Signed Letter to Prime Minister Harper

5 April 2010

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

We, as Catholics, are disappointed in the Canadian government’s motion to exclude family planning from the G8 initiative on maternal and child health. We urge you to reconsider this position and remedy it at the earliest possible opportunity.

Historically, Canada has played a leading role in the campaign to improve the reproductive health of women around the world. From having very good laws and services domestically, successive Canadian administrations have supported worldwide efforts to provide adequate funding of international family planning, HIV-prevention and reproductive health programs. We would like to see this example continue and expand in the future.

Each year, about 200 million women lack access to family planning and contraceptive information and services. Forty million of those women will become pregnant and have an abortion; 50 percent of those abortions will take place in unsafe conditions. Every year, 500,000 women and girls die from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Ninety-nine percent of those deaths occur in developing countries. As a result of complications from unsafe abortion, at least 5 million women are seriously injured and 70,000 women die. UNFPA estimates that the unmet need for contraception is responsible for one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth around the world and that some 178,000 maternal deaths and an untold number of maternal injuries could be prevented if all women had access to family planning. The lack of maternal and child care contributes to numerous other health problems including increased rates of HIV infection, incontinence and fistula.

Catholics around the world support access to family planning as a matter of personal choice as well as an issue of public health and social justice. A US study showed found that 97 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of contraception banned by the church hierarchy. And a poll by Catholics for Choice found that Catholics around the world support condom use as prolife because it helps prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, including 90 percent of Catholics in Mexico, 86 percent of Catholics in Ireland, 79 percent of Catholics in the United States and 77 percent of Catholics in the Philippines.

Bishops around the world have reaffirmed the right of Catholics to follow their consciences on the birth control decision. In the wake of the Vatican’s 1968 declaration on the impermissibility of contraceptive use, Canadian bishops released a statement saying that Catholics who tried “sincerely but without success” to follow the teaching “may be safely assured that whoever honestly chooses the course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.” Bishops’ conferences in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Holland issued similar statements. Time and again, the evidence shows that millions of good Catholics around the world do follow their consciences in choosing contraception, and they want access to services that allow them to determine the number and spacing of their children.

Maternal mortality can be alleviated through wider access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare services.  It is a basic human right and a matter of social justice to provide women and men access to family planning and abortion services and information to prevent unplanned and high-risk pregnancies.   We urge the Canadian government to return to its leading role in advocating for family planning, including in the G8 agreement on maternal health. In so doing, the government will have the support of Catholics domestically and internationally in your efforts to help reduce maternal mortality.


Jon O’Brien


Catholics for Choice

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Letter to PM Harper April 2010

News Release
April 6, 2010

In a letter released today, Catholic leaders called on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider the government’s decision to exclude family planning from the G8 initiative on maternal and child health.

The letter, signed by the president of Catholics for Choice Jon O’Brien and CFC Canada coordinator Rosemary Ganley, demonstrates Catholic support for family planning services and notes that “Historically Canada has played a leading role in the campaign to improve the reproductive health of women around the world”.

It concludes, “Maternal mortality can be alleviated through wide access to comprehensive reproductive health care services. It is a basic human right and a matter of social justice to provide women and men access to family planning and abortion services and information to prevent unplanned and high risk pregnancies.”

The letter is available on the website

David J Nolan
Director of Communications,
Catholics for Choice
1436 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009
Tel 1-202 986 6093

Rosemary Ganley
Catholics for Choice Canada
Tel 1 705 748 9756

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Opinion Statement

On May 14th, Ottawa will be the stage for a pro-life march, an action to countermark the 40 years since the adoption of the Omnibus Bill which amended the laws on abortion and contraception. This march is part of a series of actions that have taken place since the beginning of February 2009. On each day of Lent, demonstrators have organized vigils at abortion clinics across Canada and the United States, the origin of the initiative four years ago. These vigils are the work of anti-choice Canadian organizations who are on a crusade to maintain “good morality”, to respect life in all its forms including the unborn, and to maintain the traditional family.

As pro-choice groups, the Fédération du Québec pour le Planning des Naissances, Canadians For Choice, and Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, we are hardly against life, but in favor of women’s rights to exercise a most fundamental choice, that is, whether or not to give birth. We cannot stand by silently while these vigils take place.

