Friday, July 13, 2012

Banning third trimester abortions

Mary Ellen Douglas from Campaign Life Coalition comments on the latest Ipsos Reid/Postmedia poll, which states that some 60% of Canadians would support an abortion law that would ban third trimester abortions.

Ms. Douglas states:
"For some to suggest that they would only like to see babies in the womb protected in the third trimester is to suggest that we should establish a pro-abortion law in the absence of any law which would allow the killing of unborn babies from the time of conception until 26 weeks."

CLC does a lot of good work, like the Annual March for Life every year, an event I strongly support. But I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Douglas on this subject.

We would not be establishing a pro-abortion law, because we already have a pro-abortion law in Canada, one of the most extreme pro-abortion laws in the world, where not one preborn child is legally protected.

Protecting preborn children after 24 or 26 weeks does not "allow" the killing of unborn babies before that time. We already allow their killing before that time, as well as after that time. A gestational law would simply put some restrictions on our existing legal abortion situation where children in all three trimesters are currently unprotected.

Ms. Douglas goes on to say that:
"Pro-life groups in countries that take a time limit approach note from experience that it is very difficult to uphold the law because unscrupulous doctors and abortion-minded women can fudge the conception date and how far the pregnancy has proceeded."

Yes people lie, it happens all the time and we can't stop people from doing so. But that isn't a reason for not engaging in the art of what is doable. As we have learned from this most recent poll, getting a broad consensus on preventing third trimester abortions in Canada is possible. Whether or not someone will lie about the gestational age of the fetus is something we cannot control, in this situation, just like we can`t control it in any situation.

At CCBR's recent presentations in Ottawa at the culmination of the New Abortion Caravan, there was a short video clip of a doctor examining a 24 week old dead fetus. I can’t get that picture out of my head.

The doctor turned this fully formed baby over a couple of times, probably examining her to ensure that all of her body parts had been removed from her mother's womb after the abortion. He then enfolded this tiny human being in a white sheet, presumably to “dispose” of her remains.

That picture will haunt me for a long time.

I would do anything to protect that tiny child. I would also like to protect all the other tiny preborn children from such a fate. But at the moment, our legal situation in Canada is that none of them are protected. With a third trimester protection law, at least some of these tiny lives would be saved because many "pro-choice" people would agree with me that, that 24 week old fetus should be protected.

Ms. Douglas ends with this:
"The pro-life movement wants to protect all human life from the time of conception to natural death. A gestational limit would give the illusion of providing some protection to a tiny number of children in the womb and send the wrong signal to the general public that abortion is restricted in any meaningful sense."

Yes the pro-life movement wants to protect life from the time of conception to natural death. And we will continue to fight for that protection. But I posit, that not advocating for what is possible [by creating third trimester legal restrictions], gives the illusion that pro-life people will only ever accept, what may never happen.


  1. I think this is an issue that shows the disunity of the Canadian pro-life movement. If we won't move forward on any possible law to protect the unborn (my way or the highway mentality), we will remain exactly where we are - with no law whatsoever.
    Incremental legislation is better than no legislation. And no legislation is what we will have if we hold to the all or nothing position.

    1. I recently came across a statement from a pro-life group where the reader is advised that because the group has over 30 years experience others ought to listen to them when they profess that any law that would limit abortion is not acceptable. I fully applaud the much good work done by this group but for me it is precisely this 30 years of experience that raises significant concern. The reality is that with all this experience not one single Canadian baby has been saved from abortion as a result of legal restrictions. I believe it is time to re think the value of this 'experience' and to at least consider alternative measures that will possibly spare babies in the womb. Common sense tells us that if after decades something doesn't work then it is time to try something else. Just as pro-life individuals ask those who support abortion to open their minds, to listen and to respectfully consider ideas presented by others, I too ask this group to do the same before more babies are lost and countless others are harmed by abortion. My comments are submitted with much respect and admiration for all those who work to end abortion.

