'The most liberal abortion regime in the world' - Macleans.ca

‘The most liberal abortion regime in the world’


Conservative MP James Lunney explains his vote in favour of Motion 312.

It has come up in every election.  I repeat that yes, I am pro-life.  I studied embryology at university; I had a course on obstetrics and gynecology as part of my second degree studies.  My first child was in the womb at that time and my wife and I followed the development keenly throughout her pregnancy. A close friend from the Oceanside area recently sent me a recording of her grandchild’s heartbeat in the womb, 160 beats per minute; they are excited about the arrival of a new grandchild.

Many Canadians do not realize that Canada has no law on abortion. There is no prohibition on abortion at any stage of development. Since there are no restrictions at all, we have the most liberal abortion regime in the world.  There is no prohibition on a young woman using abortion as birth control, six to eight serial abortions; yes, it happens! And at taxpayers’ expense.

Chris Warkentin explains his vote in favour. The Globe, Sun, Canadian Press, Star and CTV look at Rona Ambrose’s vote.


‘The most liberal abortion regime in the world’

  1. He says that like it’s a bad thing……

  2. In China, when the one-child-policy was in full force and effect, some women were forced to have an abortion if they became pregnant a second time. *That* is the extreme pro-abortion position. Canada is at a point in the centre of the spectrum between that pro-abortion position and the other extreme where there are restrictions on abortion.
    We are at the point in the middle where the rights of the woman are maximized. I think it is actually the exactly correct place to be between the two extremes.

    • Canada is at a point in the centre of the spectrum between that pro-abortion position and the other extreme where there are restrictions on abortion.

      I’m pro-choice, but I’m not sure that being somewhere between a country where there are forced abortions and a country with the least restrictive (but not absolutely unrestricted) abortion policy possible puts us in the “center” of the spectrum.

      Of course, China is WAAAAY to one side of us on the issue. However, every developed nation on the planet is somewhere on the other side. I don’t mean this in a judgmental way, but it’s a fact we have no abortion laws in Canada WHATSOEVER. It’s quite literally IMPOSSIBLE for us to be in the “center” of the spectrum, because it’s not actually metaphysically possible for any other country to have a less restrictive system than us. There’s nothing less restrictive than “no restrictions whatsoever”. There’s no law more liberal than “no law”. When it comes to abortion laws, there’s really nothing beyond “none” unless you really want to count countries like China where abortions cross the line from “absolutely and completely unrestricted” to “sometimes mandatory”. And that’s just a silly comparison to make, imho, when trying to make the argument that we’re in the “center” of the spectrum.

      The argument that Canada is in the “center of the spectrum” vis a vis the freedom to have an abortion because in a few countries women are forced to get abortions against their will makes no sense to me.

      • It’s far from the silliest comparison made in the abortion debate, and compared to much of the anti-choice arguments out there it seems quite reasonable.

      • Do you get the feeling that you’re banging your head against a brick wall? I don’t know why it’s so hard to see that “no law” equals “no restrictions.” A doctor may be held back by his/her conscience, by his Hippocratic oath, or by hospital regulations, but the fact is a doctor in Canada could legally terminate a pregnancy at 38 weeks. How many countries in the world would allow that?

        When the Supreme Court struck down the old law as being too restrictive, they recommended that Parliament create a new law. How can that ever be done when even a motion to study the definition of when life begins–which would be an excellent place to start in creating such a law–is condemned as being outright misogynistic hatred?

        • It’s only a good place to start creating such a law if there are no other laws on the books, such as those about homicide. Given that there are, it’s about the last step you want to take.

          Beyond that, what “could” happen is basically irrelevant. If you base your decisions on what “could” happen rather than what is likely to happen, you’d never leave your house.

          • It’s only a good place to start creating such a law if there are no other laws on the books, such as those about homicide.

            I’m not sure what you mean by the reference to homicide. You CERTAINLY can’t charge someone who assaults a woman and causes her to miscarry with homicide. You also can’t charge them with assault on the unborn child who is killed. Hell, a judge can’t even take the fact that the woman miscarried and lost her baby into account when determining the assaulter’s sentence.

