On January 9, CBC TV (CFQC-11 pm news) announced that University Hospital in Saskatoon would stop performing abortions on women more than 12 weeks pregnant. It was stated that second-trimester abortions at University Hospital accounted for two-thirds of the approx. 100 abortions done at the hospital in 1984 and that it was the only hospital in the province performing second-trimester abortions.
It was reported that the hospital board made this decision late in December, based on “medical reasons.” Hospital executive director, Tony Dagnone, presented information from the obstetrics and gynecology department, as well as correspondence from citizens that supported the Board’s decision. The report also noted that a citizens’ group had complained that this was ignoring “women’s needs” and that they would hold a news conference the following day.
In mid November a very reliable hospital source had confidentially informed this correspondent that the decision to stop performing second-trimester abortions at the hospital would come into effect on January 1. Only one doctor was performing these abortions and he was using the prostaglandin injection method. (This method of abortion involves an injection which causes the mother to go into premature labor. In a late second-trimester abortion, there is a good chance that the baby would be delivered alive, as the injection itself does not kill the child.) Other hospital sources have reported that babies have been born alive and this, understandably, upsets hospital staff.
Pro-abortion activists started to alert their supporters of this hospital decision in mid-November. At a National Film Board showing of the Pro-Morgentaler film, Democracy on Trial, leaflets were handed out asking for the decision to be protested. Pro-life groups in Saskatoon also informed their supporters and asked them to back up the hospital’s decision.
On January 10, again on the 11 pm news, Dr. David Popkin, head of obstetrics and gynecology at the hospital, announced in an interview that University Hospital had made a change in its abortion policy but that it was not true that they were going to eliminate second-trimester abortions. He said that the new policy was to change the method of abortion from prostaglandin to that of dilation and evacuation. (In this method of abortion, the cervix is dilated and the doctor removes the child, piece by piece, with forceps.) This was confirmed in a press release issued by executive director Dagnone, who stated, “Terminations will continue to be performed up to the 20th week, using the safest possible procedure.”
The pro-life groups, who had issued their own press release the previous day supporting the hospital, were now forced to call the media and withdraw their statement of support.
On January 11, a hospital spokesman, Mr. McBurney, stated in a telephone call that the hospital was indeed stopping second trimester abortions. Yet a call to the CBC newsman who interviewed Dr. Popkin confirmed that what was broadcast the night before was true: the decision was only to change the method of abortion. However, our reliable source reported that second-trimester abortions were no longer to be performed at University Hospital.
It appeared that the hospital was playing games with the public, with themselves and with the lives and health of the mothers and their unborn children.
A call to Sheila Robertson, a reporter for the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix assigned to the hospital abortion story, gleaned the information that the abortion decision was not a decision taken by the Hospital Board but that the Board supported the decision of the obstetrics and gynecology department. This was subsequently verified by our source at the hospital.
As it stands now, the truth seems to be that second-trimester abortions will not be performed — except for “genetic reasons.” That is, the mongoloid or brain-damaged child and other “genetic” cases.
The Pro-Life Society of Saskatoon is not happy about the exceptions but does feel that on the whole the decision is an improvement on policy and, perhaps, a minor pro-life victory.
Cecilia Forsyth is president of Saskatoon pro-life.