  2. As Pope John Paul II said :

    “A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” (Evangelium Vitae, 73).

  3. Julie: Incremental legislation is fully supported by the pro-life movement. Gestational legislation- which the writer is talking about- is not, and for good reason. Campaign Life Coalition (in which Mary Ellen Douglas belongs), currently has a Defund Abortion Campaign happening across Ontario- which is a tactful, and positive incremental step to stopping abortion.

    Jennifer: I completely agree we have to use our common sense. Instead of thinking that we should try a partial-birth abortion ban however- why don't we look to countries like the U.K, and the U.S- where this has already occurred. In the U.K- abortions are prohibited after 24 weeks. Latest studied show however, that the abortion rate went up and not down. Similarly, in the U.S- Dr. James Dobson, pro-life leader and founder of "Focus on the Family" famously said, " Ending partial-birth abortion... does not save a single human life."

    Maureen: Evangelium Vitae does not apply because we currently live in a country that has no law. This only applies to countries which actually have legislation that permits abortion, which must be chipped away at. If new abortion legislation said that abortion is permitted under certain circumstances and prohibited under others (like a partial-birth abortion ban does) then that legislation would be codifying IN LAW permission to abort, that currently does not exist. Therefore, our job as pro-life activists would be even more difficult.

    I understand people are fed up with the lack of laws on abortion in Canada, and so am I. The idea that we need a law , no matter how bad it is, will only move us forward- is a false ideology that not only puts our country in a greater peril, but also causes disunity among the pro-life movement. Given the culture we are faced with- do we really want to spend our precious time fighting each other?

  4. Jenny, Jennifer wasn't suggesting a partial-birth abortion ban (nor was Patricia in her original posting, nor was it the subject of the CLC article quoted above). A "partial birth abortion ban" bans a specific procedure, regardless of the gestational age of the child--all other procedures would remain legal, so the baby can be killed by some other abortion method. That is probably why Dr. Dobson said such a ban wouldn't save a single life, if that's what he said. On the other hand, a "late-term abortion ban" would ban abortion, by any method, after some point in the latter stages of pregnancy, for example, after 20 weeks gestation.

    As for your comment about the UK, sorry, I'm having trouble understanding the point you are making. The abortion rate went up compared to what? And how is that related to the 24 week limit? Would you be able to cite the study you referred to and elaborate on the point you are trying to make? Thanks.

    And with respect, Jenny, Evangelium Vitae is NOT irrelevant to Canada, because we actually DO have an "abortion law." While we don't have a statute law that restricts or prohibits abortion, we do have a statute law that excludes preborn children from the definition of 'human being' in the Criminal Code, thereby excluding them from protection under the homicide offences and other offences against persons; and we have the 1988 Morgentaler decision which struck down the abortion provisions in the Criminal Code which had protected preborn babies at least to some degree. Taken together (the statutory provisions in the Criminal Code and the case law) the law in Canada is such that abortion is legally permitted throughout the entire pregnancy. So we have a completely permissive abortion law today. In such a situation, Evangelium Vitae makes it clear that it is legitimate to support restrictive laws to limit the harm of abortion.

    So setting a limit at say 20 weeks would be one way to limit the harm of abortion. We know there are at the very least over 500 abortions after 20 weeks per year in Canada. Even if such a law wouldn't stop all those abortions (for the sake of argument, let us say some doctors will lie about the age of the child as some pro-lifers claim), don't you think it's worthwhile to at least save some of those babies? Since we cannot guarantee with 100% certainty that every single doctor would lie, we have to assume that such a law has the potential to save at least some babies--are those babies' lives not worth trying to save?

    And babies aborted at that late stage of pregnancy would feel excruciating pain--would you not want to save those babies from that kind of torture?

  5. Barbara: A partial-birth abortion ban is an example of gestational legislation….that doesn’t work. The point is the same. Your philosophy- that we should support legislation even if it saves “some” babies should be supported, when the fact is- why put all our efforts into saving only “some” when we can instill more effective legislation that would not exclude a certain group of children based on age.

