules to govern the "procedure."

If you believe that legal rules are important in regulating how we live with each other - stop at a red light, don't take your co-worker's wallet, don't cut bad cheques, pay your taxes - then you should also believe that Canadian lawmakers and the courts have a duty to put some legal parameters around an important medical procedure such as an abortion. But it seems most Canadians don't care, even if the majority (some 60 per cent of Canadians) agree there should be some legal rules governing abortions.

Democracy is about winners and losers. When it comes to abortions, unborn children are the losers. But what Canadians should not tolerate nor ignore is the playing around with the true numbers when it comes to abortions in Canada. Nor should they run away from the disturbing facts surrounding "abortion as birth control," especially for teenagers.

A study released in late February by POWER (Project for an Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report) shows the number of abortions to be substantially higher than previously reported. For example, we learn that for every 100 babies born in Ontario, 37 are aborted.

POWER used the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) fee codes (among other sources) to quantify abortions conducted outside hospitals. This is vitally important because the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), an independent organization funded by the federal and provincial governments to provide information on Canada's health system (including abortions), reported that in 2007 (the most recent numbers) there were 32,351 abortions in Ontario.

But the POWER study reveals a ratio of 37 abortions to every 100 live births. When you take the publicly available number of Ontario's live births at 138,000, the real numbers for abortions in Ontario for that time period is 51,060 abortions.

The disparity in numbers is disturbing. Throw in the fact that national abortion records are incomplete because private abortion clinics, unlike hospitals, are not required to report, it's clear to see that Canadians simply are not getting the straight goods on abortions.

Even worse is the bleak picture painted by the POWER study on abortions by teenagers - a picture that should shock even those moms and dads who don't want to face the fact that their babies are using abortion as another birth control option.

The ratio for teens aged 15-19 show that for every 100 babies born to Ontario teens, 152 are aborted. The study noted that teens "were by far the most likely of any age group to have an abortion rather than a live birth." Because the study excluded abortions for girls under 15, the teen abortion rate is probably even higher.

The POWER study also showed that repeat abortions in Ontario hospitals are way higher than anyone suspected, with as many as 52 per cent of women having had one or more previous abortions (including almost one fifth of teens aged 15-19 reporting they had already had at least one abortion). And that doesn't even take into account the inevitable under-reporting of previous abortions.

Because there are no legal parameters when it comes to abortion, we should not be surprised children aged 14 or younger can walk into a clinic to have an abortion - more than once - without the parents even knowing about it.

The abortion question is not easy. No one should wish unwanted pregnancies on women, especially not on teenagers. But are we really doing what's right when abortions are favoured over responsible sexual practices and behaviours as a means of birth control?

Peace, order and good government. Mostly, Canada works. But when it comes to abortion, the "truth that does not speak its name" hangs around like a phantom. So, we get pro-life university students arrested for daring to voice their opinions on "private property" (university campus that the taxpayers fund). We put "bubble zones" around abortion clinics, shielding them form the inconvenient truth as told by anti-abortion activists (who said democracy was neat and tidy?). In British Columbia, we get a law that prohibits citizens from accessing any statistics about abortions performed in that province.

The debate on abortion has been ugly in Canada, but isn't that what democracy is about? Shouldn't Canadians know the truth and then (through their lawmakers) make laws that address the real truth, not some wished-for version of the truth?

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