Abortion Ignorance: Profoundly disturbing and very frightening

By Barbara McAdorey

Criticizing Health critic Rob Merrifield for making the suggestion that third-party counselling would be "valuable" to women contemplating abortion, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan revealed just how disturbing and frightening our country is becoming when she said, "The notion of state-imposed, third-party counselling as if we are children, as if we are not able to make our own decisions about our health and our bodies, is to me, at the beginning of the 21st century, profoundly disturbing and, dare I say it, is very frightening."


It seems the former Justice Minister and Health Minister is unaware of the internationally recognized need for counselling to ensure a woman's consent is informed, which is required by law for any surgical procedure performed in this country.

Guidelines of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, adapted from those of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada state: "Every woman seeking abortion should receive supportive and compassionate counselling...she must fully understand the nature and safety of the proposed procedure...possible immediate and future side effects, as well as potential complications..."and must be given "the necessary information to make an informed decision."

From the abortion policy statement of the US Department of Health and Human Services: "Obtaining informed consent and assessing that the decision to have an abortion is made freely by the patient are essential parts of the abortion process...There must be documentation that the patient affirms that she understands the procedure and its alternatives; the potential risk, benefits, and complications; that her decision is uncoerced..."

Similar policy statements can be found from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK and from the Government of Australia.

It would seem it is not Mr. Merrifield who is out of touch with what is happening in the 21st Century, but rather Ms. McLellan.

What is especially distressing, is her belief that women can make the decision to abort on their own. This may be true for some women, but to presume it is true for everyone - especially adolescents, and even girls under 16 who don't require parental consent to get an abortion at Morgentaler clinics (according to Planned Parenthood of Fredericton), and anyone being pressured by a boyfriend or parent - is insensitive and arrogant, and fails to take into account how difficult abortion can be.

When asked "how the patients present themselves emotionally for abortion service" in Regina v. Lewis, renowned Vancouver abortion doctor Ellen Wiebe, under oath, told the court, "Abortion is a very difficult thing for any woman to go through. I've never met one who wasn't upset and they often tell me that this is the most difficult thing they've ever done in their lives."

The Supreme Court of Canada, in the 1980 Reibl v. Hughes case, set a precedent for the legal requirement for informed consent. Referring to this precedent in the more recent Arndt v. Smith, the Supreme Court stated that Reibl marks "the rejection of the paternalistic approach to determining how much information should be given to patients. It emphasizes the patient's right to know and ensures that patients will have the benefit of a high standard of disclosure."

This standard is not based on what a physician thinks a patient needs to know, but on what a "reasonable person" would want to know. While knowledge of fetal development and health risks may not influence every woman's decision, it could certainly influence the decisions of some reasonable women. Those who perform abortions need to be very clear on this, for they could be facing lawsuits over failure to disclose.

Maybe Ms. McLellan meant she opposes only independent counselling, and not counselling provided by abortion-rights advocates or those who sell abortions. If so, then this is even more disturbing, for it means she does not see the inherent conflict of interest. Would we trust a smoker's rights group or a tobacco company to provide unbiased counselling on the health risks of smoking?

Either way, the Deputy Prime Minister's comments reflect an ignorance of the legal requirement of informed consent and a lack of empathy for women and girls facing what might be the most difficult decision of a lifetime. This is, dare I say it, profoundly disturbing and very frightening.

Barbara McAdorey is administrator for Canadian Physicians for Life. First published as an op-ed in the Globe and Mail. Reprinted with permission from the author.


Last modified on Friday, 26 October 2012 12:35