    In the States- the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was written into law after an eight-year struggle by pro-life activists. It was the first bill that saw national restriction on abortion since Roe vs. Wade. And it did nothing.

    Would this not have been legislation you would have supported based on your gestational ideology?

    ( ) In terms of the U.K stat- the abortion rates escalated even after a restriction on abortion after 24-weeks. Now pro-life leaders are fighting tooth and nail; desperately trying to shift the restriction down to 20-22 weeks, which the LifeSite article revealed, would only affect “1% of British abortions”. John Smeaton, a well respected pro-life leader from the Society for the Protection for the Unborn, said that the restriction wasn’t working, and that secret abortions were in fact happening, which attributed to the rising abortion rate.

    So- my point is- instead of putting in a law that has proven not to work in other parts of the world- why don’t we learn from these countries, and work together to put forward legislation that is actually effective.

    Abortion is permitted, however, there is nowhere in the Criminal Code that says abortion is legal. It is only applied. I am well aware of the history of abortion in our country. Whatever laws that are passed- will be the first since the infamous 1969 Omnibous Bill (which also restricted abortion- that has been pegged the “worst law ever written”). Therefore, we must make sure that this new law is extremely effective. If it’s not- we could ultimately have more work on our hands- not less- due to the fact that we now have to work at revising the new law, all the while trying to instill a better one. Why make more work for ourselves? If there was an actual codified law to chip away at- than Evangelium Vitae would apply. Canada is in a unique situation, and therefore cannot be clumped together with countries where abortion is a “right”.

    I want to save as many babies as I can, which is exactly why I am against a gestational law. We can see from other countries, this does not work- it actually just makes the pro-life movement’s work more difficult. In the U.S however, what does work- are defunding projects, ultrasound laws, etc- anything that would make it harder for a woman to obtain an abortion. Clinics close, and women realize that they cannot go through with the abortion after seeing their baby. These are the types of incremental laws we need to focus on- not ones that would “save” less than 1% of all victims.

  6. I am so glad we are finally having this debate! Thank you, Jenny, for engaging in it. As I have often said, when we debate/discuss our differences, we usually all end up becoming better informed as a result.

    I decided to dig a bit further into the PBA ban in the US, and I learned something interesting: The PBA ban was not a gestational law by intent; it focused on a procedure. But the justices eventually associated it with "late term." So from what I can tell, it is neither a pure "gestational" law (banning abortions after a certain point in gestation, regardless of procedure) NOR a pure procedure-type law (banning a specific procedure, regardless of gestational age). Rather, it is an intersection of the two (i.e.banning a specific type of procedure late in gestation.) I would support such a ban because of its value in helping to educate the public (including abortion-minded women) about prenatal development and the stark truth about the brutality of abortion and how babies at that stage of development would feel excruciating pain.

    Regarding the LifeSite news article you reference, I see nothing in that article that gives any evidence that the 24 week gestational age limit in the UK was related to the increase in abortion rate, which is what you seem to be implying.

    You say that lowering of the gestational age to 20-22 weeks in Britain "would only" affect 1% of British abortions according to this article. That amounts to 1,864 babies' lives being saved--per year! If I had the opportunity to support such a law and save that many lives, I would be very thankful. Jenny, how many babies' lives would have to be saved by a law before you would support that law?

    You say: "John Smeaton, a well respected pro-life leader from the Society for the Protection for the Unborn, said that the restriction wasn’t working, and that secret abortions were in fact happening, which attributed to the rising abortion rate." You seem to be implying that the gestational restrictions aren't being obeyed and that late-term abortions are happening "in secret." Yet nowhere in that article do I see Mr. Smeaton saying anything to that effect. The "secret abortions" he is referring to are abortions done on girls "under the age of consent" without parents being notified--there is no mention that these were late-term abortions, or that the increase in abortion rate in Britain had anything to do with the gestational age limit.

    So I still see no evidence of your assertion that gestational limits have been "proven not to work in other parts of the world."

