Are Canadians in conflict about abortion? Or merely conflicted?

Understanding polls on the volatile issue is harder than getting Parliament to talk about it

by Charlie Gillis

My colleague Aaron Wherry points out a revealing Forum poll that suggests a hard swing in Canadian public opinion against legal restrictions on abortion.

True that, and the accompanying Post story references a contradiction I saw in polls when writing my own recent piece on fetal rights. A clear majority of respondents will say they favour unrestricted access to abortion; yet the same poll will show majority support (especially among women) for some kind of regulation or oversight during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Example: last summer Postmedia published an Ipsos Reid poll in which more people (49 per cent) said abortion should be permitted “whenever a woman decides she wants one” than said it should be permitted “in certain circumstances” (45 per cent).

Yet the same poll had a 60-per cent majority in favour of “a law that places limits on when a woman can have an abortion during her pregnancy, such as during the last trimester.”

This sort of contradiction arises all the time in polling, flummoxing surveyors and reporters alike (which result deserves emphasis?). Personally, I’ve begun to wonder whether, when asked a simple question about if a woman’s access to safe abortion should be in any way restricted, most respondents imagine a woman in the early stages of pregnancy and answer with an emphatic ‘no.’

Then, when asked about a fetus in the late stages of development, a sizable number admit to qualms, tipping the result in the other way. Some pollsters randomize their question order to avoid this type of outcome. But it’s not always possible to do in a way that provides coherent results.

That said, the new poll clearly suggests the public is re-engaged on abortion, and reacting negatively to the idea of restrictions. Woodworth’s motion—and the frighteningly vapid remarks of some U.S. political candidates—seem like pretty good explanations for the turnabout.

Take a poll now, in the wake of the news out of Ireland, and it says here you’d get an even stronger response.




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Are Canadians in conflict about abortion? Or merely conflicted?

  1. The public is NOT ‘reengaged’ on abortion, and in fact is fed up with hearing about it.

    Hence the emphatic NO.

    If you want to clear up your confusion tell polls to add more information. Last trimester terminations are only done in the US, and only in an emergency so there is no need for us to even think about them.

      • And except that you can’t read it, it’s fine.

      • Gaunilon, it’s too bad you can’t read French. These aren’t guidelines, rather a report from the Hospital’s bioethics committee that contains recommendations.

        According to the document, the Hospital St-Justine (a children’s hospital) will provide abortions for any reason up to 20 weeks, after which patients will be directed to another clinic in Quebec, some of which provide abortions (for any reason) up to 22 weeks. If it is after 22 weeks, the patient will be directed to the American states of Kansas or New York, which provide later term abortions.

        In fact, the document quotes the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons guidelines which say that interruptions of pregnancy after 23 weeks are rare and are reserved only for cases serious birth defects or in exceptional medical situations.

        The document’s recommendations look into whether it is ethical to interrupt a pregnancy for birth defects if the fetus is still viable and concludes that, in these case, third term abortions are only acceptable (and can be conducted at the hospital) if there is a strong possibility that the that baby will be born with serious incurable birth defects. It also recommends that a woman (or couple) who is considering a late-term abortion for this reason meet with medical specialists, have all the information about the options and the fetus’ medical situation, meet with the obstetrician twice and wait at least 48 hours after the second consultation to consider the decision. It also suggests that the doctor should evaluate the level of distress being experienced by the woman (or couple) and provide her with the different options for support: social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or pastoral.

        If anything, this document shows that just because something is legal doesn’t mean that doctors will do it. Clearly the medical community takes their responsibilities and ethics very seriously.

        I actually feel much better about the current situation in Canada after reading this. Thanks Gaunilon for proving the opposite of your point!

        • Friend, it so happens that I do read French. It also happens that you’ve made my point for me, albeit in in self-contradictory fashion.

