Paul Tuns:

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released abortion statistics for 2020, the last year available, indicating that there were 74,155 reported surgical and chemical abortions in Canada. The data reflects almost all hospital abortions in Canada which must report the number of abortions committed, but may not include abortions carried out through free-standing abortion mills or so-called medical abortions (the abortion pill) prescribed by a physician.

The number of reported abortions is down significantly compared to the year before, when there were 83,576 officially counted abortions, about the same number as there were the year before. Between 2007 and 2017, the yearly number of abortions ranged from 90,747 to 108,844 reported abortions. The official tally fell significantly after Health Canada lifted most of its restrictions on the abortion pill mifegymiso and provinces began covering the abortifacient through their drug plans.

The decline in 2020 also coincides with the first year of the pandemic. While the provision of abortion was maintained in all jurisdictions in Canada as an “essential service,” pregnancy rates declined also, probably due to limitations on socializing.

The CIHI admits that “volumes reported underestimate the true number of induced abortions in Canada” because abortion mills only voluntarily provide information and the lack of reliable data on use of the abortion pill (so-called medical abortions).

Studies indicate that the number of medical abortions is increasing but the total numbers are not reflected in official statistics, a fact recognized by the CIHI. The report states, “in recent years, medical abortions have become more accessible” through physician offices and public health, “and most of these are not included in the data tables.”

Officially, about 10 per cent of abortions carried out in hospitals are medical abortions and another 10 per cent are a combination of surgical and medical procedures. Most hospital abortions are aspiration and curettage (nearly 63 per cent) and dilation and evacuation (7.7 per cent).

According to the CIHI numbers, abortions declined in every province and territory in Canada except Yukon, which saw a significant increase from 60 to 82, and Prince Edward Island, which experienced an increase from 118 to 252. PEI began doing abortions on the Island in 2017.

Ontario experienced the largest decrease, from nearly 28,000 to 21,428. However, abortions committed at several free-standing abortion mills are not included in these numbers: Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic in Toronto, the Brampton Women’s Clinic, Mississauga Women’s Clinic, and Women’s Clinic Care in Toronto. 

There were 495 abortions officially carried out in New Brunswick and paid for by taxpayers. Clinic 554 in Fredericton, which is at the center of a funding dispute with the province, does not report the number of abortions it commits. The number of abortions committed in that province fell by about 500 in the first year of the abortion mill’s non-reporting in 2014, indicating a possible large undercount in New Brunswick.

The majority of abortions are committed at abortion mills, with 52,346 carried out at “abortion clinics” while 21,809 were done in hospitals.

The CIHI data also includes the gestational age, complication rates, and previous abortions for hospitals reporting, excepting those committed in Quebec, providing information for nearly 15,000 abortions.

Most abortions were carried out in the first eight weeks (4,725) or ninth through twelfth week (4,002). Another 1,278 were committed during 13-16 weeks gestation, 749 between 17-20 weeks, and 652 when the preborn child was 21 weeks or older. There was no information provided for the gestational age for 3,409 abortions.  These figures are fairly consistent with recent years, although from 2007 to 2016, more abortions were committed between nine and 12 weeks than in the first eight weeks. 

For abortions in which the gestational age is known, nearly one in four abortions in Canada is committed after 12 weeks (the first trimester). The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada estimates that 87 per cent of abortions in Canada are committed in the first trimester.

Officially, 2.6 per cent of abortions resulted in a complication in 2020 within 28 days of induced abortion, representing a slight uptick in complications from recent years. The most common complication was hemorrhage (167 cases), infection (42), and “retained products of conception” (62). 29 women suffered a combination of complications and 79 suffered from “other” complications.

About one-in-four women had at least one previous abortion and there is no information about previous abortions for about 30 per cent of women.

The abortion rate – the number of abortions per 1000 women of child-bearing age in any given year – is 10.1, or about half the abortion rate in the United States (20.8) and two-thirds of the global average (15.8).

Jeff Gunnarson, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim that there are “several major takeaways from the data.” He said that the sheer number of abortions shows that the procedure is common and suggests it touches the lives of “too many Canadians.” He also said that the gestational age data shows that any attempt to restrict abortion to the European standard of 12 weeks “would still permit the vast majority of abortions to be committed.” Lastly, said Gunnarson, the data “has so many holes in it because it excludes most medical abortions and relies on voluntary reporting from so-called clinics, that it gives only a faint picture of abortion in Canada.”