The demonstrators in front of the clinics are anti-choice religious groups that, on the pretext of respecting life, show no respect for women’s rights to choose either the privacy or the medical treatment that is their right in confidence. These demonstrations intend to intimidate and pass moral judgment on the women seeking abortion services by making them hostages at the entrances to the clinics, tormenting them at the very time and place they seek this medically and legally recognized procedure. This, despite numerous laws, court decisions and injunctions that have limited or banned such activities in front of the clinics in order to preserve confidentiality and the right to privacy for women who face a personal choice that is important for their future.

These recent actions of the anti-choice movement reveal the demonstrators’ complete lack of respect for women. We are reminded of the recent controversy involving a 9-year old Brazilian girl, pregnant with twins as a result of being raped by her step-father. After having undergone an abortion, her mother and her medical team were all excommunicated from the Catholic church. The religious leaders clearly demonstrated no understanding of the girl’s situation.

Moreover, these anti-choice actions remind us once again of the “debate” surrounding women’s rights, most specifically, the right for women to choose which is necessary for them, the right to equality and respect for their decisions, the right for a risk-free pregnancy. A woman who chooses an abortion never takes the decision lightly. It is a complex and difficult choice. This choice deserves our respect and support.

In parallel with these actions, petitions have been distributed, especially by some Catholic school boards, to propose a new law “to protect the foetus”. Once again, it is inconceivable to us that a number of Catholic primary schools, all of whom receive funding from our Canadian taxes, would promote such archaic and disrespectful anti-woman ideas. We mustn’t forget that access to abortion services has saved the lives of countless thousands of women worldwide. We know that respect for life includes respect for women’s lives and their reproductive rights.

For 20 years, women have continued the struggle to guarantee abortion rights in Canada. Many anti-choice threats, coming from the conservative religious right-wing, constitute a relentless abortion-centered attack which no longer has legitimate purpose in our society in 2009. Shouldn’t we be moving on to more important struggles?

Fédération du Québec pour le
planning des naissances
Nathalie Parent (French)
(514) 866-3721
Canadians for Choice
Erin Leigh (English), Acting
Executive Director
613-789-9958 x223
Abortion Rights Coalition of
Canada (ARCC)
Patrice Powers (bilingual):
Joyce Arthur, Coordinator

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Ottawa Morgentaler Clinic letter-writing campaign

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) has been busy helping spread the word about the letter-writing campaign on behalf of the clinic. The City of Ottawa gave a permit to the anti-choice forces allowing them to protest across the street during their 40 Days for Life vigil, as well as have a parade in front of the clinic on Mother’s Day. Please write letters in support of the Morgentaler clinic, and the many women who will be subjected to harassment by the protestors. Points to include in your letters are as follows, as well as the fax and phone numbers of the contacts at the City and Police. Thank you for writing! (Also if you’re in Ottawa, Planned Parenthood is hosting a letter-writing evening on Monday April 6, 5-8pm, 251 rue Bank St., #201. For more info, email Melanie at or call 613-226-3234.)

Ottawa Morgentaler Clinic protests – Here are key points for letters to the City of Ottawa, Police, and newspapers:

– Clinic protests violate the fundamental right to access a necessary medical service in at atmosphere of privacy and dignity.

– Protesters should not be allowed to interfere at the point of access to health services, especially at such a vulnerable time when women need privacy. This amounts to intimidation of patients.

– Picketers outside clinics increase patients’ stress and anxiety, which results in a higher risk of surgical complications, or which delays surgery.

– Picketing outside abortion clinics is associated with a doubling of the rate of violence and vandalism against clinics.

– Women’s right to access abortion outweighs protesters’ right to freedom of speech in that particular place. [i.e., it’s a justifiable limitation under Section 1 of the Charter] They are free to protest anywhere else.

– It is completely inappropriate for the City to give a permit for activities that other jurisdictions have prohibited (i.e., the court injunctions against some protesters at some clinics in QC, ON, and AB, and BC’s Access to Abortion Services Act). The City is endorsing harmful and unconstitutional practices.