            That’s the point that bugs me on this file. If someone beats a woman who’s days away from giving birth to her first child, and causes her to lose her baby, there’s no way to even CONSIDER her loss of her baby in determining the sentence on the assault. I can’t imagine that there are too many people that would disagree that an assault which causes a pregnant woman to lose her child is more serious than an assault generally, but even TALKING about that is pretty hard to do in the current environment.

          • Assume that legislation was passed that allowed the court system to consider the maternal status of a female assault victim when deciding on whether to proceed with charges (or not) and/or what sentence to hand down – would that do enough to fill the existing legal vacuum?

          • It certainly could. I’m pretty sure that even the most carefully written legislation would get a pretty rough ride though.

          • I think the difficult part about considering an unborn child as a victim in the kind of case you are discribing is that so many things can occur between the time the fetus is inutero until it is safely delivered that you cannot really assume that the fetus would have survived had the assault not occured. Perhaps the cord would have been wrapped around the fetus’ neck; perhaps the mother would have been in a car accident just prior to delivery…..until the baby is born alive, you can’t really count your chickens.

        • You are right of course….a physician is only held back by their conscience, their Hippocratic oath and their promise to “do no harm”. What makes you think that a board-certified physician in Canada would risk their license and living and right to practice medicine in a Canadian hospital by terminating a pregancy at 38 weeks when the fetus is viable outside of the uterus and might very well survive the procedure? If the pregnant woman is in danger, the physician would perform a C-section to deliver the infant because performing a procedure to terminate the pregancy via an abortive technique would likely not even work. In fact when late-term fetuses die inutero, the pregnant woman is often induced and has to go through labor and deliver the dead fetus. I don’t understand what makes you believe that nursing staff and hospital boards would be privy to any kind of practice that would involve terminating a 38 week pregnancy as a matter of course.

  3. “There are no restrictions at all…”

    Someone please correct me if i’m wrong, back that is a flat out lie – or at least a very bad mischaracterization! My understanding is that no MD worth his/her salt would sanction a third term abortion unless there were medically compelling reasons. As to abortion a multiple birth control option, it’s possible i suppose, but are there are numbers available to back that assertion up?
    This is why we can’t have a serious discussion about abortion in this country, because of irresponsible, undocumented or flagrantly dishonest distortions of the facts from both camps. Shame on you Lunney!

    • I don’t know, I think that’s being a bit pedantic.

      I suppose he should have technically said “there are no legal restrictions at all”, but come on. I think it’s pretty clear that this debate is about statutory restrictions, of which there are none. It seems to me that by your line of reasoning there are technically “restrictions” on me being mean to my sister, because I’m a good brother and I would never be mean to my sister. But what does that have to do with my legal freedom to be mean to my sister? I don’t think that the fact that most people wouldn’t do X has anything to do with whether or not there a restrictions on doing X. Aren’t there plenty of things that many people wouldn’t do that they nonetheless technically have the unrestricted freedom to do?

      Now, on the whole “serial abortions” thing, and the supposed prevalence of using abortion as birth control you may have a point. That said, you surely can’t believe that abortion isn’t used as birth control in Canada sometimes. That would mean that no woman in Canada has ever said “I’m going to have an abortion simply because I don’t want to have a baby”. I don’t know what percentage of abortions that would be, but OF COURSE it happens (not that it should be prevented!).

      • Speaking of comparisons that make no sense…you don’t have to go to a professional to get permission to be mean to your sister, much less a professional group who is almost never asked to let people be mean to sisters, have never been known to do so, and even in the few cases where being mean to sisters has been deemed medically necessary have sent those sisters to America to have the mean-ness done!

        • Don’t be mean to your sister.


          • GFMD started it!

          • Both of you, go to your rooms.

      • {“Since there are no restrictions at all,}… we have the most liberal
        abortion regime in the world. There is no prohibition on a young woman
        using abortion as birth control, six to eight serial abortions; yes, it
        happens! And at taxpayers’ expense.”

