Article raises fears of abortions on site

Pro-lifers in London, Ont. have been playing connect-the-dots recently, but the picture that seems to be emerging isn’t something you’d find in a children’s book.

The intrigue began with last month’s issue of Chatelaine, the Canadian feminist magazine that started the campaign for legalized abortion in this country way back in 1959. The feature story was a lionizing profile of an anonymous late-term abortionist, Dr. G. Many London pro-lifers immediately wondered whether Dr. G was in fact their local late-term abortionist, George Fraser Fellows.

Fellows has long been the subject of controversy in London, not least because he’s on staff at the local Catholic hospital, St. Joseph’s. That fact has been regarded as scandalous enough, even though Fellows’ clients are actually aborted at the secular London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC, comprised of Victoria and University Hospitals) where Fellows also has privileges.

But what left pro-lifers speechless in the Chatelaine article was Dr. G’s admission that he also commits clandestine abortions at the Catholic hospital, St. X’s, where he’s on staff.

Dr. G explained in the article that some women can avoid operating-room surgery, which involves a one- to two-week wait, if they have a suction abortion right away—hence, his reason for committing some abortions at St. X’s.

Activists familiar with Fellows’ situation began talking with each other, and with pro-lifers as far away as Toronto and Winnipeg, who had also thought they recognized Dr. G. The similarities between Dr. G and Fellows were startling.

Dr. G is “a prosperous 50-ish obstetrician and gynecologist in a mid-size city” with two teaching hospitals, according to Chatelaine. Fellows is a 58-year-old ob-gyn living in a large home in the prestigious Broughdale neighbourhood of London, which has a population of 330,000. London has two teaching hospitals, St. Joe’s and LHSC.

Dr. G. and Dr. Fellows

“In Dr. G’s city, 10 specialists share deliveries, so he’s on call just one night in 10.” A doctor at St. Joe’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said London has 10 specialists handling deliveries, and that Fellows is on call one night in 10.

Every two weeks, Dr. G travels to the general hospital in a smaller city an hour away, where no doctor is willing to commit abortions. Sarnia, a city of 75,000, is an hour’s drive from London. London activist Jake MacKenzie learned from a staffer in the administrator’s office at Sarnia General Hospital that Fellows performs the abortions at Sarnia General every two weeks. A medical source in Sarnia confirmed that the city has no resident abortionist.

Chatelaine reports that St. X’s is one of those Catholic hospitals which interpret the Catholic Health Association ethics guide to allow surgical sterilizations. Fr. Michael Prieur, a bioethics consultant to St. Joe’s, told The Interim that the hospital does “tolerate sterilizations under the principle of material co-operation.” Noting this application of the principle of material co-operation is a matter of some controversy, Fr. Prieur said the policy is supported by a 1975 letter of the Vatican to the U.S. bishops.

Two-thirds of the abortionists in Dr. G’s city have stopped doing abortions since 1988. Alex Schadenberg, pro-life director for London’s Roman Catholic diocese, says two-thirds of London’s abortionists have quit in the same period.

Dr. G had “a half-dozen protesters chanting outside his house every day for several years.” Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, says pro-lifers prayed on the sidewalk in front of Fellows’ house every day for two-and-a-half years, and that Fellows is the only abortionist in North America to have experienced such a long, daily home picket. He is also the only abortionist in Canada to have been picketed at home for more than a week. In his affidavit for the 1994 Ontario government injunction against pro-life demonstrations, Fellows used the word “chanting”—the same word Chatelaine used—to describe the quiet prayers of the demonstrators outside his home. He also said there were usually “six or seven” taking part.

Even for the abortions he commits off-site, Dr. G sometimes starts the procedure at St. X, inserting laminaria into his client’s cervix to begin dilation a day before the abortion itself. St. X learned about one such incident, and Dr. G had his “knuckles rapped.” “He allowed them to believe it wouldn’t happen again,” says Chatelaine. Under questioning regarding the application for the 1994 injunction, Fellows confirmed he sees all his clients at his “clinic” at St. Joe’s prior to their abortions. One could infer from this that he might insert laminaria in some of them at St. Joe’s, since it has to be done 24 hours ahead of time, and presumably Fellows is at LHSC only for the abortion itself. Pro-lifers who read Fellows’ testimony at the time raised the matter with hospital and church officials. They were told that Fellows had been chastised, and that he’d promised not to insert laminaria at St. Joe’s again.

