Which way: more babies or more abortions?

TOM BARRY, MD & CAROLYN BARRY, MD COMMENTARY
Published Monday March 12th, 2007
Appeared on page A5
If someone told you they wanted to lose weight and then announced they were going on a chocolate bar binge, we'd call it a disconnect. In New Brunswick we are in danger of a disconnect. Not about losing weight. About having babies. On the one hand, there is rising public concern about our declining population, low birth rate, more deaths than births, etc. Our provincial government says one of its top priorities is to reverse this situation. On the other hand, some people call for greater abortion "access." "Abortion is Legal and a Health Issue," a commentary in this newspaper recently, is an example. The writer, a physician, wants any woman who asks for an abortion to get one readily, no questions asked, in our health system, with taxpayers paying for it. We are not talking here about abortion based on medical necessity, but government-sponsored abortion on demand. Surely we are not the only ones who see a disconnect between these two goals - increased population and increased facilitation of abortion? Suppose for a moment the aforementioned writer gets her wish. If New Brunswick had government-backed abortion on demand, as some other provinces have, there is every reason to expect that our abortion rate would increase to their levels. Do we really want that? In New Brunswick about 1,000 abortions a year take place currently, most at a private, unregulated clinic, which the province does not fund. That's the equivalent of two schools full of children. If we, like Quebec, had publicly funded abortion on demand in both hospitals and clinics, our current rate of about 14 abortions per 100 live births could easily escalate to theirs - 42 per 100! If, because of increased abortion, we had 1,000-2,000 fewer babies born each year, would our population numbers not go into even more of a tail spin? That's 10,000-20,000 fewer children over a decade. So which way, New Brunswick: more babies or more abortions? We can't pursue both at the same time. One contradicts the other. The case for facilitating abortion might make some sense if we could say with some confidence that abortion is healthy for women and that abortion on demand is consistent with good medical ethics. But we can't say either. To the contrary. This summary of current research, compiled by an analyst with numerous articles in medical journals, should give any doctor pause:
  • 64 per cent of women having abortions state they were pressured by others.
  • 52 per cent felt rushed and 54 per cent were not sure about the decision at the time, yet 67 per cent say they received no counseling beforehand.
  • 31 per cent of women suffered health complications after abortion, according to a 2004 Medical Science Monitor study.
  • Women have a 65 per cent higher risk of clinical depression after abortion compared to women who give birth.
  • The Medical Science Monitor study indicated 65 per cent suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after abortion.
  • Suicide rates are six to seven times higher compared to women who give birth, according to a large Finnish study.If, as the research indicates, abortion is not healthy for women, why overhaul the system to expedite it? If women are pressured into abortion, lack adequate information and counselling about it, as well as experiencing multiple serious after-effects, is this the time to pave the way to increased abortions?Should our goal instead not be to focus aggressively on better care for pregnant mothers? If we give women the information, counselling and support they need and deserve, we can reasonably expect the demand for abortion to decrease, as women freely choose to bear children. Other jurisdictions, notably in the U.S., have shown it's possible to lower abortion rates. They can be our models.As for medical ethics, some physicians may think the anti-abortion precept of our tradition's founder, Hippocrates, has been displaced by a modern ethic of "choice" that trumps concerns about whether abortion harms women's health or takes a child's life. However, we contend that good medicine cannot be indifferent to those concerns. Moreover, recent advances in embryology, fetal medicine and maternity care signify that a narrow-minded focus on choice alone - to the exclusion of whether a choice is healthy or ethical - is already outdated. Contemporary obstetrics regards every pregnancy as the care of not one but two patients, each with his or her own DNA and health needs. A duty of care is owed to both mother and baby, exhibited, for instance, by the ability to surgically treat a child, while still in the mother's uterus, as well as neonatal units that can save babies born up to five months premature. Standard embryology texts make clear a human being's life journey begins at fertilization. Ultrasound offers an amazing window into a baby's life in the womb. And let us all be honest: it is a BABY. Why is, it in our society when it's a wanted pregnancy we have no trouble referring to "the baby," but when it's unwanted we often resort to terms like "fetus" or - worse - "clump of cells?" Is this not hypocrisy? Contemporary medical knowledge, honesty and ethics all require us to acknowledge that abortion kills a baby. All of which leads to this question: why would we want to adopt proposals that will predictably result in the violent, unnecessary death of hundreds more New Brunswick children? Why would we not be interested instead in proposals that extend better care for every mother and child during pregnancy?
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