Margaret Somerville, director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, is a strong voice taking a stand for open debate. Is it fate then, that has placed this Australian-born academic so firmly in Montreal?
It’s an oft-repeated truism in ethics: “Good facts are essential for good ethics.” So surely we need the facts about an issue as ethically fraught as abortion. Yet not only do we not have them, but they are intentionally not gathered or, if some are or might be available, access to them is denied.
Somerville goes on to explain how this favours the pro-choice side of the debate by perpetuating the myth of consensus. In detail, she illustrates just how difficult it is to obtain real facts about the number of late term abortions in Canada.
The facts on late-term abortions are intentionally made difficult to obtain. Some time ago, I contacted a staff member at Statistics Canada to ask about the numbers of late-term abortions. She told me they were instructed for political reasons not to collect statistics on the gestational age at which abortion occurs. She explained, however, that hospitals must report the number of abortions and about 45 per cent had continued to report gestational age. From these unsolicited reports, it’s known that at least 400 post-viability abortions take place in Canada each year and the actual number is most probably more than twice that. The Canadian Medical Association sets viability (some chance of the child living outside the womb) at 20 weeks gestation.
While this article does not directly advocate for fetal rights, it does present a well-written argument for the beginnings of such a debate. Academia is sometimes a difficult field in which to take this a stance, but Somerville is unrelenting in her criticisms, even to the point of using her colleagues as examples.
In discussion of abortion in classes in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, taught by faculty with relevant knowledge, no one challenges statements that there is a special clinic for post-22- weeks gestation abortion in downtown Montreal and that there is one designated hospital for abortion of 20- to 22-week gestation pregnancies. It’s also been reported in the media that the Quebec government sent a specialist obstetrician to the United States for training in late-term abortion. Although these facts are only circumstantial evidence, they hardly make it seem likely that late-term abortions are truly rare – at least in Quebec.
…if the consensus they claim does exist, they have nothing to fear. And if it does not, then in a democracy a debate is exactly what is required.