During the Morgentaler pre-trial hearing, the Toronto press daily painted such pieces of the witnesses’ testimony that showed the present abortion laws to be cruel and inequitable.  Hardly surprising really, as tit was Morgentaler’s lawyer who presented witnesses to bolster the defense contention that the present system violates the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Much of the testimony, reported in the papers, was emotionally manipulative and designed to make the public support Morgentaler’s contention that the present system abuses women who want abortions.  Indeed, it is easy to form the impression that the purpose of this hearing was not to challenge the constitutionality of the present abortion law, but rather to form the attitudes of those Toronto residents who will become prospective jurors at the trial proper.

Compassionate care in clinics?

In their report of the hearing on December 3, the Toronto Star recorded testimony of Racine Venne, a social worker in an abortion clinic in Laval, Quebec.  Ms.  Venne presented testimony to show how women are treated badly in the abortion procedure in Quebec hospitals.

She told of a woman patient, more than 16 weeks pregnant, she was given a saline abortion.  The woman delivered a dead baby and was left “for about three hours” before a nurse arrived to remove the baby.  The woman was told she had been left so lone “as a punishment…and so she wouldn’t repeat the experience”.  According the Ms. Venne, that is not an isolate incident.  She believes that women having abortions in clinics receive more compassionate care from the staff as they “have chosen to work in the clinics.”

A stressful profession

She probably has a point.  Many nurses in hospitals have to work on abortion cases, or lose their jobs.  Hospitals generally make no concession to conscientious objections on the part of nurses who object to taking part in abortions.

Nursing is a stressful profession, not helped in these times of economic restraint when few nurses care for more patients.  Many nurses “burn out”; they stop working for a multitude of reasons-how many because of the pressure of handling abortion patients?

Casten Stroud, in an article in Quest magazine in March 1983, wrote on “nursing burn out.”  He called hospitals the “front line of health care”; nurse’s are the stock troops,” and the problem is one of “battle fatigue”.  The article deals with all aspects of the difficulties encountered by nurses, but one (interviewed anonymously) brought up the subject of abortion.  Here is her story.

Abortions-on-a whim

“At one hospital where I work they’re making great advances in the field of neonatology.  The hospital also performs more therapeutic abortions (TAs) than any other in Toronto.  So do they have one floor for TAs and another ward for the women w hose babies are in neonatology?  No, they all go up to OBS-GYN. I’ve worked in a four-bed wards where three of the women were in for TAs-on a whim and the fourth was sitting at the window hoping to see the neonatology’s could save her premie.  Everybody talks about the right to life and abortion while the gap between permissible TAs and savable premises gets smaller and smaller.  Out there it is all theory; the nurses are the ones who deal with it skin to skin.

The women were in for TAs-on -a -whim and the fourth was sitting at the window hoping the neonatlogist could save her premie.  Everybody talks about the right to life and abortion while the gap between permissible TAs and savable premies gets smaller and smaller.  Out there it’s all theory.  The nurses are the ones who deal with skin-to skin.

“A doctor orders up a saline for a woman who has convinced a rubber-stamp committee that ‘babies are not appropriate for her lifestyle.  ‘administers the injection during a 20 minute operation, and then goes off on rounds.”

It’s not the morality

“Nurses see the baby coming out with all its skin seared off and its face twisted in agony, frozen in its last scream, dying in the dark fluid around its turns into acid.  Or suction-now there’s a treat. TAs from suction are neat, clean painless – everybody but the nurses, who get to pick baby bits out of the receptacle, little finger and the toe bits.  It’s not the morality of the thing I’m talking about, understand?  I think women should be able to control their own bodies.  But scorched fetuses and baby bits in the vacuum are hard to live with wouldn’t you say?”

You get used to it

“The hospital was having so much trouble on OBS-GYN that they set up a meeting with a staff psychiatrist-you know, to help us ‘deal with it all.’  So there we are, 10 or 11 of us gathered around this conference table, getting it all out-suction, salines, bits, premies. TAs, who to save, who to abort, what to tell the mothers whose kids are make it, what to tell each other-and the doctor sitting at the end of the table, his pipe sticking out of his mouth, getting paler and paler.  Absolutely nothing to say.

“He had no idea.  We had no idea.  We had to pull back and let him get used to it.  Give him credit, he did help.  I think the meetings are still going on.  It may do some good; give the nurses a chance to talk about it, to see that it’s all right to feel depressed or tired.  Sometimes you can’t take another minute of it, but we all do.  You get used to it.”

It’s hard to take a story like that.  I felt sick to my stomach reading about it and debated whether or not I should repeat it.  I finally decided to do so, because this is the reality-little baby bits and bodies burnt by acid.  Whether we realize it or not we are all victims of abortion; the babies, the mothers and fathers, the hospital staff, even those who believe every woman has a right to abortion.  Those of us who stand up and fight for the right to life are victims too, just as much s those who say they are “personally opposed” but “would not impose” their morality on others.

Abortion is an emotional issue

One could hardly expect the Morgentaler faction to present such a witness as the nurse quoted above.  However, in such a case it is surely the duty of the crown to bring out both sides to the story.  Let us hope that, in the jury trial, they do so