          The report gives guidelines under which third-trimester abortions are to be conducted at St. Justine’s. As you point out, the conclusion is that they are to be reserved for cases involving serious fetal defects…but that in these cases they can be performed at St. Justine’s. In other words, late term abortions are performed at St. Justine’s. Which is in Canada. QED.

          Now, since we all agree that late-term abortions are performed in Canada under certain circumstances, the question becomes this: why is it such a big deal? If the fetus isn’t a child, why should the hospital have the right to demand that the mother wait between consultations and have a doctor evaluate her level of distress, etc.? What right does a doctor have to obstruct the woman’s demand for an abortion?

          Of course, if the reason for all this caution, reluctance, and triple-layered consultation is because the fetus is in fact not just a piece of the woman’s body, but a child, then I ask you: why is it ok to kill this child with congenital defects when it would be reprehensible to do so after they’re born?

          • Not your businees, bucko

            Medical decision, not yours.

          • I’m not your “friend,” I’m a stranger on the internet who thinks your a moron. These aren’t guidelines, it’s a report from a committee with suggestions, there’s no sign whether or not these guidelines were adopted.

            So let me get your argument straight, since there are no laws, you try to imply that the situation is out of control, vicious late-term abortions are rampant in Canada, when it’s proven that this isn’t the case you try and turn it around.

            Obviously as a fetus matures it becomes closer to being human and the ethical ramifications become more serious, it doesn’t mean it’s a person.

            There are children in this country who go to bed hungry every night. We all know this debate has nothing to do with life any everything to do with control. It’s time to get over yourself and find a real issue to care about.

          • Is it really this hard to comprehend. The claim was made that late-term abortions are never done in Canada. Every literate person on the thread can now see that this is not true. It’s even possible that you and Emily now see this.

            “Obviously as a fetus matures it becomes closer to being human and the ethical ramifications become more serious, it doesn’t mean it’s a person.”

            You’re seriously going to insist that a late-term fetus isn’t human. Remarkable. You may not be aware of this, but third-trimester fetuses are regularly delivered as premature babies. Do you think they magically turn into humans as they transit the birth canal? Yet it’s perfectly legal to kill them until they do.

            “We all know this debate has nothing to do with life any (sic) everything to do with control. It’s time to get over yourself and find a real issue to care about.”

            So, the issue Canadians are clearly divided on and which we’ve been debating here for several posts isn’t “a real issue”. And anyone who thinks it might be wrong to kill unborn children is motivated by “nothing to do with life any (sic) everything to do with control.” Where I come from, this form of response is a clear sign of weakness. Dismissing the argument doesn’t change the fact that you can’t seem to address it directly.

          • We don’t have late term abortions here, not because we refuse, but because medical care is free so most women have good prenatal care. That way everyone knows if the baby is normal and healthy at the earliest stages.

            Now occasionally a serious problem only becomes apparent in the final trimester….brains formed outside the body, or the foetus has died, and in situations like that the US has more specialists and facilities so they go there.

            The point is that it’s a medical decision…not one made by your religion.

  2. If we’re concerned about getting a full picture, or testing the resolve in their opinion, which seems to be what you’re suggesting, shouldn’t we also be asking Canadians whether they favour preventive detention for women who might decide to have a late stage abortion? Or punishments for women afterwards? What if it’s your family?
    Or maybe we could ask what Canadians think the penalty should be for an otherwise law abiding medical professional who performs a safe, sterile abortion that we suddenly decide is illegal after 3 decades of letting them figure that out? What if it’s your family doctor?
    The reason the decision, with no restriction for timing, has been left in the hands of women and their doctors is that it would be authoritarian and cruel to try and put either police or public opinion in charge of a very nuanced, individual decision. Most Canadians who think it through are concerned about that, even if they don’t want there to be abortions.

    • Pretty much every other liberal democracy (Ireland being a notable exception) allows abortion on demand up to a certain point (usually 12-20 weeks), and with restrictions thereafter. I suspect the citizens of those countries do not consider their laws authoritarian and cruel.