Addresses (we recommend sending to the City, with a copy to the Police):

Patricia B, Permit Services
City of Ottawa
City Operations, Public Works
Traffic and Parking Operations Branch
100 Constellation Cres, 5th Floor West
Nepean, ON K2G 6J8
Tel 1-613-580-2424, ext 28164
Fax: 1-613-560-1333
Superintendant K. Roberts
Ottawa Police Service
Central Patrol Division
P.O Box 9634, Station “T”
Ottawa, ON K1G 6H5
Fax: 1-613-760-8098
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Pope Not Infallible on Condoms

The Vatican has yet again been forced to revise statements made by Pope Benedict XVI as he embarked on a foreign trip. En route to Cameroon on March 17, the pope claimed that condom use would “aggravate the problem” of HIV.

A transcript of the pope’s comments on the Vatican’s Web site altered the comment to suggest that condoms “risked” aggravating the problem.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, welcomed the change as a sign that the pope is not infallible on this issue and is willing to acknowledge his mistakes.

“The pope has admitted that he is unsure whether condoms can help alleviate the spread of HIV. Where there is doubt there is freedom and Catholics can make up their own minds whether they use condoms or not. Indeed, the vast majority of Catholics has already made this call and use condoms to protect themselves and their partners against STIs, including HIV.

“We call on the pope to revisit the teaching on condoms with a view to lifting the ban at the earliest possible moment. In his review, he should include experts who are unequivocal that condoms can help prevent the spread of HIV, like UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations around the world.

“Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi noted that the pontiff was merely continuing the line taken by his predecessors. In 1990, Pope John Paul II said using condoms was a sin in any circumstances.

“It took the church hierarchy 359 years to stop continuing the line taken by their predecessors on Galileo. We hope that this error does not take so long to change.”

Note to editors: This is not the first time that the pope has had to backtrack after making controversial comments on a plane. During a May 2007 flight to Brazil, Benedict was asked if he supported the excommunication of Catholic politicians who had voted to change the law in Mexico City to permit abortion. After the pope stated that the excommunication was final, his spokesman initially suggested that he meant that the politicians had excommunicated themselves. However, the final transcript was altered to change the meaning completely, making it appear as if the comments were more general and did not refer to any specific incident, removing “Yes, this,” so that the sentence began, “Excommunication is…”

David Nolan
+1 (202) 986-6093

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The Pope Is Wrong on Condoms

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued a response to Pope Benedict’s statement on condom use.

“As the pope traveled to Africa, he chose this moment to make what appears to be his first unequivocal statement opposing condom use. In an interview on the papal plane to Cameroon, the pope acknowledged the HIV/AIDS crisis but claimed that the distribution of condoms would not resolve the problem. In fact, he said, condom use “increases the problem.”

“The pope will find that few Catholics and even fewer medical personnel agree with his stance. Several bishops in Africa, including especially Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg in South Africa, have been outspoken in their support of the use of condoms. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that many people who work with Catholic relief agencies distribute condoms to those at risk of infection.

“While condoms are not a panacea for the problem, they are a critical part of the campaign to reduce the impact of the virus. Medical experts agree that the condom is a life-saving device: it is highly effective in preventing HIV transmission if used correctly and consistently, and is the best current method of HIV prevention for those who are sexually active and at risk.

“For the Catholic hierarchy to deny the role that condoms play in preventing the further spread of HIV is irresponsible and dangerous. Not only that, the Catholic hierarchy has lobbied governments in the global north against the inclusion of funding for condoms in development aid programs. The result is to deny the poorest of the poor in the global south the chance of protecting themselves by using condoms.

“According to a recent poll commissioned by Catholics for Choice, which interviewed Catholics in Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States, support for condom use among Catholics is overwhelming. When asked if “using condoms is prolife because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of AIDS,” 90% of Catholics in Mexico, 86% in Ireland, 79% in the US, 77% in the Philippines and 59% in Ghana agreed. Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy’s position holds the most sway in the countries least able to deal economically and medically with the disease.

“Catholics the world over unequivocally state that using condoms is prolife and disagree with the Vatican’s ban on condoms. Now is not the time for the pope to be dismissing the importance of condom use. As he travels to Africa, he will face the realities of the epidemic. Let us hope and pray that he reconsiders and reverses his position, and in doing so, adopts the truly prolife position that ordinary Catholics have already embraced: using condoms saves lives.”

Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.