There’s never been a satisfactory excuse for Fellows’ presence on staff at St. Joe’s, and many Catholics feel it’s unacceptable according to Catholic teaching. Theologians and even some bishops might argue that point, but many devout Catholics with a traditional “sense of the faith” would find it an absolutely intolerable scandal, whoever wins the debate on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

But the Fellows matter seems to involve even more. Inserting laminaria is a necessary part of certain abortion procedures, and as such, would be absolutely forbidden in a Catholic hospital. Also, questions have been raised about whether St. Joe’s might be co-operating with Fellows’ abortion practice in other ways.

Under questioning for the 1994 injunction, Fellows described the pre-abortion “counselling” his clients receive. He said that counselling covers “alternatives” to abortion; even so, from a pro-life perspective, the best-case scenario is that abortion is presented as one of several acceptable options. Fellows also said that part of the counselling process involves psychology or psychiatry staff at St. Joe’s.

Concerns about counselling

St. Joe’s public affairs manager Kathy Burrill told The Interim that “St. Joseph’s … clearly stands for the sacredness of every human being from conception to natural death. Our staff members are not involved in the counselling of patients who are determined to have an abortion.

“For people who may be struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, and if they’re seeking consolation and support as well as information, we try to support them in a way that respects the pro-life values of St. Joseph’s, ensures they know we’re not judging their values, and ensures we meet the ethical principle of people making informed decisions.

“The information,” Ms Burrill said, “does include all alternative supports available for parents and children and a clear explanation of all the possible impacts of their choice.”

Asked how a St. Joe’s staff member would respond if a woman he or she was counselling decided firmly on an abortion and asked for a referral to a doctor or clinic, Ms Burrill said the staff member would “have an ethical responsibility to provide information, and we do try to ensure people have a clear understanding of all the supports available.”

Asked whether “supports” meant alternatives to abortion or all the possible responses to a crisis pregnancy including abortion, Ms Burrill said it’s “quite a hypothetical question. It would depend on where that individual is with respect to their decision-making.”

If St. Joe’s staff were involved in counselling that treated abortion as an option, it’s likely the Church would have to step in. Earlier this year, the Catholic bishops of Germany took steps to end the participation of church agencies in the pre-abortion counselling process required under German law.

The move to end participation was quite controversial, even among the German bishops, but it was basically ordered by the Vatican, since the counselling certificate issued by the agencies was seen as amounting to a “licence” for an abortion. This was the case even though the counselling offered by the church agencies in Germany is strictly pro-life.

Although it’s not binding on Catholic institutions in Canada, a document of the U.S. bishops sums up neatly the way many devout Catholics would view all of this. In Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (1994), the bishops say Catholic hospitals must “respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception,” and that they must “require adherence to (hospital ethical policies) within the institution as a condition for medical privileges and employment.”

As for the presence of an abortionist on staff, his use of laminaria on site, and hospital staff participating in “morally neutral” counselling, the U.S. bishops say, “Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services even based upon the principle of material co-operation. In this context, (they) need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.”

In a letter to a concerned pro-lifer, London’s Bishop John Sherlock wrote that he had heard the concerns about Fellows, and had “requested the board (of St. Joe’s) begin a thorough investigation” of the questions raised by the Chatelaine article. Bishop Sherlock said “the hospital has questioned Dr. Fellows on several occasions,” but Fellows has “adamantly denied” he is the abortionist in question. (Fellows could not be reached for comment during the writing of this article.)

“To date, we have not been able to establish the truth or falsehood of (the suspicions about Fellows), “wrote Bishop Sherlock, “but the investigation continues.”

Ms Burrell said she couldn’t comment on the bishop’s remarks about an investigation, but said St. Joe’s “would certainly treat any matter very seriously and conscientiously.”

Bishop Sherlock ended his letter saying he hopes people will distinguish fact from rumour, and not rush to judgment. That’s a sentiment shared by CLC president Jim Hughes. “We’ve got to wait until we’ve heard everything,” he said, “but I must say, it doesn’t look good—and if Dr. G really is Fellows, we’ve got a major scandal on our hands.”