      • Maybe no one has ever asked the citizens of those liberal democracies? Do they favour preventive detention or jail terms afterward?

        My point is that if we’re concerned about the accuracy of poll question answers because newly pregnant women are more top of mind (and sympathetic) than late term potentially criminal abortion seekers, we also need to consider the full consequences of legislation, not just stomp around saying “there oughta be a law.” Maybe we should ask, for instance, if Canadians would like police officers deciding if or when women can have abortions.

        • The first question would be entirely loaded. There are a range of penalties possible, including the proverbial slap on the wrist. We don’t live in a binary world.

          And, the 2nd question re asking if police officers (of all people) should be deciding if and when woman can have abortions is just nonsensical, as the job of the police is to enforce laws not make them up as they go.

          My point is that the rest of the civilized world does indeed have these types of laws. So if Canada were to get in step with them, it would not signal anything dramatic.

          I will agree that the accuracy of polls in this area are in doubt.

          Consider two different hypothetical polls each with 2 questions (see below), in which the 2nd question is the same in both. Does anyone really expect not to see a big difference in the outcomes of the 2nd question?

          Poll 1:
          q1) Do you think the collection of cells that exist right after conception is a human being?
          q2) Do you favour any restrictions on abortion?

          Poll 2:
          q1) Do you think a fetus that is 8 months 3 weeks old is a human being?
          q2) Do you favour any restrictions on abortion?

          • I guess the problem I have with this is, 1. A woman’s right to her own body is absolute and indivisible. Not open for debate or wiggle room as far as I’m concerned.
            2. A fetus that is 8 months 3 weeks old, if removed from a woman’s body, is very likely viable and so could/would be considered “born” rather than “aborted”
            And so the real issue is: We generally just don’t know the medical realities of what ‘abort’ means. Is it “abort” (stop) the pregnancy, or is it “abort” (stop) the viability of a potential human life?
            I think most of us think it means the first thing–which in early pregnancy leads to the second thing but that is a consequence rather than a goal. When it is a late-term pregnancy, and the fetus is viable, the goal would have moved, right?

          • “A woman’s right to her own body is absolute and indivisible. Not open for debate or wiggle room as far as I’m concerned.”

            Unless, of course, the woman in question is a young girl in utero. In that case she has no right to her own body, and can be ripped apart by a suction machine if her mother decides to pursue that option. How principled.

            “A fetus that is 8 months 3 weeks old, if removed from a woman’s body, is very likely viable and so could/would be considered “born” rather than “aborted”.

            Yes, except that an abortion is different from an induction. In an abortion, the goal is to kill the baby. In an induction the goal is to induce birth, after which the baby could be given up for adoption if so desired by the mother. To ensure that the baby dies during a late-term abortion, the skull is typically crushed (which also makes it easier to remove the body through the birth canal).

            “When it is a late-term pregnancy, and the fetus is viable, the goal would have moved, right?”

            Wrong. Again, the goal in an abortion is to kill the child. An abortion in which the baby is born but survives is considered a botched abortion – I’ve met several people who survived an attempted abortion.

          • This is what you come back at me with? You missed a fantastic opportunity. I won’t give you another. In fact, you have proved to me that there is little point in trying reason to come to some kind of agreement.

          • You’re right. Based on past experience, why did I even bother. We’re talking about children in the last month of pregnancy having their heads crushed, and because your pride is slightly piqued you’ve decided that it’s beyond you to discuss the issue further. How noble you are.

            Thankfully, there are others with whom reason works notably better. In 100 years, Canadians will be astonished and disgusted that citizens were so callous as to support the murder of unborn children.

          • Stop lying please.

          • In 100 or 1000 years, whether or not you and Jesus like it, there will be a forced thinning of the herd.

          • “In 100 or 1000 years, whether or not you and Jesus like it, there will be a forced thinning of the herd.”

