Posted: May 12, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Ted Byfield
Canada, which reputedly provides the most open legal access to abortion in the Western world, doesn’t provide access enough, said an abortion-rights group last week. Many women can’t get abortions at all, or are subjected to long delays. The group’s solution: Require doctors by law to perform abortions whether they like it or not.
This demand, made upon the Canadian Medical Association by Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, inadvertently disclosed a curious fact. Though abortion is technically legal in Canada up to the moment of birth, so many doctors refuse to do it that access to it is effectually restricted.
Some doctors reject abortion on purely professional grounds. Medicine is about healing sick people and pregnancy isn’t a sickness. Others regard as morally repugnant the forcible extinction of a human life. Under CMA rules a doctor need neither perform an abortion nor even direct a patient to an abortion provider. Only 15 percent of Canadian hospitals provide the service, and that percentage is declining.
Physicians, says Ms. Saporta, must put their patients’ interest ahead of "their own religious and moral convictions." Refusing abortion causes a delay that increases risk to the patient.
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"It’s not within the control of the physician who doesn’t want to participate, how much longer the delay will be," replied Dr. Williard Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life. "That is entirely the responsibility of the system at large."
Any public attention focused on this dispute has the effect, however, of weakening the pro-abortion position. Canadian feminists had assumed that resistance to abortion would gradually decline and be replaced by a general public acquiescence. For years, the media co-operated in this fiction by refusing to cover such things as the 5,000 or more who annually attend the anti-abortion rallies on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, and by downplaying or totally ignoring abortion controversies. In short, it was deftly portrayed as a long-resolved and now dead issue, of interest only to a tiny contingent of religious bigots.
Such, however, was never the case. Polls have consistently shown public opinion almost evenly divided three ways – a third of the people in favor of abortion on demand, a third favoring a total ban on abortion except where the mother’s physical life (as distinct from her lifestyle) is clearly threatened, and a third favoring a ban on abortion beyond some definable point in the pregnancy. The idea of a national consensus on the issue was, in other words, a falsehood carefully preserved by the news media. The fact is two-thirds of Canadians opposed abortion-on-demand as provided in Canadian law.
But with representation in the media cut off and politicians terrified of any mention of the issue, the majority view was successfully squelched. What could not be squelched was the view of most doctors. By simply refusing to do the work, they have increasingly thwarted the intention of the law. Such professional resistance was plainly never foreseen.
However, it grew significant enough for the editor of the CMA’s Journal last summer to publish an article by two feminist lawyers berating doctors for their recalcitrant attitude and demanding that the CMA require their members to abort unborn babies, whatever their conscientious reluctance. The article set off such an avalanche of letters from doctors all over the country, that the Journal eventually had to refuse to continue printing them.
All of this, however, was discreetly ignored by the Canadian media until last week, when the National Post burst into print with it, spreading its report on the CMA controversy across its front page and taking up much of two pages inside. In the following two days the Post ran more than a full page of letters on the subject, a few from lobby groups, but most from individual readers. The viewpoints were reasoned but the divisions were sharp. So much for the Canadian "consensus."
The rival Globe and Mail, meanwhile, though no doubt furious with the Post for so treasonously breaking the story, continued its boycott on abortion news, ignoring even demands made last week upon the medical profession by the National Abortion Federation.
Nevertheless, something more was implicit. There are apparently two Canadas – "New Canada," ultra-liberal, boundlessly tolerant and solidly built on the hallucinations of the 1960s, and "Real Canada," which shares very few of these idyllic views, but usually goes unrepresented in the media. Evidently, a rather large percentage of Canadian doctors belong to the latter. How foolish of the CMA Journal to allow this fact to become known.