Stoking B.C.'s abortion rate
Part of the reason this province’s abortion rate is so high is that parents are under tremendous financial pressure, said the Vancouver-based leader of Canada’s national pro-choice lobby coalition. About 15,000 B.C. women per year have an abortion, according to Statistics Canada.
“Society does not support child rearing enough,” the coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Joyce Arthur, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview March 25. She noted that childcare is neither accessible nor affordable, and the birth-control pill is still not covered by B.C.’s Medical Services Plan. “It ends up leading to more abortions. It’s sad, but it’s not the fault of abortion laws. Society has failed women.”
This isn’t the first time the leader of a national pro-choice group has linked the prevalence of abortion to women’s financial vulnerability.
In 2001, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League’s executive director, Marilyn Wilson, told the House of Commons standing committee on finance: “Women who make the decision to abort a child at a certain point in their lives do so for socio-economic reasons.”¦More often than not, choosing to have an abortion is a conscious decision not to become a burden on society.”
Children? No thanks, I’d rather have cash
> The cost of raising a Canadian child to age 18 is $166,549 (girl) or $166,972 (boy).
> Licensed family daycare for one child, from ages one through four years, costs $40,452.
> Stephen Harper’s Universal Child Care Benefit, which replaced the Liberal’s universal childcare plan, pays $100 per child per month to age six
> Canada has a fertility rate of 1.54 children per woman, behind even
one-child-policy China (1.7 children).
> B.C. women earn 74.2 percent of what B.C. men earn.
> In 2004, three percent of B.C.’s 18- to 24-year-old women had an abortion.
> That percentage has remained steady since 1995.
> From 1995 to 2004, B.C.’s abortion rate increased slightly (from 29.6 to 34.9 abortions per 100 live births).
Sources: Statistics Canada’s induced-abortion statistics, 2007; Canadian Council on Social Development; Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre; United Nations statistics division
Yet more than six years later, critics point out Canada’s Conservative government has cut child-care funding and refused to take responsibility for housing, while at the same time introducing legislation that could lead to the recriminalization of abortion. Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, passed second reading in the House of Commons March 5, and is before the standing committee on justice and human rights. If it gains the approval of the House and Senate, Canadian fetuses may be recognized as people, theoretically making abortion the legal equivalent of murder, Arthur fears.
Gory posters of fetuses, which link abortion to genocide, are making the rounds at university campuses at the hands of the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. On May 8, B.C. will see the first annual Western Canada March for Life held, in Victoria. Meanwhile, Arthur’s coalition is circulating petitions opposing Bill C-484.
In other words, the ancient and ongoing pro-life versus pro-choice debate is heating up again.
So far, however, in a province where one in four pregnancies end in abortion, no researcher has asked why B.C. women seek abortions. (The Straight asked the B.C. Ministry of Health, B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, Statistics Canada, B.C. Stats, and several departments at UBC.) If this information is out there, it is not circulating.
The closest thing may be a 2005 study by Vancouver abortion doctor Ellen Wiebe and other researchers. “Antichoice Attitudes to Abortion in Women Presenting for Medical Abortions”, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, noted that one 39-year-old patient felt an abortion was okay for her because she had “no energy, no time, no money”. (Yet for other women facing financial stress, the respondent thought abortion was wrong.) The study did not make an overall conclusion on why the 60 women interviewed opted for abortions.
American researchers, however, asked why in 2004, and what they found was similar, and disturbing. In “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives” published in 2005 by the Guttmacher Institute in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the researchers found that poverty, abandonment by their spouses, incompatibility with work or school, and commitments to other people described almost every abortion. In fact, 73 percent of women in the study reported that they “can’t afford a baby now”.
For example, one 22-year-old respondent said: “I have three kids already, and the guy that I was living with, he was, you know, doing good as far as helping me, but he just went to jail. I am alone with three kids, and they are all I have. It’s hard.”¦I am barely making it”¦I only get 50 [dollars] in food stamps [a month]”¦It is just too hard.”
To Stephanie Gray, a pro-life UBC grad who is a cofounder and the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, there’s a reason the question hasn’t been asked.
“Deep down, intuitively, people sense there’s something wrong with it [abortion],” she told the Straight. “As long as they don’t have to think about it, they can suppress those feelings of guilt.”
To Arthur, however, the lack of research shows that finding out why women have abortions just hasn’t been a priority.
For this story, the Straight asked Vancouver locals, If Parliament focuses on abortion again because of Bill C-484, what should that debate be about?