David Nolan
+1 (202) 986-6093

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Excommunicating the Victims: 9-year-old incest victim’s story

The Roman Catholic Church stooped to a new low just in time for International Women’s Day. On Wednesday, March 4, 2009, at 10:00 a.m., a nine-year-old girl who was pregnant with twins had an abortion in Pernambuco, a state in the northeast of Brazil. The Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife was preparing to file a legal claim to stall or stop the abortion, but it was over before they were able to. The local archbishop, Jose Carolos Sobrinho, told the media that God’s laws are superior to human laws in declaring that the girl’s mother, as well as the doctors involved in the abortion, were excommunicated. At a time when a family most needs pastoral care, love and mercy (not to mention counseling and legal help), their church responds with a theological slap in the face. The Church is the cause of scandal.

And then the Vatican joined the chorus. Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re, Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, surprised at the outcry against the local church, defended his brother bishop opining that the twins had a right to live. Such comments confirm just how out of touch they are. In Roman Catholicism, according to these men, the law rules; letter over spirit, teachings over persons. One could ignore it, write it off as meaningless, except it’s hard to pass over the harm done to the people involved. They have suffered enough. They don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

Insanity, Cruelty, or Christian Principles?

The details of the case are grim. The little girl went to the hospital with stomach pains only to discover that she was four months pregnant. Brazilian law allows for abortion if the mother’s life is in danger and in cases of rape. This case fulfilled the law on both counts, with doctors determining that because the child weighed only eighty pounds it was doubtful she could carry the pregnancy to term. The girl’s 23-year-old stepfather admitted to sexually abusing her, something he had apparently done for several years, and there are reports that he has claimed paternity. He is also suspected of abusing her disabled 14-year-old sister. Police arrested the stepfather when he tried to leave the area and placed him in protective custody.

My colleagues at Catholicas pelo Direito de Decidir, an international partner to the Washington-based Catholics for Choice, asked in their editorial whether this was a case of Insanity, Cruelty, or Christian Principles? and I applaud them for stating the question so clearly and for answering it without equivocation. Let me simply add indignation, sadness, and affirmation.

It is hard to find words sufficient to convey the moral indignation elicited by the Roman Catholic Church’s actions. As a Catholic feminist theologian who is pro-choice, I have dealt with abortion for decades. I thought I was inured to its callousness. Maybe it’s because I have an 8-year-old daughter that I find the Church’s actions in this case violent beyond defense.

By any measure, the family involved is in big trouble. The father is gone, the mother has at least two children, one of whom is handicapped, and the stepfather is a sexual predator. It is a recipe for a disaster. The pregnancy happened because an adult male assaulted a girl child; an oft-told story, tragic every time. The mother endeavored to do the best she could in a bad situation. Medical personnel handled it according to the law. But the Roman Catholic Church used the tragedy to make a theo-political point. Have they no shame? Are they so heartless as to kick this family while it is down?

Whatever their relationship to the institutional church, the archbishop’s claim that those who help procure an abortion are automatically excommunicated tells this family that the mother is unwelcome, unworthy to receive the sacraments. One churchman had the gall to note that the church in its infinite wisdom does not excommunicate minors, so the nine-year-old is still in full communion. Small comfort. What he failed to mention was that the perpetrator, the stepfather, never even made it to the ecclesial radar screen. I am not suggesting the man be excommunicated; no one should be. But it is sickening and morally repugnant to realize that abortion, in this case the most humane solution to a terrible problem, is the cause of excommunication while sexual abuse is not. Something is seriously wrong with this picture, and it is the Roman Catholic Church.

Is there anyone among you, who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?

My sadness in this case comes not only from what has been done in the name of God to people who are living a nightmare, but from what might have been done to help. Sexual abuse, especially incest, is hard to stop. But once perpetrated it need not be made worse by ecclesial sanction.

A proper pastoral response would include: support for the pregnant child as she lives through an abortion; care for the mother who is responsible for the child and the rest of the family; protection for the family from the stepfather whose arrest may trigger backlash behavior; sensitive work with the other daughter who has also been sexually abused; HIV and venereal disease testing for the girls and the mother; economic support for the family; counseling for the family, the community, even the neighbors and parishioners who have been affected by this trauma; prayer and pastoral attention, including reception of the sacraments according to the family’s wishes. They need a spiritual community more than ever. Instead they got excommunication. “Is there anyone among you, who if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9). Apparently there are several in Rome and Brazil.