        When i first read your post my [idiot] alarm went off – i know i should have read the link first. But i have to disagee after parsing his remarks as carefully as i can. [Edit:] Lunney’s premise is there is no law at all, ergo there are no restrictions at all. From that practically incorrect premise he goes on to draw the logically incorrect conclusion that we must have the most liberal abortion regime in the world…yes but, a very big BUT in fact. I don’t know if his 2nd sentence is meant to flow from wonky premise but surely it needs some data to back it up? As it stands it is just a generalized assertion tacked on to a debateable premise. Is it a major problem or not? Sure it happens, but as you imply it’s not clear if it should mean restrictions on a womens right to choose would be in any way justified. Certainly not based on his flimsy assertions alone
        Personally i think any amount of counselling that can be provide to someone in this situation is money well spent; provide it is counselling at not simply lecturing. But restricting a women’s right to choose is in my mind a very very big speed bump, maybe even an unavoidable red light. Not being a woman i’m leery of coming down hard on this subject with any confidence that i wont put my foot in it somewhere.

        • Don’t most nations in the world have professionals standards for doctors AND statutory restrictions on abortion?

          If our complete lack of any statutory mention of abortion isn’t the most liberal framework in the world, who’s is? Now, I don’t know a lot about the abortion laws in other nations, but I guess I don’t understand how some other nation could have a less restrictive regime than “no law whatsoever”. There may be other countries where there is ALSO no law surrounding abortion, and said countries’ policies would thereby be EQUALLY liberal, but again, isn’t it being too pedantic to claim “We don’t have the most liberal abortion regime in the world, we’re just TIED for first”.

          Unless there are countries out there where the government is actively promoting abortion, or where the professional medical associations have a significantly more liberal view of when an abortion is appropriate than the CMA does, I don’t see how we can argue with the statement above. And if the issue is the latter, that really doesn’t have anything to do with the government or Parliament does it?

          What it all boils down to, I guess, is this. Is there any procedure that a woman could get somewhere else in the world that she can’t get in Canada? If there is, it’s not because of our legal regime (which doesn’t exist) but because of the ethical stand of physicians in Canada. However, even on THAT point, are you aware of any procedure that a doctor outside of Canada will perform that no doctor in Canada would perform? If we don’t have the most liberal abortion regime in the world, then what restrictions on abortion exist in Canada that don’t exist anywhere else in the world?

          • I sense you’re trying to lure me into a semantical war i can’t win. So riddle me this: if i concede that there are no actual legal restrictions,therefore we are technically a liberal, if not the leading liberal nation on abortion rights in the world, will you concede that it makes not a blind bit of difference as to when a DR will ok an abortion in this country? Ergo there are de facto restrictions.
            It might be interesting to see what might happen though if a Dr did refuse say an early on specious grounds or religious objections. That way one could argue a sensible law would protect if not guarantee a women’s right. Why don’t people like Lunny try that tack instead of running head on at the brick wall?

            A difference that is no difference is no difference – Mr not Dr Spock
            Edit: Maybe strike the last bit. Isn’t there a SCoC ruling on abortion rights still extant?

          • Why don’t people like Lunny try that tack instead of running head on at the brick wall?

            I think it’s pretty clear (and this latest episode confirms it) that to the majority of the pro-choice crowd the only sensible law is no law at all. Look at the drama on this bill, which didn’t include the word abortion, didn’t suggest restricting anything, but called for the scientific study of the process of human development. Just asking for a debate about something RELATED to abortion causes a firestorm. What possible law could even be PROPOSED without causing a huge kerfuffle.

            One of the main arguments in favour of having this discussion (the bill just called for study and debate, not action) was the notion that in Canada, a person can stab a woman who’s nine months pregnant repeatedly in the abdomen, cause her to miscarry her child, and not be charged with ANYTHING related to the child that she was carrying. Not assault on the unborn child, CERTAINLY not murder. Now, I know that addressing that loophole is the very definition of a slippery slope, and I would have voted against this motion were I an MP. Still, if I knew someone who was attacked days before she was due to give birth to her first child, and I knew that the criminal who assaulted her couldn’t even be CHARGED with any offence related to ending her pregnancy, I don’t think I’d be happy about that. However, even TALKING about that (or suggesting we talk about that) causes people to freak out.

