Abortion should be safe, legal and rare

"The reluctance to formally debate abortion is puzzling given the interest in the topic and the findings of recent polls."

I was excited about being a grandmother from the beginning, but when I saw the ultrasound images of the little one at 19 weeks, I was overcome with emotion. We could clearly see the little feet, only millimeters long, and in the profile of the face, I thought I recognized the nose.  I stand in awe before the wondrous miracle of life.

Not everyone shares my wonder. There are some who have no compunction about terminating the life of a little person developing in the womb. For them, abortion is a woman’s reproductive right, a simple procedure as benign as removing a wart.  For me, a child developing within the womb is not an exclusive reproductive right, but a gift entrusted to the care of both sexes.

With the death of Henry Morgentaler, the highly divisive issue of abortion is again attracting public attention. Despite the public discussion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to allow any debate on abortion in Parliament, and a January 2013 Angus Reid poll found that Canadians lack the “appetite for true legislative action”.

The reluctance to formally debate abortion is puzzling given the interest in the topic and the findings of recent polls.  Could a lack of awareness about the absence of abortion laws in Canada explain, in part, our hesitation?

The Angus Reid poll notes “45 per cent of respondents mistakenly assume that a woman can have an abortion only during the first three months of her pregnancy”. Thirty-five per cent support no restrictions, 5 per cent support a ban, and 60 per cent would regulate abortion in some way: during the first trimester, in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger, or if the fetus has serious defects. (A 2012 Ipsos Reid poll had similar findings.)

The Angus Reid poll reported that 43 per cent of men and only 27 per cent of women favor the status quo. This last finding hints at a problem with abortion that is largely unmentioned: coercion is a factor in a high per centage of abortions.  A 2004 study, reported in the “Medical Science Monitor”, found that 64 per cent of women who had an abortion in the United States did so because of pressure from someone; either a male partner, mother, father, or medical professional.  Abortion is not always the woman’s choice.

Abortion in Canada is not a rare procedure. In 2012, there were 64,641 documented abortions in Canada, excluding Quebec. Since 1979, there have been an estimated 3.5-4 million abortions in Canada.

Still, we remain ambivalent. Harper has read the mood of Canadians correctly. We lack the collective political will to address the legislative vacuum created when the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988.

While I would prefer that we treasured and protected the miracle of life at every stage, Canada cannot go back to the days when the criminalization of abortion forced women into back alleys. Abortion, to paraphrase Hilary Clinton, should be legal, safe, and rare. Canada has the first two covered; it’s time to work on the third.

Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.

Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com.