Excommunication is a recognition that a person has acted in a way that violates the Roman Catholic Church’s rules. In the case of abortion, it is latae sententaite, that is, the “crime” is so serious that the person incurs it automatically rather than having anyone impose it. Much ink has spilled over this matter through the centuries, but wouldn’t you think in a case as tragic as the Brazilian one that good taste—to say nothing of human compassion—would have zipped the lips of the bishops? We teach children that it is better to say nothing than something hurtful; bishops, apparently, are exempt from common courtesy.

They claim to know the law of God. But here’s the rub: even if they do, an overwhelming number of Catholics and others of goodwill do not care. We do not believe in the cruel, vindictive, callous God they cite. Many believers put our faith in a loving, merciful divinity whose response to human tragedy is to weep not condemn, to embrace not exile. That is a Catholic view, well-supported by scripture and life experience. The bishops are welcome to their views, but beware of people who think they know more about God’s will and God’s law than the rest of us. They are selling a product we are not buying.

I believe that this case serves as further proof that the jig is up for Catholic clerics who dare to excommunicate a mother who has already suffered enough while they continue to embrace priest pedophiles and the bishops who hide their crimes. Let this case signal the end of any credible claim to authority such bishops might make, and the beginning of a new era when local communities determine their own members. I daresay the world will be a safer, kinder place.

A word of affirmation is in order for the family and people who care about them. There are many pro-choice Catholics in Brazil including their president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is quoted as saying:

As a Christian and a Catholic I deeply regret that a bishop of the Catholic Church has such a conservative attitude. The doctors did what had to be done: save the life of a girl nine-years-old. In this case, the medical profession was more right than the Church.

Amen, Lula.

I am confident that in Pernambuco there are plenty of people who will welcome this family with open arms, both to help them move forward and to be part of a community of faith if they so choose. In fact, the deeply respected Brazilian feminist theologian Ivone Gebara, a Roman Catholic nun, lives there. She was silenced by the Vatican in 1995 for suggesting, in an interview with the Brazilian weekly VEJA, that abortion should be decriminalized. As punishment she was packed off to Belgium to do another doctorate, supposedly so she would toe the line. This tragic case only makes her prophetic stance more understandable.

If any good can come from this horrendous set of circumstances, it is that future generations will not have to tolerate either sexual abuse or excommunication because people today are unafraid to call them both acts of violence and to work to eradicate them. God help us.

Mary E. Hunt

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Letter to Fr Michael Czerny – a British Jesuit online journal


In Toronto in 2006 during the World AIDS Conference, I was a volunteer at the booth of “Catholics for Choice”, a dynamic international;NGO with affiliates in 15 countries.

We were offering to surprised and delighted delegates, many from Africa, our magazine,”Conscience”,our lively posters and information and a petition in support of our mission :to shape and advance sexual and reproductive
ethics that are based on justice. reflect a commitment to women’s well-being, and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.

I recognized Fr Czerny passing by, and I moved to introduce myself, a Canadian Catholic with many years’ experience in development (Tanzania and Jamaica) His reaction was to turn away without engaging the issues or the materials.

So I was not surprised by this piece, but ultimately desparing of the attitudes of churchmen who hold fast to dangerous and outmoded ideas of sexual morality, in the face of widepread and preventable suffering and death.

None of us thinks that condoms are a single solution to the pandemic,.but all credible health workers believe they are a part of reducing the harm.

As one who has critiqued and resisted “Humanae Vitae”, for forty years, having organized my first public protest in Dorval, PQ in 1968,I think I could have hoped for a more enlightened and independent analysis than Fr Czerny’s, and a more liberating one ,too.

Has he really spent time in the slums of Nairobi? Has he followed United Nations Conferences on women? Does he realize the impact that retrogressive theology has on women’s lives?

The most exciting and promising theological work these days is done by eco- feminists,many Catholic. I invite Fr Czerny to consult this work,

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CFC and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast

Through four pregnancies, and a forty-seven year marriage, I have never been tempted to have an abortion, never had the necessity to contemplate such a decision. My sons now have a lot of beautiful babies who bring us deep joy.

I had the blessing of a good education in a Catholic college. I was a philosophy major, studying ideas which Basilian priests taught: the importance of inquiry, the Catholic principle of the inviolability of conscience, and the necessity to continue to read theology. I grew up in a period of history where Canada flourished under the rule of law and the Charter of Rights.