    I agree with you, Jenny, that we should pursue defunding laws, ultrasound laws, etc. It is good to see that we do have some common ground. There are many avenues we could pursue, and I don't think anyone is suggesting that we should pursue ONLY a gestational limit. But let me ask you this: what if the Ontario government (which currently funds virtually all abortions) proposed a bill to defund abortion except in the case of rape, would you support such a bill? Or except if done for physical health reasons, would you support that?

    And what about a law like what MP Ken Epp introduced a few years ago, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act--which was not about abortion (abortion would still remain legal if the bill had passed into law). Rather, it created an offence for killing a preborn child intentionally while committing an offence against the pregnant woman. Would you support such a law?"

  7. I think we're missing an important point: our biggest obstacle are not pro-abortion politicians. Our biggest obstacle in protecting pre-born children is that most Canadians don't know or don't care about the abortion debate.

    If that is the case, what should our strategy be as a movement to get these apathetic Canadians talking? What should we do to change the political process so that politicians are talking about abortion?

    Partial-birth abortion bans may not save many babies but didn't it help illustrate for many Americans the humanity of the pre-born? Isn't the reason why there is such vigorous debate in the US because there are so many pro-life laws that they are debating?

    The 1969 law in Canada wasn't perfect either - no true pro-lifer would ever say it was. But at the very least, abortion advocates we're still forced to talk about it. Wasn't their movement built around the fact the law forced them to fight for abortion?

    Incremental legislation may not save many babies either but any law we pass now won't likely save many because of public opinion. But won't it at least educate the 80% of Canadians who don't know there is no abortion law at all? Won't we then begin a debate that our opponents want to silence?

    When the 1969 and the 1988 abortion debates began, it dominated headlines and got many Canadians' attention. Today, most people ignore the issue which defaults to the position of no protection whatsoever AND no debate whatsoever. With no law, our opponents could focus on silencing any discussion (with the help of many politicians).

    I think regardless of where you stand on the debate about gestational legislation, you need to ask yourself, how can we overcome the fact that most Canadians' position on abortion is apathy?

  8. I am glad this is being talked about as well... especially with the birth of the We Need A Law campaign. Why are we wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel?

    So, you would support a Bill, which took 8 years of the pro-life movements time, money and resources, as well as create a firestorm of controversy within the movement, that ultimately didn’t save any children and caused a greater division? I agree it did have the potential to help create more awareness and education- however that isn’t the point. The point is that a better, more effective piece of legislation could have been worked on during those eight years that would have actually saved lives, created equal (or more) awareness AND united the pro-life movement. Also- while they were spending 8 years trying to push for a piece of legislation that affected less than 1% of the millions of abortions that happen each year in the U.S- all other pre-born children were left in the dust. That is also a problem. Whether or not these children cannot feel pain, does not mean that they should not be fought for just as much as those lucky enough to make it to the third trimester.

    If the piece of gestational legislation in the U.K was actually saving lives- the abortion rate would not be rising. Just by the pure fact that it is increasing- means that gestational legislation is not successful- for many reasons.

    No- I would not support such a bill with exceptions to rape/health of the mother. That bill, if passed- would be useless- just like a gestational law. The “physical health” of the mother is very ambiguous- and thus the bill would only be used to quiet pro-life activists, all the while continuing on funding the way it was before. It would also make it virtually impossible to completely defund abortion since a bad law was already put in place. It’s much harder to overturn a bad law, than it is to put in a new one. Like I mentioned earlier- we know this from the 1969 omnibous bill which had similar restrictions on abortion. Pro-lifers who lived in that time will tell you- those restrictions did nothing- and abortions were still committed under any circumstance. As pro-life activists, we must demand for more and can’t be desperate enough to compromise the truth and settle for just anything.

