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by Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada

June 25, 2006

Liberal MP Paul Steckle introduces bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks
The facts on later abortions in Canada
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Liberal MP Paul Steckle introduces bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks

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.

While 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.

However, 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), published by Ottawa-based Canadians For Choice (thanks to Politics’n’Poetry for first posting this info):

We have a baseline against which to measure whether a woman's right to choose is being rolled back.

That 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:

• only 17.8 of all general hospitals in Canada perform abortions, with some jurisdictions, such as Prince Edward Island and Nunavut offering no hospital abortion services at al;

• even hospitals providing abortions place obstacles in the way of women trying to obtain one, including restrictive gestational limits and long wait times (sometimes 2-3 weeks);

• in many cases, hospital employees are not able to provide women with information about alternative resources;

• physicians and hospital employees deny women access by refusing information and referrals, or by referring women to anti-choice angecies; and

• many women have to travel significant distances to obtain abortion services, which is time consuming, expensive and conflicts with work and child care.

As of this writing (June 2007) Steckle’s bill is still in the works and may come up for a vote. Please contact Mr. Steckle to tell him the facts listed above. 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:

Telephone: (613) 992-8234
Fax: (613) 995-6350
Land mail (postage free):
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

or at his Constituency Offices:
30 Victoria St North,
Goderich, Ontario
N7A 2R6
Telephone: (519) 524-6938
Fax: (519) 524-9374

Remember to copy your message to: Jack Layton, Bill Graham, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe, and your MP.

Thank you!


The facts on later abortions in Canada

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. [1] 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.

• 5-12 weeks — 90.1%

• 13-16 weeks — 7.4%

• 17-20 weeks — 2.0%

• >20 weeks — 0.3%

320 abortions were done over 20 weeks gestation in 2003. [2] 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.

[1] 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).

[2] 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.


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