            It’s always struck me as interesting that the pro-abortion movement is and has always been closely tied to the concept of eugenics, from Margaret Sanger to Exhibit A here. Repulsive, but interesting.

          • Pro-abortion is what you got from that? Eugenics? Hilarious. You really believe that if we as a species continue to breed at this exponential pace there will be no eventual consequence? There are millions of unwanted children in this world who need someone to love them more than anything – and you have the moral and intellectual stamina to tell women across the country that they should not have the option to terminate a pregnancy? How many adopted children in your household?

            In terms of the governments’ role in all of this – laws exist to prevent the dumb and malicious from doing dumb and malicious things. That being said, who really cares if a law does exist that prevents late-term abortions? Short of a severe health problem for fetus or mother, if a carrying woman cannot come to terms with the pregnancy inside of 6 months, there are other issue afoot -

            I have to at least praise you for not bringing religion into the debate – because, well…that’s for a whole other thread I’m sure…

            Time to grow-up lady. Watch a Carl Sagen or Stephen Hawlking video and try to wrap your head around the idea that we are a cosmic coincidence who needs to focus on how to survive – I understand that the idea of a crushed fetal skull is disturbing – but I’m glad my doctor doen’t make his decisions based on the ‘yuck’ factor of the procedure.

            And thank-you for referencing me alongside the great Margaret Sanger – it’s not everyday I’m associated with someone with such great logic and foresight…

          • Basically what you’re saying is that females are too stupid to make their own decisions. So men have to do it for them

            And no, you’ve never met any abortion survivors. There is no such thing.

            They make big bucks out of your gullibilty though

          • And at the end:

            Should you be able to force your opinion on the bodies of those who disagree, using force if necessary?

          • The state:

            - makes it illegal to, for example, smoke marijuana

            - used to make it illegal to sell/rent one’s body for sex

            - presently makes it illegal to sell/rent ones body for sex in a safe environment

            - has in the past conscripted people to fight in wars

            - reserves the right, unless I’m mistaken, to conscript people to fight in wars

            - makes it illegal to sell, for example, one’s kidney

            So the state does indeed have the right, whether you or I agree with it in any particular instance, to force its opinion on the bodies of those who disagree.

          • Indeed it does.
            But those are hang overs from a more authoritarian and patronising era. The trend,until Harper and his puppets, has been towards greater individual freedom, Hence the decriminalisation and legalisation of homosexuality. The worm is turning on marijuana, selling one`s body for sex in a safe environment etc.
            Centuries of religious Conservative rule takes time to overcome, but we are getting there despite the fundies in power at the moment.

          • No, it doesn’t have the right.

            Why are you pretending they do?

          • “Should you be able to force your opinion on the bodies of those who disagree, using force if necessary?”

            The state routinely forces parents not to murder their children. The state also routinely forces deadbeat dads to support their children, using force if necessary. And rightly so, because the life of a child is not a matter of “opinion”.

          • Child yes, foetus no.

          • you keep typing as if reasonable people care what you think and have not heard and rejected it many years previously.

          • Are you seriously trying to claim that you represent reasonable people? LOL

          • Canada is ahead of the pack not behind it.
            No restrictions whatsoever on abortion because it is a medical decision between a woman and her doctor.

            A fetus gains rights after it exists the mother’s body. Whether or not you call a “human being” or not is immaterial. For example, there are fetus’ that have no brain. We can force women to bear them to term only to die in suffering after birth, or we can leave such decisions up to doctors and their patients. For example, we do not pass laws on when someone is entitled to a hip replacement. It is a medical decision.

          • And I would say it is material.

            Take the brainless fetus example: almost certainly the lack of brain would be determinable well before, say, week 20, which in some countries (like Britain) is the cut-off for abortion on demand. So in that case the abortion could happen before the cut-off and the brainless fetus is not brought to term (assuming it could even survive a full term pregnancy without a brain). And even if it was determined after the cut-off that the fetus had no brain, there would be a good chance that abortion would still be permitted due to the extenuating circumstances.