    Conversely, The Unborn Victims of Crime Act would recognize the humanity of the fetus, which is what pro-lifers are ultimately seeking to achieve. That bill would be a positive step toward abolishing abortion. Yes- it would not end abortion altogether, however, it would actually be a valid incremental step toward ending abortion without compromise- which is what the pro-life movement’s aim should be. Would you support the bill if it said that killing a preborn child intentionally while committing an act of violence toward the mother was an offence UNLESS the woman was raped?

    I think people have to realize that just because Canada currently has no law on abortion, doesn’t automatically mean that any law- no matter how ineffective it is- should be supported just because it “might” save at least "some" lives. Instead, we should be working to achieve an effective law that puts us one step closer to abolishing abortion altogether- which (and this is key) has proven to work.

  9. I very much appreciate the information that I see on this blog site. Thanks to Patricia Maloney for permitting the 'debate.'

    Jenny, it is the quote by Pope John Paul ll, posted by Maureen on July 14th, and the information contributed by Barbara on July 16th, that in Canada we do have an abortion law (see posts for details) that convinces me and many others to realize that we need to gradually work towards ending abortion. One way we can do this is by encouraging legislators to bring forth laws that would help Canada to reach that time when abortion would not be accepted for any reason and this means to support a variety of incremental laws, including a gestational approach. Please read that quote of Pope John Paul ll carefully with the knowledge that in Canada we do have an abortion law. Having said this, even before we think about legislating an end to abortion we must first pray to change the hearts and minds of all involved with the act of abortion.

    Jenny, if a bill came before the Parliament of Canada that we thought would reduce abortions by "only" 1% (which works out to about 1000 Canadian babies' lives saved each year) I would choose to support it. The only alternative is to choose to support the status quo, thereby reducing abortions by 0%, saving 0 lives. I can't stop thinking that if Paul Steckle's bill had passed (no abortions past 20 weeks)thousands of children would have been saved from late term abortions and right now many of these children would be enjoying summer vacations from school. Imagine them!

    Just for the record, when it is advocated to save as many babies as possible for now, this by no means that this thinking 'allows' other babies to die. The misuse of this term 'allow' relative to the discussion is something that really bothers me. Surely, it is never appropriate to intentionally mis use terms just to make a point.

  10. Jennifer- we do not have a law- hence the campaign "We Need A Law". Abortions happen by default in Canada for the very reason that there is no law. The only guideline we have is the definition of a "person" found in the Criminal Code- which is not an abortion law. Therefore- whatever law that we manage to enact will be codify permission to abort... that currently does not exist.

    I'm not sure if you have been reading the entire debate- but even if gestational limitations are passed- they don't work, so Paul Steckle's bill would have been counter-productive.

    Would you have worked to end slavery by working for eight years to pass a bill that said you could only own certain types of slaves or would that have been an affront to the virtue of equality and affirmed slave ownership?

  11. I disagree with Jenny's assessment of the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, i.e., that it would be an "incremental step toward ending abortion." I remember some pro-lifers were saying that at the time the bill was being debated in 2008, and so were some pro-choicers. And Mr. Epp made it very clear that that was not the case and said something like, no matter how much the pro-choicers fear that it would lead to criminalizing abortion, and no matter how much the pro-lifers wished it would--it would not. That it just protected the child in that one specific circumstance, no more no less, and that the bill should be judged on its own merits. Remember, this is the case where a third party attacks a pregnant woman and kills her child; it has nothing to do with a woman choosing an abortion. And don't forget, most US states have these types of "unborn victims of violence laws" and they co-exist with legal abortion. However, I also remember a prominent abortion activist admitting at the time why she feared the bill so much, when she said: "If the fetuses are recognized in this bill, it could bleed into people's consciousness and make people change their minds about abortion." ("Fetal rights stir debate on abortion,” by Charles Lewis, National Post, March 1, 2008). But if people do start rethinking their position on abortion as a result of such a bill (and maybe they will, maybe they won't), so be it--I hope we have not come to the point where we want Canadians to stop thinking.

  12. Jenny, as the other commenters have already put forward, Canada does have an abortion law, it may not be a statute law that explicitly mentions abortion, but as explained, it is a law nonetheless.

