After a full year of lobbying by pro-life groups, individuals and Members of Parliament, the new Minister responsible for Statistics Canada has revealed that the agency will resume complete data gathering and publication of statistics on abortion each year.
In a recent letter the Hon. Michel Cote states: “I am pleased to be able to inform you that the therapeutic abortion statistics program at Statistics Canada will be continued and enhanced… The full range of data, including statistics on social and medical characteristics, will be produced every year, rather than every three years, as previously indicated.”
The Therapeutic Abortion Programme was cancelled entirely in August 1986. At that time the Minister responsible, the Hon. Monique Vezina, cited federal budget cuts as the reason for the demise of the programme. As well, Vezina noted that the statistics provided by the programme “were incomplete and potentially misleading in that they covered only those abortions performed in hospitals, therefore underestimating the total number of abortions carried out in Canada.”
Following questions on the cancellation of the programme in the House of Commons by Gus Mitges (Grey Simcoe) and John Oostrom (Willowdale), Vezina announced a partial reinstatement in October of 1986. Estimates of the number of abortions performed, both legally in hospitals and illegally in Quebecs CLSC clinics, were to be published each year. Complete statistical information, including socio-demographic and medical data, was to be collected, analysed and published every three years.
After a year of protest by pro-lifers, Cote, who replaced Vezina several months ago, now says the budgetary and incomplete data problems have been solved:
“The provincial Departments of Health have agreed to work towards providing information in electronic form, thereby enabling Statistics Canada to conduct this program at a significantly lower cost. They have also agreed to provide Statistics Canada with access to records of medical payments paid towards abortions performed outside of Canadian hospitals, thereby enabling the Agency to provide more complete data than were previously available.”
Details of the new programme have not been finalized. It is not known, for example, if illegal clinic abortions will be recorded separately from those performed under the provisions of the Criminal Code.
“It is extremely important that these numbers be kept separate,” said Anna Desilets, Executive Director of Alliance for Life. “Illegal abortions will be given an air of respectability if they are simply included with the data on legal abortions. We would like to see a specific designation of legal or illegal abortion in the statistics.” Mrs. Desilets said that Alliance for Life has written to Cote with that “strongly worded request.”
The last published statistics on abortion were for the year 1985. It is not known whether statistics will now be collected and published for 1986 and 1987. In any event, new statistical information is not expected until 1989, as the normal lapse between the year of collection and the year of publication is nearly two years.