On Jan. 25, 2019, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released the Canadian abortion statistics for the year 2017, revealing that there were nearly 100,000 reported surgical and chemical abortions for the year the most recent numbers are available, a figure that is incomplete and underreporting the total number of abortions.
According to CIHI’s statistics, 94,030 abortions were reported to have been committed in Canada in 2017, compared to 97,764 in 2016. The bulk of this drop can be attributed to a difference of 2,796 between the 2016 and 2017 abortion figures for Ontario. However, CIHI acknowledges that, as in previous years, the data are incomplete, so it is unclear whether abortion numbers have actually decreased or if reporting is merely sparser, potentially due to the proliferation of chemical abortions, namely those undertaken with Mifegymiso. Despite CIHI’s claim that “Hospitals are mandated by their provincial/territorial ministry of health to report all hospital activity,” when asked by The Interim, CIHI indicated, “Hospitals are not obligated to report Mifegymiso prescriptions.”
CTV reported that in 2017, the first year the abortion drug Mifegymiso was made available to the Canadian public, 4,253 doses were dispensed by Canadian pharmacies. It is unknown what percentage of these abortions are included in the CIHI statistics.
CIHI also states that there is “no such legislative requirement for clinics to report their activity (reporting is voluntary),” and so not all facilities privately conducting abortions—surgical or chemical—have provided information on those abortions. Clinic 554, for instance, formerly the Morgentaler Clinic, is the only place offering surgical and chemical abortions in Fredericton according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and yet CIHI states, “For 2017, clinic data for New Brunswick is absent.” In 2013, the last year CIHI recorded clinic data for New Brunswick, 540 abortions were reported to have taken place in free-standing abortion facilities — more than the reported number carried out in New Brunswick hospitals that same year.
Hospital data for Nunavut is incomplete for 2017. Also not reported are abortions carried out in Quebec or in any non-hospital facility in Manitoba or Ontario if they are not covered by the respective health insurance plans of those provinces.
This is the first year CIHI reported abortion figures for Prince Edward Island, as the province’s first hospital abortions since its ban was lifted took place in late January 2017. A reported 147 preborn babies were killed on the Island that year. Still, based on 2016 Canadian census figures for the number of women between 15-64 years of age in each province and CIHI’s reported abortion figures for 2017, PEI is among those provinces/territories with the lowest abortion rates. The Northwest Territories, Alberta, and Quebec have the highest abortion rates. At least 23 non-residents of Canada procured abortions in Canadian hospitals in 2017, compared to a known 16 in 2016, and a known 15 in 2015.
In every province and territory, with the exception of Ontario (whose clinic data is imprecise) and Yukon, the most common reported age group of women obtaining abortions is the 18-24 years’ range. In provinces/territories with a precise reported figure for the under-18 age range, and no reported unknown ages (i.e. excluding Ontario, BC, and PEI), minors account for just 4.80 per cent of those obtaining abortions. If the territories are excluded, this share drops to just 3.09 per cent. In contrast, in provinces/territories with a precise reported figure for the 35+ age range, and no reported unknown ages (i.e. excluding Ontario, BC, and Nunavut), those 35 and older account for 14.23 per cent of women who obtain abortions. Of these provinces and territories, Quebec has the highest share at 19.99 per cent. In Ontario, discounting the small number of cases for which the woman’s age is completely unknown, women 35 and older account for 20.9 per cent of abortions in the province.
2017 data on previous deliveries, previous abortions, gestational age, methods, and complications are grossly lacking as only the reported 22,087 abortions that took place in hospitals outside Quebec are examined. Abortion statistics for all clinics and for Quebec abortion are excluded. Furthermore, some of the information on previous deliveries and so forth is reported as ‘unknown’ for a quarter or more of the cases in the already significantly restricted pool. Therefore, only very conservative estimates can be derived, and conclusions about the data are difficult to come to.
At least 39.1 per cent of the women who obtained abortions in Canadian hospitals (excluding Quebec) in 2017 had given birth previously and at least 27.1 per cent had had one or more abortions. A minimum 9.9 per cent had already had two or more abortions.
Of all 2017 hospital abortions in Canada, apart from Quebec, at least 35.6 per cent took place at a gestational age of nine to 12 weeks, the most common reported time period for abortion. The reported share and number of late-term hospital abortions is increasing though. At least 14.8 per cent of all hospital abortions in Canada (excluding Quebec) took place after 13 weeks of gestation in 2017, with a minimum of 706 abortions occurring at 21 weeks and over. Comparatively, in 2016, at least 13.6 per cent of all non-Quebec hospital abortions reportedly took place after 13 weeks (in 2015 the comparable figure was 12.7 per cent), with at least 616 abortions occurring at 21 weeks and over.
This increase also corresponds to an increase in the reported number of dilation and evacuation procedures, a second-trimester abortion method in which a combination of suction and surgical instruments are used to dismember the fetus. This procedure was reported to have been carried out 2,101 times in Canadian hospitals, again excluding Quebec, in 2017. In 2016, the reported number was 1,974, and in 2015 it was 1,941.
1,415 of those dilation and evacuation abortions carried out in 2017 were listed as “surgical procedures only” and not under “surgical and medical procedures.” When asked if it was correct to assume that abortions listed under “surgical procedures only” did not involve the injection of digoxin into the fetus (to kill him or her) or the anesthetizing of the fetus, CIHI responded, “As far as we know that is correct.” It seems possible then these dilation and evacuation procedures were enacted on living preborn children. It is unknown if some felt pain.
Aspiration and curettage abortions, which extract the fetus through suction earlier on in the pregnancy, remain the most commonly reported abortion procedure in Canada.
At least 2 per cent of women who received an abortion at a Canadian hospital outside Quebec experienced a complication within 28 days of the initial abortion, including at least 0.7 per cent for hemorrhage and at least 0.3 per cent for infection. CIHI acknowledges that in part because of the time frame imposed, “complications during subsequent visits, transfers or readmissions for cases where the health care number was not recorded during the initial visit or hospitalization are not included; complications may therefore be undercounted.”