            The argument is not between abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy vs a total prohibition of abortion. It’s about determining whether there should be a reasonable cut-off for abortion on demand, and the rules for permitting abortion after that cut-off has been reached.

            I would also argue that calling abortion a *purely* medical decision does not make it so. To argue that one minute before birth the fetus has absolutely no rights vs one minute after birth it has full rights is to deny the fact that there was no meaningful change in the physical status of the fetus/baby over that 120 seconds.

  3. Since the judges have arrogated to themselves the right to strike down laws protecting the unborn why haven’t they gone all of the way to arrogate to themselves the right to write new law so they won’t look so foolish (as was pointed out in the author’s previous article on the subject) and therefore reflect the sentiment of the public – all of whom know that an unborn baby is still a baby and deserves protection.

    • “…. all of whom know that an unborn baby is still a baby and deserves protection.”

      I’d like to think that too, but as this thread demonstrates, there are many who still don’t know this (or if they do, won’t acknowledge it for reasons I’d prefer not to know). The Canadian public is a pretty mixed bag when it comes to concern for the lives of others.

      • Stop pretending a blastocyst or an embryo is a baby, please

  4. I think the term “restriction” is confusing to poll respondent. The implications of legal sanction of any kind on abortion are indeed horrific, and the news in Ireland easily shows why. But the medical profession regulates itself already. There is a restriction, it’s just not in the form of a piece of legislation.

    • All liberal democracies, with the exception of Canada, have legal restrictions on abortion. Why exactly are the laws of these countries (Ireland excepted) considered horrific?

      For example, I believe England permits abortion on demand until the 20th week of pregnancy and places restrictions thereafter. To me that’s a reasonable compromise between Ireland’s extreme of a total prohibition on abortion and Canada’s extreme of abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy.

      • It’s more an indication that other countries should be more like Canada and not the other way around.

      • And look at all those abortions happening in Canada! Oh wait, we actually have a really low rate of abortions, and our abortions tend to occur weeks earlier, as compared to America.

        • Which is a different topic.

          • Why else would you impose restrictions, unless you wanted to curb abortion rates?

          • My concern is not with rates.
            I just find it odd that:

            1) Canada, the quintessential middle-of-the-road country, is so out of step with the rest of the liberal democracies (Ireland excepted) on this.

            2) Due to a lack of any restrictions, it is theoretically legal to abort a 8 month 3 week old fetus.

            As I said in earlier posts, a compromise position which permits abortion on demand for the first X weeks (where X is probably between 12 and 20), and imposes restrictions thereafter, makes sense to me, as it does to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, the US, etc.

            YMMV

          • The amount of abortions that happen after that point are such a tiny fragment of the abortions performed though.

            I am much more interested in approaching this from a societal standpoint rather than a legal standpoint, simply because the legal standpoint only restricts the legality of it, and does nothing to address the need for it. This means that people will still attempt abortions via illegal means, and with greater risks.

            That’s why I think Canada has the right approach, because legally, people (women, in this case) should have the ability to choose. We as a society, however, should be working together to ensure that the majority of them never have to face that choice through preventative measures, such as combatting poverty, and promoting contraceptive use, as well as ensuring that it is affordable and within the reach of those who require it.

            Just my take on the issue.

          • Your concern is not with the rate of abortions? You just want to be like other countries even if that means women get more abortions?

            Personally, my only concern is the abortion rate, the lower the better. I want to reduce the number of abortions, not pass judgement on people.

          • I want Canada to be like other liberal democracies because IMO they have struck the right balance in the abortion issue. Whether that would mean or more less abortions as a result, is a) debatable, and b) not *my* concern.

            As for passing judgment on people, I’ll leave that to others.

  5. In my experience, almost no one in the general public is aware that abortion is legal in Canada until the baby is fully born. This would account for the poll discrepancy – people assume “abortion” means “abortion in the early stages of pregnancy”.

