Government assailed on abortion policy

Lorrie Goldstein
Wednesday, January 9, 1985

An organization representing 150 Ontario doctors yesterday accused the provincial government of making legal abortions in Ontario unnecessarily dangerous for women.

Spokesmen for the Medical Reform Group of Ontario, who want the health ministry to legally recognize abortion clinics, said the risk to a woman’s health increases the longer she is forced to wait for an abortion.

Dr. Debby Copes, a Toronto family physician, said women trying to obtain legal abortions in Ontario hospitals often face medically unacceptable delays because only so much operating room time per week is allocated for abortions.

She said this effectively establishes a quota system, meaning women seeking legal abortions aren’t getting them as fast as they should.

Copes said studies show the level of risk increases 15-fold for a women who has an abortion between the 15th and 16th week of pregnancy, compared with a woman who has one between the 11th an 12th week.

Despite this, she said, more than 10% of all abortions performed annually in Canada occur between the 13th and 16th week, double the number that occur during that period in the U.S., where abortion clinics are legal.

Dr. John Frank, an assistant professor of preventive medicine and biostatistics at the University of Toronto, said women whose abortions are delayed face increased risks of infection, bleeding and perforation of the uterus.

“We are saying these delays can be dangerous to women,” he said adding ministry must bear a major portion of the responsibility for the medical problems that result from delayed abortions.

Frank said the solution is for the ministry to recognize abortion clinics as “public hospitals” under the Public Hospitals Act, and to recognize them as “approved hospitals” having the right to perform abortions under federal law.

Dr. Miriam Garfinkle, a Toronto family physician, said the province should recognize Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s Toronto abortion clinic and similar facilities that other doctors would establish.

But ministry spokesman Doug Enright said yesterday that Health Minister Keith Norton has already rejected a request from Morgentaler to have his clinic legally recognized by the province.

He said nothing further will be done at least until Ontario’s appeal of Morgentaler’s acquittal on a charge of conspiring to procure a miscarriage is heard.

Enright also said the medical reform group’s concerns should be directed to Ottawa, which passed Canada’s present abortion law, not Queen's Park.

Related Topics: AbortionHealth Care AccessHealth Care in OntarioReproductive RightsWomen’s Health