Abortion is a topic few Canadians want to discuss, and abortion statistics rarely come up around the water cooler. So when an Ontario group, Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report (POWER), released a study last week on Ontario abortion rates for 2007, nobody seemed to notice. But they should have.
No matter what your position on abortion, the study reveals unsettling facts about abortions in Ontario, and by extension, in Canada. For example, we learn that for every 100 babies born in Ontario, 37 are aborted.
The ratio for teens aged 15-19 is even more shocking. For every 100 babies born to Ontario teens, 152 are aborted.
The study noted that teens “were by far the most likely of any age group to have an abortion rather than a live birth.” And since it excluded abortions for girls under 15, the teen abortion rate is even higher.
It also revealed disturbing data about repeat abortions in Ontario hospitals. As many as 52% of women had one or more previous abortions. Even more disturbing, almost one fifth of teens aged 15-19 said they had already had at least one abortion. The study even cautioned that the percentage of repeat abortions was likely higher due to under-reporting.
And that’s just for hospitals. Abortion clinics were excluded from the repeat calculations even though they perform more than half the province’s abortions. And teens don’t need parental consent for clinic abortions (though they may at some hospitals), so more teens may go to clinics.
Even fairly liberal parents might squirm to think that their child, aged 14 or younger, could walk into a clinic to have an abortion — more than once — and they would never know.
Most Canadians are unaware that teens don’t need parental consent to have an abortion. They don’t even have to inform their parents. In fact, most Canadians — 80% according to a 2010 Angus Reid poll — don’t even know we have no legal restrictions on abortion.
For the record, abortion is fully legal in Canada at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason, and for any Canadian citizen, and taxpayers pay for almost all of them.
LifeCanada, a national organization educating on the value of human life, has commissioned Environics to poll Canadians annually from 2002-2009. Each year, a large majority, anywhere from 60% to 66%, supported some legal restrictions on abortion.
So even though most Canadians don’t know the facts or statistics on abortion, they don’t support the current legal vacuum in Canada. Imagine if they actually knew something about the subject.
Why don’t they?In the past, Statistics Canada collected abortion data through the Therapeutic Abortion Survey (TAS), but when the abortion law was struck down in 1988, some provinces interpreted the decision to mean they no longer had to report abortion data to Statistics Canada. Since that time, abortion statistics have become increasingly scarce.
In recent years, Statistics Canada deemed abortion data “unreliable” because too few clinics and hospitals reported. They even noted the absence of abortion data was “definitely a concern.”
In British Columbia, a law even prohibits citizens from accessing any statistics about abortions performed there. This in democratic Canada.
More recently, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) took over responsibility for abortion statistics. Their report for 2007 and 2008, released last December, is riddled with categories labelled “unknown” because so few hospitals and clinics submit complete data.
By comparison, the new POWER study uses OHIP billing records and several different databases, making it more reliable than other recent data. This may account for a large discrepancy between the study’s and CIHI’s figures. The study does not give absolute numbers for abortions but it does provide the abortion to live birth ratio. Since Statistics Canada reports the number of Ontario live births as 138,000, this would suggest the number of Ontario abortions in 2007 may actually be around 51,000, much higher than CIHI’s figure of about 32,000.
However, the study is not without biases. It classifies some second trimester abortions as “early abortions” though it is doubtful most Canadians would agree.
Nonetheless, any data about abortion in Canada is valuable and welcome. One can’t help but wonder why all the secrecy if there is nothing to hide? For a cause that has always been championed as a woman’s right, it is ironic that information about something exclusively relevant to women’s health is ignored, or worse, suppressed. Shame.
– Anastasia Bowles is the acting executive director of LifeCanada