    I remember once manning a pro-life booth on a university campus and being confronted by a pro-choice activist. We got into it (politely) for a while, and eventually got into what the law says, and at first she wouldn’t believe me that it was legal through all 9 months of pregnancy. Once she finally accepted the indisputable fact of the legality, she reacted that it couldn’t be so because “That’s infanticide!”, as she shouted. Yes, yes it is, I nodded quietly. At which point the conversation came to an abrupt end as she stopped, open-mouthed, and then turned and walked silently away.

    • No dear…infanticide is something quite different.

      • Indeed
        An infant has been born, until the point that it is out of the mother it`s a foetus.

        • Yes, we practice infanticide when we go to war.

    • My goodness, “she shouted”! Did everyone turn around and stare at her? I mean, someone shouting “that’s infanticide!” in public place would certainly get my attention. I would also like to know how to nod loudly as opposed to “nodding quietly”.

      All the women (and would guess most men) I know are aware that there are no restrictions on abortion in Canada. It’s certainly been in the news often enough. I have pretty ordinary friends that just watch the 6 o’clock news or read the paper and we don’t sit around talking politics or anything. I would think it is common knowledge to anyone who has even a rudimentary familiarity with the major political hot topics.

      When I hear that a doctor aborted a viable baby when it only have a foot left in the birth canal we can talk about a law against it. Until then, I’m not worried.

  6. “a law that places limits on when a woman can have an abortion during her pregnancy, such as during the last trimester.” isn’t a valid polling question in the first place because the limit isn’t actually perscribed. You could answer the question affirmatively and believe that a woman should have a right to an abortion whenever a doctor will perform one, or only when the sky turns purple.

  7. I wonder if these pro-abortion people ever think about the fact that their mother could have taken away their right to exist. That’s right, you wouldn’t be here typing about how you support the deaths of fetuses (a fetus means baby in Latin BTW). With late-term abortions the baby is dragged out of the womb, then a hole is drilled into the back of their skulls. After that, the “doctor” suctions out the child’s brain until it’s skull collapses. Another way it’s done is with a tool that clips off body parts and pulls them out until there’s nothing left but a dismembered baby. Don’t believe me? Research it and stop denying the truth. Seriously, anyone who can support this barbarism have to be messed in the head. There needs to be a time limit, like 3 months. That’s plenty of time to decide, but better yet is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I’m a feminist and do believe in a woman’s right to her own body, but she needs to take responsibility too. There are too many women using abortion as birth control at the tax payer’s expense. The man who got her pregnant should have to pay for it. It takes two to tangle. The guy needs to take 50% of the responsibility, he should have kept it in his pants also.

    • I don’t know any women using abortion as their birth control method. Do you have any statistics to back up your claim?

      Late term abortions are a medical decision taken between a woman and her doctor that is based on complex health factors that only a doctor can take into account, not lesgislators.

  8. I have yet to hear of a single late-term abortion in Canada that was not justifiable based the medical condition of both the mother and the fetus.

    Medical professionals are not monsters. A late term abortion is performed in hospital with nurses present etc. Such a decision wouldn’t even be made by one doctor. Multiple specialists would be involved in determining the best course of treatment.

    First show me a single example of a medically inappropriate late-term abortion in Canada. If it were happening, it wouldn’t take long before women would be taking doctors to court saying they were depressed or something and their doctor killed their perfectly viable healthy baby for no reason. Malpractice suits would abound.

    Anti-abortionists set up false scenarios in order to justify infringing on a woman’s right to make own health decisions with her doctors.

  9. I think a fairer question would be “Should limitations or restrictions on abortion be through law-making or should the medical profession continue determining when the procedure is or isn’t appropriate for a particular patient based on that patient’s health?

    Another question could be, “Do you think doctors in Canada are aborting healthy fetuses that could have been delivered live?”

  10. Things get mucky when we start legislating faith-based morals…

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