Then I encountered the liberating power of the feminist movement, attended an international conference on women in Beijing in 1995, and spent some time as a journalist. I have had a loyal spouse and an adequate income, good health care, and six years of mind-altering overseas experience.

Christian Catholic adulthood has had its profound challenges and its rich rewards. In circles of feminists of faith I have found my community. As for the task for us, Elizabeth Johnson, the Fordham University theologian and author of “She Who Is” said “When the poorest, most abused woman in a South African township, and her children are flourishing, our work will be done”.

It is a distant dream. But we are clear.

But not helping in these great causes are the men leaders of the Roman Church, my church.

Today, there are other themes I would like to give my time and attention to: ecology and spirituality for one. But it is exactly women like me, with my privileged social location and past global history who are most called to defend the rights of other women.
Hence I am fully involved in church and abortion politics. It is surely not in hopes of becoming popular. I am not invited to discuss these ideas in Catholic institutions: pulpits, schools, colleges, convents, retreat houses.

However I am in the struggle because of the ongoing assaults on women and girls globally; those distressed, poor, unhappily-pregnant women, faced with terrible choices, made eternally guilty by their cold church and often by their state; frightened, confused, having been denied proper contraceptive information or having been made pregnant through force, rape or incest. They are frequently on their own.

We Catholic feminists have a special burden: countering the obtuse and absolutist pronouncements of our church. In an ironic sense it is perhaps a privilege to be who we are and know what we know, from the inside. Ours is an international institution with international clout. Many would say an inappropriate misogynist clout. What we influence here in Canada may affect women globally.

So when I read that Archbishop Prendergast, who is a well-educated Jesuit, had taken a leaf from his ill-informed, Vatican-compliant, American episcopal colleagues and said in Ottawa that he would excommunicate pro-choice politicians, I felt bound to speak out and challenge his words. The Ottawa Citizen gave this encounter front-page coverage and it was followed by a radio interview.

Consider this: a recent report from the Ministry of Health in Jamaica, a country which, like many others, is adamantly anti-choice, asked the society to begin to consider the decriminalization of abortion. The Committee reported that clinics and hospitals island-wide are over-crowded and scant public health services are stretched to exhaustion by hundreds of young girls coming for urgent help after botched backstreet abortion attempts. In Nicaragua recently, a poor, sole- support woman with three children was jailed, after being arrested at the hospital doors for having an abortion.My volunteer work with Amnesty International provides me with case after case accounts of the harm done by anti-woman legislation and hypocritical state attitudes, all compounded by the proclamations of the universal Roman Catholic Church.

Bishops gain little and risk much from their use of the sacraments as political tools. Sadly, the sacrament of the Eucharist, holy and mysterious, has emerged as a political symbol. Certainly it has been thus mis-used in Calgary, in Timmins and now threatened in Ottawa. These bishops, ignoring the valued principle of separation of church from state, assert that how you vote on legislation becomes sinful. This alienates lay people even further from bishops. And it will not prevent a single abortion. It has already caused great distress to several sitting Canadian members of Parliament.

And so, Archbishop Prendergast and I have a lot to talk about. I am willing to meet with him at an Ottawa coffee shop of his choice. But no chancery office for me, too unequal. I will ask him to read beforehand a few articles by such theologians as Christine Gudorf, Daniel Maguire and Anthony Padovano. I will set up a couple of private visits for the archbishop at an abortion clinic, to speak with staff, counselors and, with their permission, clients. I will read anything he proposes I read. But he will have to withdraw his remark that I am not a “normal” Catholic.

We will do sexual ethics together. Maybe others will join. Perhaps we will pray together, in inclusive language. It will be civil and searching.

Together I am sure we are capable of contributing to a Canada where abortion is safe, legal and rare.

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Late Term Abortions

This paper describes the prevalence of late term abortions, explains the reasons why they are performed, and argues that any effort to ban late term abortions in Canada would necessarily infringe on women’s constitutional rights.