    And Jenny you are the only one suggesting that gestational limitations don't work but you haven't provided any evidence to back that up so I'm not sure why you would suggest Jennifer hasn't been reading the comments since I might suggest the same of you.

  13. Jenny, what commenters (including myself) have been trying to convey to you is that we DO have a law with respect to abortion and it is a completely PERMISSIVE law. What we DON'T have is a RESTRICTIVE law with respect to abortion. So the "We Need A Law" campaign is advocating for a RESTRICTIVE abortion law.

    Some people seem to think that just because there is no Criminal Code provision for abortion (since the 1988 Morgentaler decision struck it down), that there is "no abortion law." The Criminal Code is a set of prohibitions, not a set of permissions. Therefore, since the Criminal Code no longer prohibits or restricts the killing of preborn children (due to the fact that the homicide and other offences against persons only apply to children once they are born, combined with the fact that there are no longer abortion restrictions due to the 1988 Morgentaler decision) then abortions are fully legally permitted. There doesn't need to be anything written in the Criminal Code to expressly permit abortion, because that would be redundant. So by putting abortion restrictions into the Criminal Code (which "We Need a Law" is advocating) we would be changing our existing "permissive law" into a "restrictive law."

    Since "the law" includes case law and not just statutory law, we have to take into consideration other SCC rulings as well--not just the 1988 ruling--plus any provincial laws. To gain a better understanding of what constitutes Canada's "laws"), see "Canada's System of Justice" at:

    Law Professor John Finnis, in his article "Restricting legalised abortion is not intrinsically unjust," which appears in the book: Cooperation, Complicity, & Conscience" on page 227, explains it this way:

    "No statute, indeed no code, could constitute the whole of a state's law on abortion (or any other topic). The law on any topic or issue is the proposition about that topic that is made legally true by the interaction of relevant statutory provisions with constitutional and other statutory provisions, with judgements of high courts, and with the general principles of law presupposed by all juristic thought. Among these general principles are: What is not prohibited is permitted,....Permission is the default position. This is .... one of the 'general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.' " (this is the phrase used in the Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38)

  14. Jenny, in your July 18 comment you say: "If the piece of gestational legislation in the U.K was actually saving lives- the abortion rate would not be rising." But in fact, the gestational law could very well be saving lives EVEN IF the abortion rate is rising. Here's how:

    The gestational law can save the babies of only those abortion-seeking women who are past the gestational age limit. That is, if a woman would otherwise have aborted but is prevented from doing so because of the law prohibiting that abortion, then that baby's life is saved.

    Additionally, the educational effect of a gestational law itself may have prevented some other women from opting for abortion; so the lives of these women's babies would have been saved as well.

    At the same time, and unrelated to the above two groups of women, we have all those abortion-seeking women whose babies are younger than the gestational age limit. These women may be obtaining more abortions than in previous years (and there could be any number of reasons to account for the rise--maybe more young girls are getting pregnant; maybe more women are being pressured by boyfriends to abort, etc; in fact, according to the LifeSite News article you cite, "the government’s millions of pounds spent on sex education programs and massive availability of contraceptives have contributed to the rise of abortion.") And the rise in these women's abortions would account for the overall increase in abortions--even while the other babies mentioned above have been saved.

    There is nothing in the LifeSite News article to suggest that women who would not otherwise have gotten abortions if there had been no gestational time limit, were actually getting them (i.e. that a gestational limit somehow "pressured" women into getting abortions before it was "too late" and if they had not been so pressured, they would not have aborted.)

    It could in fact be the case that if the gestational age limit had not been there, then the abortion rate may have increased EVEN MORE than it did. We'll never know.

    Bottom line: all that we can conclude from the LifeSite article you cite is that abortions are increasing in the UK. But the article gives us no information at all as to how effective the gestational law is at saving lives. Thus you have no basis for concluding from this article that "gestational legislation is not successful."