In the spring, the National Assembly of Quebec passed Bill 34, a law that mandated minimum safety and sanitation requirements for private health care facilities that perform surgeries. It mandated, for example, sterile operating rooms and separate ventilating systems, as well as outlined procedures to protect patients who use non-hospital facilities for medical care. In August, three Montreal abortuaries said they would stop committing abortions if the law was not amended to exempt them from the provisions.

Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc capitulated on safety standards for abortion mills.

Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc capitulated on safety standards for abortion mills.

Initially, Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc stood his ground, saying the law was debated and passed by the provincial legislature and that doctors groups had provided their input. But, after pressure from the Quebec College of Physicians and the abortion mills, Bolduc said he would review the law and within a week of the story breaking in the media, he backed down completely, saying the law, which takes effect in September, does not apply to abortion.

The Femina and Alternative abortion mills said the cost of renovations to comply with sterile operating rooms and ventilation requirements would have been $25,000, with both threatening to end committing abortions. Francine Leger, who has committed abortions for 26 years and now works at the Morgentaler facility, which opened illegally in Montreal in 1969, also said it would shut down, rather than provide the safety and sanitation upgrades.

Abortionists and their media defenders quickly portrayed themselves as victims.

Leger told the Montreal Gazette, “It’s terribly sad” that abortionists “still have to fight.” Globe and Mail health reporter Andre Picard attacked what he claimed was the latest of the “cruelly endless number of ways to undermine access.”

But Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim the real victims are women seeking abortions. Hughes noted the safety of abortions at Morgentaler’s Montreal facility has always been problematic. “The level of care at the abortuary has always been questionable,” he said, recalling a Dec. 24, 1974 Montreal Gazette story reporting that the famous abortionist “used surgical instruments in a way not recommended by their makers while performing abortions.” Specifically, Morgentaler re-used disposable $3.30 vacurettes to save money, exposing women to infectious diseases.

Hughes accused Morgentaler and all abortion operators of “putting profits ahead of the safety of women.” He questioned why mill workers and abortion activists, “who claim to be defenders of women, would fight tooth and nail against improving the safety and sanitation of their abortuaries.”

Bolduc was initially criticized for vowing to uphold the law with special treatment for abortuaries and some physicians called for his resignation. But after consulting the Quebec College of Physicians, he reversed course. Yves Lamontagne, president of the college, said operating rooms were unnecessary for most abortions and therefore, abortion facilities should have been exempted from the law. Bolduc granted the exemption.

Francine Leger of the Morgentaler mill told the Gazette that complying with the law would have meant their facilities would be less welcoming to women seeking an abortion.

There are about 30,000 abortions done in Quebec each year and about one-third of them are committed in free-standing abortion mills, though they are paid for by taxpayers.