Incidence of Late Term Abortions
The Canadian Medical Association’s abortion policy defines abortion as the active termination of a pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation (Canadian Medical Association, Policy on Induced Abortion, 1988). 90% of abortions in Canada are performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and just over 9% of abortions take place between 12 and 20 weeks of gestation. A mere 0.4% of abortions take place after 20 weeks of gestation. These are considered late term abortions.
Why Late Term Abortions are Necessary
A very small number of abortions occur after 20 weeks of gestation primarily because the fetus is gravely or fatally impaired, or the woman’ s life or physical health is at risk, or both (Statistics Canada, Therapeutic Abortions, 1995). Many impairments or health risks are not detectable until after the 24th week of gestation. In 1998 an American Doctor, George Tiller, opposed efforts to ban late term abortions in Kansas, using “statistics and photos of catastrophic pregnancies he had aborted.” The images showed fetuses with missing skulls or spinal cords, and in one case twins fused into a single body (Dave Ranney, “Tiller: Abortion Bill an Insult to Women,” Wichita Eagle, April 11, 1998, and Colleen McCain and Dave Ranney, “Five Kansas Families share Deeply Personal Stories,” Wichita Eagle, April 19, 1998).

Those opposed to abortion rights have portrayed women as having late term abortions out of “selfish convenience” or because they “suddenly can’t get into a bathing suit.” This misrepresentation of women’s decision making with regard to abortion is always inaccurate, but especially so in cases of late term abortion. Most women who terminate their pregnancies after 20 weeks wanted to have a child, and were forced to consider abortion for medical reasons. Other women may be in desperate social circumstances, such as an abusive relationship, or they may be very young teenagers who have delayed abortion care because they were in denial about the pregnancy.
Who Performs Late Term Abortions
Hospitals and some clinics in Canada perform abortions on request up to about 20 weeks, and a few centres do abortions up to 22 or 23 weeks. However, most of the very small number of abortions performed over 20 weeks gestation in Canada are done to protect the woman’s physical health, or because of serious fetal abnormalities. Such problems cannot be discovered until an amniocentesis test is done on the fetus later in pregnancy. Rare abortions after 22 or 23 weeks gestation are also done in Canada for some cases of lethal fetal abnormalities, where the fetus cannot survive after birth.

Since abortion services after 20 weeks are not always readily accessible in all parts of Canada, women are sometimes referred to clinics in the United States (Kansas, Washington State, and Colorado). Such procedures and associated expenses may be funded in full or part by some provincial governments.
Why Late Term Abortions Should not be Banned or Regulated
Late term abortions have been inappropriately labeled “partial-birth” abortions by those opposed to abortion rights (see Position Paper #5a). These lobbyists are most likely referring to a specific procedure called D&X (dilation and extraction), which is often, though not always, used in later term abortions in the United States. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was signed into U.S. law by President George W. Bush in 2003. Yet this legislation has already been successfully overturned because it fails to leave an exception for the life and health of the mother.

Anti-abortion activists in Canada typically mimic the efforts of their American counterparts. Some have suggested that “partial-birth” and late term abortions should be banned in Canada. The point is moot because this abortion technique is rarely if ever used in Canada. Late-term abortions done in Canada are generally performed via induction of labour. In any case, such a ban would infringe on women’s constitutional right to the security of the person. At the same time, it would award politicians more rights than pregnant women as well as their doctors – making medical advice secondary to political legislation. All medical care, including abortion care, should be based on clinical standards with the goal of meeting patients’ needs and minimizing risk to patients. Physicians should not face criminal prosecution or imprisonment for providing clinically appropriate care for their patients.
Canada is one of only two countries in the world with no laws restricting abortion. Because of that, Canada serves as a respected role model for abortion care internationally. Abortion is a health procedure and as such, can be left up to the discretion of the doctor and patient. It requires no extra regulation, in the same way that childbirth or heart surgery require no extra regulation. It would be reactionary and counter-productive to pass any restriction against abortion, because that would endanger women’s health and lives, and infringe on women’s equality rights (only women get pregnant, so abortion restrictions amount to discrimination against women). It would also give the anti-abortion movement something to build on, and agitate from. Abortion opponents target rare cases of late term abortion, describing it in horrific detail, to evoke an emotional response in listeners. Their ultimate goal is to restrict all abortion rights. What these lobbyists strategically fail to mention, however, is that banning late term abortions would force women pregnant with dying fetuses to give birth at great risk to their own health, undermining both the rights of women and the medical authority of doctors.

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