Abortion Review

On February 8, Health Minister Graham Taylor announced the formation of a six-member committee to review the approval of therapeutic abortions in Saskatchewan hospitals. The committee will examine all applications to Therapeutic Abortion Committees (TACs) made during the past 12 months, to see if approved abortions meet the conditions set out in the Criminal Code.

When the Conservative government, headed by Grant Devine, was elected in Saskatchewan two years ago, pro-lifers were hopeful of a change for the better in the province’s abortion rates. Devine’s conservatives had run their campaign with a pro-life platform.

It has taken two years of constant pressure, from Saskatchewan pro-life groups, and many frustrations and disappointments, to persuade the government to begin to act on its pre-election promises.

The committee is supposed to review various matters, including:

● conditions set by each TAC for applications – that is, if prior consultation with a second physician or a psychiatrist is required

● each decision made, including the reasons for the decision

● the type of medical staff performing abortions, the type of hospital facilities, staffing and services provided

● the circumstances under which first and second-trimester abortions are performed

● the medical and health implications associated with the abortions performed

● the procedures for obtaining consent for an abortion and the type of consent received, particularly with regard to spousal consent and consent for women under 18

The recommendations made by the committee will depend on how it examines the abortion certificates provided by the individual hospitals. Criminal code regulations provide for abortion where necessary “to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

The strict interpretation of the word “health” is the physical health of the mother. However, many TACs prefer to interpret the word “health” through the definition provided by the World Health Organization. This states: “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not simply the absence of illness and disease.”

Campaign Life Saskatchewan feels that the recommendations from the committee will depend totally on the bias of the six members. They view the committee’s appointment with “cautious optimism.” At this time, only two (five members of the committee are doctors) are known to be pro-life. Donna Darbellay of Campaign Life says, “It could be good; we don’t know. Or, it could be a political move.”

The committee is not expected to hear presentations from interest groups. It will be making periodic reports to the Health Minister rather than waiting for a final report. Before long, then, we should know whether its recommendations will have some substance.