Seventeen per cent of those abortions were requested by women under 19 years old, and two-thirds of the total number of procedures were performed on women under 25.
More than half the abortions were provided to women outside the North Okanagan, which isn’t surprising because, at the time, Vernon was the only hospital in the Okanagan where the procedure was available.
Thirty-seven per cent of the women who had an abortion in 2001 at VJH had undergone at least one previously. One woman had four previous abortions.
Should you be able to know information like that?
The government says no. Because of a law passed by the NDP in early 2001, and never changed since by the Liberals, health authorities no longer give out hospital-by-hospital abortion statistics.
The basic reason the law was introduced is a belief on the part of the authorities that information like that is dangerous. In the 1990s, there had been violent attacks, both in the U.S. and in Canada, on abortion providers.
Continuing to provide detailed, hospital-by-hospital abortion statistics, the reasoning in Victoria went, would only serve to energize the anti-abortion forces, giving them ammunition for their long-running campaign to restrict the availability of the procedure.
This seems to me to be a paternalistic, expect-the-worse sort of attitude on the part of the government toward the citizenry. What is the government so worried about?
That pro-lifers might make a few signs that indicate the number of abortions performed at various hospitals and march around a little bit?
“So what if we do? We live in a democracy. There should be no topic that’s off limits for discussion,” said Ted Gerk, a Kelowna man who’s at the forefront of an effort to force the release of hospital-by-hospital abortion numbers.
It is the only procedure for which such detailed information is not made publicly available. If you want to know, say, how many in-grown toenails are removed at Kelowna General, or how many hip replacements are performed at Penticton Regional, you could find out those numbers.
But abortion numbers are a taboo topic. Although the government does give out total provincial numbers, Statistics Canada has deemed the information “too unreliable” to be included in its publications.
Gerk and other pro-life activists are appealing to the provincial Information and Privacy Commission to order health authorities to release the hospital-by-hospital abortion statistics as a matter of overriding public interest.
Thursday was the deadline for the pro-lifers and the health authorities to submit their arguments to the commissioner. A decision will come in a few months.
Many people will hear of this dispute and shrug. The abortion fight is long over, they’ll say, with the courts and governments consistently affirming a woman’s right to an abortion.
To that response, Gerk said simply: “Laws have been wrong before. We’ve always believed and fostered the idea that the unborn child is a human being and should be protected.
“The law may be settled in the eyes of some people, but the debate around abortion is certainly not settled,” Gerk said. “Not giving out detailed abortion information is simply a way of trying to shut down that debate. The attitude is basically, out of sight, out of mind.”
Both anti-abortionists and pro-choice supporters would surely agree that reducing the number of the procedures is a worthwhile goal. But it’s hard to even begin discussing the ways that could be achieved without having some basic and current statistical information.
In 1997, there were 320 abortions at VJH. The number was 438 in 1998, and 447 in 1999. In the past decade, who knows?
By keeping the numbers out of the hands of the public, the government only serves to help cloak abortion in secrecy and shame, attitudes that run directly counter to the pro-choice view that it’s a medical procedure that should be free of any stigma.
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter whose column appears Wednesday and Friday. Tel. 250-470-0750.
The Daily Courier (Kelowna) Fri May 14 2010 Page: A1 / FRONT Section: News Byline: Ron Seymour Column: Pravda