            So, our current status quo is what it is, and I certainly don’t see it changing in my lifetime. There’s literally no way to address this question, even just to start a conversation, without setting off fireworks. That’s the irony of this bill’s fate. As Chantal Hebert said on the CBC last night, it feels as though the pro-choice crowd can’t see a victory when it’s staring them in the face. A bill that never mentioned the word abortion, called for no statutes, regulations or restrictions of anything whatsoever to be enacted, and essentially asked for no more than for a discussion to be held, was defeated in the House of Commons 203-91. In a House of Commons, mind you, that Hebert points out is “dominated by the most conservative government in living memory”. If you think about it, it’s a STAGGERING victory for the status quo. Pro-choice advocates really should be celebrating more than they’re freaking out. If THIS bill can get swatted down 203-91 during a Stephen Harper majority government, the status quo regarding abortion is just about the safest piece of Canadian policy that could possibly exist.

          • Couldn’t have said it better myself LKO. Exactly right on all points (sadly).

          • Particularly when the courts have ruled a womens rights to security and control over her body are charter protected. Still imagine opponents are scared of where a motion like this would lead. No compromising on ones charter rights. Little bit similar to opening a discussion on whether being gay is just a life style choice. Why would you want to go there if it is already constitutionally protected. There is zero trust on all sides.

    • But, of course, those are “only” practical realities {edit}, not legal restrictions. So I think it is correct to say that there are no [legal] restrictions.
      As I believe we both suspect, if Canada adopted some legislation that banned late term abortions except in exceptional circumstances (similar to Norway and/or Sweden, IIRC?) I suspect that the statistics around abortions (how many per year and at what stage) would remain unchanged from today.
      Lunney’s andecdote about someone who essentially uses abortions as birth control is upsetting, and perhaps “something” needs to be done about that, but whatever that “something” is I’m sure it can be targetted to that situation.

      • If it’s real. I’d like Lunney to present a single case of a woman using abortion as serial birth control. There are so many other less invasive and dangerous methods (condoms, the pill, the morning after pill, etc.). I know so-cons don’t like to talk about non-abortive birth control, but it does exist. :) His assertion is so whack-a-doodle it’s hard to take seriously without any proof.

        • I dunno. He could have read it somewhere. On the web, maybe.
          Must be true.

        • In very rough terms there are about 100,000 abortions per year in Canada.

          Even if you assume that in any given year each of those represents a unique woman, there is at least a modest probability that over a 20 year period of time there will be some two time users, a smaller probability of three time users and so on.

          Based on that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that there are at least a handful of “serial” users – but ultimately I do not know that for sure.

          OTOH, even if it is so, so what, in the sense that that would not be a good enough reason to prevent the other 100,000s of women from accessing abortions.

          • Wilcoxpass, In the UK about 36% of abortions are carried out on women who had at least one before.

        • The only way that there are serial cases would be in the instance of a person who is low functioning (Fetal alcohol syndrome or low IQ) and is not able to be on depo-provera (injectable birthcontrol). Otherwise, the physician would have the person on some kind of birthcontrol. Another possibliity would be a cultural instance where a man will not allow his wife to use any birthcontrol but she is able to see a physician without his knowledge to terminate the pregnancies. Either way, it is not a simple case of too lazy to use birthcontrol.

      • Not sure if you are agreeing with me or not?

        “Many Canadians do not realize that Canada has no law on abortion.
        There is no prohibition on abortion at any stage of development. Since
        there are no restrictions at all, we have the most liberal abortion
        regime in the world.”

        To my mind this a factually incorrect statement. In fact it is thoroughly dishonest and misleading in itself.

        Your last point makes a lot of sense. It is not axiomatic that it must lead to blanket restrictions on the right to choose or an excuse/reason to go down that road. Hopefully someone is working on this.

        • I guess I’m wondering, if Canada, where there is no law regarding abortion whatsoever, doesn’t have the most liberal abortion regime in the world, then who does? Is there a nation out there where the government is actively PROMOTING abortions (and as I’ve said elsewhere, I think the “forced abortions in China” argument is silly in this context).

          We have NO legal regime surrounding abortion in Canada. What’s more liberal than that?

          • In a way it reminds me of the way muslim women in traditional dress are treated. Banning face-covering religious clothing is bad, forcing it on people is bad, allowing the wearer to choose for themselves is the right way to go.

          • http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/01/13/f-abortion-timeline.html

            This might support your point, in particularly the SCoC ruling that guarantees a womens right to abortion. But obviously there are restrictions exercised through various medical associations. Interesting background. I was shocked to see a 1990 law severely restricting abortions almost made through Mulroney’s govt[90]. Presumably the SCoC would have struck it down again.

