Probably the best authority on the number of late term abortions in Canada is Patricia Maloney who blogs at Run With Life (runwithlife.blogspot.ca).  She is currently involved in a court battle to sue the Ontario government for passing an amendment to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) whereby all information related to abortion is no longer accessible through freedom of Information requests.

Ms. Maloney’s work uncovering data on late-term livebirth abortions has been an invaluable asset to many Canadians, but it reveals a tragic, horrifying reality.  These are babies that are either killed in utero and delivered as “stillbirths” or they are birthed alive and then killed, or left to die, and termed as “livebirth abortions”.  The gestational age for most of these horrific deaths is past 20 weeks, and some past 28 weeks gestation.

The numbers for late-term stillbirth and livebirth abortions (Code P96.4 "Termination of pregnancy, affecting fetus and newborns") from the Canadian Institute for Health Information for 2013/2014 are the following: stillborn abortions, 780 and livebirth abortions, 161,” writes Ms. Maloney on her blog post of April 9, 2015. Quebec did not report either stillbirths or livebirths for code P96.4.

We also know, thanks to Ms. Maloney’s freedom of information requests, that these numbers are increasing: In 2010/2011 the number of stillbirth abortions were 728 (not including Quebec’s stats) compared to 780 in 2014/2015. The number of livebirth abortions were 158 (including Quebec) compared to 161.

Ms. Maloney’s work uncovering these statistics sparked a huge debate about the criminal status of these deaths. Members of Parliament, Maurice Vellacott, Leon Benoit and Wladyslaw Lizon wrote to the RCMP commissioner in January 2013 asking for an investigation into the livebirth abortions. The legal reality of these babies according to Canadian Law is that they are now human beings with legal rights. But no investigation ensued due to the circumstances surrounding these baby’s lives, namely that many had severe fetal abnormalities that would have cut their lives short. In other words, those involved felt that as these children would die anyway of their complications, killing them prematurely was legitimate.

However, as Ms. Maloney points out, we really know very little about the circumstances surrounding the life and death of these infants due to the poor reporting. It is likely that children with fatal abnormality made up a large percentage of those killed by abortion, but it is equally likely that babies with a healthy prognosis were also killed. After-all the only requirement for abortion in Canada is the will of the mother.

The National Post ran a story in February 2013 as a consequence of Ms. Maloney’s findings and the subsequent request for investigation. “In 2010, 537 Canadian women underwent abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, not including Quebec. According to Wendy Norman, a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, “almost everyone” in those cases “has some different anomaly.”

Carol (not her real name) was one such mother who chose abortion due to the fact that her baby was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, severe bone fragility.  Certainly a tragic situation, Carol said that she opted for late-term abortion because by giving birth she “would have needed to select a name, learn the child’s gender and make funeral arrangements.”[i]

The National Post noted in another article entitled Birth of a legal quandary: Live-birth abortions a perilous grey zone in Canada’s criminal code (February 1, 2013) “In the vast majority of Canadian abortions, the fetus does not receive any documentation, since it is deemed to be bodily discharge….”  However, those babies who show signs of life following a livebirth abortion must be issued a birth and death certificate.

The thinking around this issue is full of internal contradiction.  It would seem that babies born through forced births (live-birth abortion) must be examined for vital signs, yet still be allowed to perish in contradiction to Canadian law which recognizes them as persons. Medical staff set aside the law based, in some cases, on the disability of the child, and law makers look the other way.

Would legislation protecting pain capable children help Canada’s unborn ? The question is worth asking.  It would certainly raise the issue of the suffering of these babies, and serve as a tool to teach the Canadian public something about the humanity of the unborn.  These babies suffer cruelly at the end of their short lives – that recognition alone must compel any civil society to action.

 


[1] Incompatible with life': Mother's account of her difficult decision to request a late-term abortion sheds light on ‘live-born’ debate, National Post, Tristin Hopper, February 6, 2013.

 This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of LifeCanada's Reflections Magazine.