How good is a politician’s word? Not very, if the results of promises made by outgoing Ontario Premier Mike Harris are any indication. Although he certainly did not characterize himself as pro-life, Harris did toss a small crumb to appease Ontario’s pro-life movement during his 1995 campaign to become premier. He pledged “no new abortion clinics,” according to a front-page headline in the June 2, 1995 Toronto Star. He reiterated that assurance in letters to constituents in subsequent years, boasting as late as 1999 that: “In 1995, we promised that we would not create any new (free)standing abortion clinics and we have kept that promise.” But that vow went out the window earlier this year when it was discovered that a new facility, the Women’s Care Clinic, headed by a Zarifi Markovic, had been operating on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto, possibly for as long as two years. The location was immediately picketed by pro-lifers.

It recently came to light that the office of a Neilson Road, Scarborough gynecologist, Dr. Katherine Chu, is reportedly the site of abortion committals two days a week. Robert Hinchey, a counsellor at the Aid to Women crisis pregnancy agency in Toronto, first caught wind of the development when he took a call from a woman who had an abortion scheduled at the site.

Hinchey said the woman, married and in her early 20s, was distraught because a doctor in Chu’s office “made fun of her” when she expressed reservations about going through with an abortion. The doctor, the woman said, wanted her to rush into it, and have the abortion committed immediately.

The fact that abortions are taking place at Chu’s location was all but confirmed when another woman told The Interim she went to Chu’s office and was told by a receptionist that abortions “are so easy. It only takes a minute of your time. We don’t do any counselling. You have to come with your mind made up.”

The receptionist reportedly discouraged abortions from being committed before six weeks’ gestation, noting that the attending physician “might not get it all.” She recommended that abortions be performed between six and 19 weeks.

Show the Truth’s Rosemary Connell said local residents are disappointed in the news that an abortuary is operating in their area. “We talked to a lot of people and they were shocked and not pleased with the news whatsoever.”

Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, told The Interim he couldn’t comment accurately until he knew more facts about the developments. However, he did observe that “there is a lot of activists who would like to see abortion made as accessible and user-friendly as possible. Doing (abortions) in your office gives it a kind of low-risk aura, which may be misleading, depending on the nature of the abortions that are being undertaken.”

He added that if abortions are being committed up to 19 weeks’ gestation in a gynecologist’s office, it would be necessary to “adequately manage” the hazards – including perforation of the uterus and infection – that could result from such a dangerous, late-term procedure. “One would have to ask whether their operating room setup complies with existing provincial regulations for standards of operating rooms, or whether women’s lives are being endangered by a setup that might be adequate to do dental surgery, but is not adequate to handle the complications that can come from abortions.”

Dr. Carmelo Scime, a Hamilton, Ont. member of Physicians for Life, said the performance of surgeries in a doctor’s office would require the site to be licensed as an independent health care facility, as spelled out in the provincial Independent Health Care Facilities Act. It is unknown at this time whether Chu’s office is so licensed.

The breaking of the pledge on new abortuaries is not the first time Harris has failed to live up to his commitments.

In the 1995 election campaign, Harris also said he would encourage hospitals and abortuaries to provide OHIP-sponsored counselling to women on alternatives to “ending their pregnancies.” He said doctors have “financial incentives” to commit abortions, and don’t get any money if women don’t go through with them.

Harris also said he opposed curbs on protesters’ and counsellors’ rights to have their views propagated outside abortuaries. “I believe it is an individual’s right to voice opposition to practices that violate one’s moral principles, and also believe that the government will not be able to get an injunction to stop picketing,” he wrote, while in opposition, in a 1993 letter to Campaign Life Coalition.

Since being elected, Harris has maintained a court injunction sought for and obtained by the previous NDP government of Ontario.

That measure has resulted in pro-life advocate Linda Gibbons spending most of the last seven years in prison for peaceful demonstrations outside Toronto abortuaries, the arrest and harassment of journalists, and the crippling of pro-life street counselling efforts, at abortuary sites.