Therapeutic Abortion Committees are a farce; we’ve known that for a long time. But now the fight is moving into the courtroom, as evidence of illegal abortions at Kingston General Hospital has reached public attention.
Let’s back up to January 23, 1986. At 10:22 a.m., 18-year-old Erin Shannon suffered a massive and fatal cardiac arrest during a D & E abortion at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. A coroner’s inquest was subsequently held in order to examine the circumstances surrounding her death. The inquest was complicated by one question: how could Erin have been in the operating room at 10:a05 a.m. (and her request for an abortion marked ‘approved’ at 8:30 a.m. on her hospital record), if the TAC had not even met to discuss the case until 10:00 a.m.?
In due course, Dr. Paul McKenzie, coordinator of the therapeutic abortion unit at Kingston General Hospital, was called by the coroner as its expert witness. Dr. McKenzie, in outlining the working of the TAC at KGH, stated that the committee did not actually meet, but the necessary signatures were obtained. “by taking the applications around to the various doctors once a week.”
The Criminal Code of Canada states very clearly that an abortion is legal only if the majority of members of a TAC approve a request for an abortion at a “meeting of the committee.” Thus sworn testimony confirms that KGH has been performing abortions in contravention of the Criminal Code.
Mary-Ellen Douglas, President of Campaign Life Ontario, was quick to act on McKenzie’s testimony. St last year’s meeting of KGH governors, she put forward a motion that the TAC at the hospital be disbanded until the committee was able to “give full assurance to the board of directors that its activities in the future” would not violate the Criminal Code. Chairman George Speal ruled her motion out of order, stating as his reason the fact that no notice of motion was given.
Way out of line
At this year’s meeting of the governors, Douglas tried again to have the TAC disbanded on the same grounds. Her notice was delivered a week prior to the meeting, thus giving Chairman Speal ample time to mail it out to other members of the board of governors. Speal then acted to prevent the issue from coming up for debate. He neglected to mail out the motion, and, at the meeting, ruled that the motion could not be considered because the governors had no notice of motion. Speal then proceeded to refer the motion to hospital management.
Needless to say, Douglas was furious. “It looked like Mr. Speal arbitrarily referred it …The whole procedure was way out of line.” Speal, on the other hand, remained quite unruffled; He suggested that the problem is a procedural one. “The process is more important than the issue. You want a fair and open discussion,” he said.
Douglas wondered how he justified this statement. It is not written anywhere in the hospital’s bylaws that a notice of motion is required, she pointed out. (Although it may be interesting to note that the hospital’s bylaws do require that the TAC actually meet to discuss abortion applications.)
The Chairman appears to be making up the rules as he goes along. At the meeting, Speal stated that as Chairman he was entitled to arbitrarily refer the motion. It seems that Speal is using ‘procedure’ as a ruse to avoid the real issue; whether or not KGH has been performing abortions in contravention of the Criminal Code.
Dr. McKenzie obviously feels that there is no problem here; “We don’t consider ourselves in violation of the law,” he said. KGH president and chief executive officer Ken McGeorges agrees. “The Criminal Code is a piece of legislation that must be interpreted. There is some interpretation as to what constitutes a meeting,” he claims.
When asked about this, Campaign Life legal counsel Paul Dodds replied, “McKenzie’s remarks are complete and utter nonsense. There is no ambiguity about the meaning of the word “meeting” – the members must actually meet. How stupid does McGoerge think people are?”
Dodds believes that the KGH board of directors did not follow its own bylaws, and that there is a basis for legal action. “The hospital is subject to court review. The courts can force a public body to comply with its own rules of procedure.”
Douglas is ready and armed to take her fight to the courtroom. She is presently consulting lawyers to determine what form her action must take. Her determination holds out much hope for the pro-life movement, especially from the legal standpoint.
Hospitals may soon be more inclined to run their TACs to the letter of the law, rather than taking the risk of incurring costly and embarrassing legal action. And as Douglas pointed out, “we’ve been saying all along that abortions were being granted for reasons other than medical ones. Perhaps this case will show that what we’ve been saying all along is the truth.”