        • Heh, can’t tell if I’m agreeing or disagreeing…

          I don’t agree that Lunney made a factually incorrect statement, definitely not the first half of that paragrpah – I took him to be specifically and intentionally talking about legal restrictions, and AFAIK, there are no legal restrictions, so I think he has that part correct.

          Even when he goes on to extrapolate that into “most liberal ever”, I’d characterize that as only very mildly misleading. I suppose if someone interprets that phrase to mean that “in Canada abortions are routinely happening in the third trimester and even just days before full term” then yes, that would be misleading and therefore dishonest. In this case I just can’t get there from his statement. Or let me put it this way, if it was Lunney’s intent to make that (misleading) inference, I’d say that he did a very poor job – so subtle as to be non-existent.

          • Agreed. I wasn’t reading as closely as i should have. That’s what you get when you don’t read the link first, and carefully.

      • I’d say you are absolutely right about their being no legal restrictions BUT you are also likely right that late term abortions are only done in Canada in “exceptional circumstances”. At this point, physicians and hospital boards (ethics committees when necessary) are deciding what the exceptional circumstances are. Once you pass laws, then courts can become involved and start having a say in what constitutes an “exceptional circumstance”. My guess is THAT is the real objective of these people who want to open this debate. They want the right to challenge the judgement of physicians in making decisions related to what is in the best interest of a pregnant woman. I would go so far as to say that there will be males who have impregnanted these women who will go to court to try to challenge the physician’s right to end the pregnancy, claiming that their unborn child’s rights should not be superceded by the rights of the mother carrying the child even though the physician believes the mother’s health is at risk. That is likely why NO ONE in their right mind wants to open this up to setting legal restrictions.

    • We do not have any federal laws making abortion at any stage illegal or even – as far as I know – restricting abortions in any way. There may be guidelines, hospital regs, or some such – maybe even provincial health laws – that would govern a doctor and put him/her at risk of sanction &/or a civil lawsuit under certain circumstances, but in the current climate I’d think even those would result in national headlines and pressure from certain pro-choice extremists to eliminate them.

      So right now, as far as I know the only true restriction is the doctor’s conscience. Which, I’m sure, many will argue is sufficient.

      Note the “as far as I know”; I haven’t actually researched this. Feel free to present evidence to the contrary. Unlike some, where this issue is concerned I’m far from close-minded.

  4. “There is no prohibition on a young woman using abortion as birth control, six to eight serial abortions; yes, it happens! And at taxpayers’ expense.”

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is the “abortion debate,” now wide open and ready for right-wing hyperbole such as this.

    Stephen Harper convinced Canadians that “the abortion debate” would only be re-opened via a law formally restricting or banning it, and that he would never do such a thing. The reality is that allowing backbenchers to try to chip away at reproductive choice necessarily throws the debate wide open. For god sakes, I’ve been called a child murderer here and asked if I like to punch newborns. The howler monkeys just needed somebody, anybody, to start talking about abortion and the schism in Canadian society (which is politically convenient to the CPC) is permanently widened.

    Promise made, promise deliberately broken.

    • Furthermore, to address the substantive point, the punishment for being “irresponsible” enough to havesix to eight abortions is having to undergo six to eight abortions. Though not as dangerous as full-term pregnancy and childbirth itself, it’s still a serious medical procedure, and having so many would probably actually be worse than any punishment the government could legally apply.

      • Agreed. It would certainly be the rare woman who would deliberately choose abortion as her preferred method of birth control when there are so many easier and safer options readily available.

        • Yes, perhaps only a child who has been made pregnant by an abuser, or someone who cannot afford both effective birth control and food for the kids already born. Saying women use abortions as birth control is just a pseudo-argument that tries to paint immorality and looseness as the real reason behind a pregnancy and subsequent abortion.

        • I’d (along with others here) wager that there are other serious health issues at play in the life of any woman who has 8 abortions, to the extent that she is probably more deserving of society’s sympathy rather than society’s scorn.

  5. Abortions may be easily accessible but, from what I hear, it’s not exactly a comfortable procedure so it seems doubtful that someone would have six or eight abortions before they realized that there are many other easier, less painful, forms of birth control. And regardless, anyone who has six or eight abortions probably shouldn’t be raising children.