Nova Scotia has become the newest abortion battleground in Canada. A threat by Henry Morgentaler to open an abortuary here in Halifax has forced the once silent issue out into the open.
The media can no longer ignore the issue of abortion. No longer can government hide from public view the fact that over 1700 abortions take place yearly in Nova Scotia hospitals. In fact, government strategy against Morgentaler has mainly consisted of an admission that Nova Scotia already provides one of the best abortion services in Canada.
In March Morgentaler vowed he would have an abortion clinic operating in Halifax by June. From the time Morgentaler first announced his intentions, the Nova Scotia Government has consistently and openly declared that a free-standing abortion clinic is neither wanted nor needed here.
All three political parties are in agreement with the banning of free-standing abortion clinics in Nova Scotia. However, all three party representatives have consistently defended the provision of abortion services in Nova Scotia.
The government’s position
In March, Health Minister David Nantes and Attorney General Tom McInnis announced that they would change provincial regulations within the Hospital Act and Health Act to ban abortions that aren’t performed in a hospital. They also introduced an Act to cut off Medicare funding for abortions done outside provincially approved hospitals.
On May 8, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) filed documents with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court trial division challenging the province’s new abortion law.
Attorney General Tom McInnis responded by vowing to fight the court challenge, saying he is “reasonably confident the province is on firm ground.” He also stated that the government was considering “other options to keep Morgentaler out of Nova Scotia.”
Henry Morgentaler offered the Halifax clinic to the government at cost, on the condition it remain a free-standing abortion clinic for women of Atlantic Canada until other facilities are available. Premier John Buchanan replied, saying that the government would not consider Morgentaler’s suggestion. He added, “Either one way or the other, we’re going to keep him away.”
In a surprise move on June 6, Minister David Nantes announced “An Act to Restrict Privatization of Medical Services.” Nantes said the reason behind the bill is “to put a cap on expensive procedures by doctors.”
There was a great deal of reaction to this Act, especially from Henry Morgentaler, who said, “The new bill is worse than the previous one. It’s an attempt to shore up the government’s case against abortion.” What annoyed Morgentaler was not only the act to prevent privatization of abortion, but the fine of up to $50,000 for abusing the act!
There was also reaction from the N.S. Medical Society and from Jim Smith, a
Liberal MLA and family doctor. They did not object to the act itself, but to specific procedures which they felt should be privatized. A meeting with the medical society has been held and an agreement has yet to be reached concerning which procedures should not be privatized.
On June 13, CARAL asked for an adjournment of the June 22 court date. They are asking for an August date instead and plan to include the privatization act in their challenge.
Throughout the whole debate, one thing has remained constant. The government has continued to proudly defend the provision of abortion services in Nova Scotia’s hospitals.
On May 30, the committee on Community Services, a standing committee of the Nova Scotia House Assembly, investigated the Termination of Pregnancy Unit at the Victoria General Hospital. Called to witness at the hearing were Dr. Robert Fraser, Head of Department of Gynecology, Dr. Dennis Johnston, Director of Termination of Pregnancy Unit, and Ms Nargis Demolitor, Nurse Coordinator, Termination of Pregnancy Unit.
The testimony given at the hearing, as recorded in Hansard, clearly indicated that counseling of clients prior to and after abortions is inadequate. Those MLAs present were surprised at the admission that most abortions are performed on women 25 – 35 years of age and that 30 percent are repeaters.
Dr. Johnston described the methods of abortion used. He was careful to use the abortionist’s terms such as “the pregnancy is removed” and “products of conception pass.” Johnston testified that “We do about 1700-1800 abortions a year at the Termination of Pregnancy Unit at the V.G. Hospital.” He stated that, in 1988, 82 saline abortions were performed. He indicated that nursing and anesthetic staff find the later abortions particularly unpleasant. There are only five doctors now willing to “perform” abortions at the V.G. since five others recently refused to do any more.
Most of the questions asked at the hearing were directed to whether of not the “service” at the V.G. was adequate. It was apparent that Government was conducting the hearing to establish that a free-standing abortion clinic was not needed. No one questioned the provision of abortion on demand at the hospital.
I was at the hearing as an official observer and was unable to speak of ask questions. I learned a great deal, however, not so much about the hospital, but about the attitude of MLAs who were present. Alexa McDonough of the NDP stood out as a hard-core supporter of abortion on demand. She supported the government’s efforts to prevent Morgentaler from setting up an abortuary, but she also asked that CARAL and the Status of Women be invited to address the committee. She was also quoted in the Daily News (June 6) as stating that Nova Scotia must provide abortion “services” for all women in the Atlantic Provinces.
The Pro-life response
The Pro-life movement in Nova Scotia has found itself in a dilemma. We cannot accept the government’s seemingly callous attitude towards the slaughter of pre-born babies taking place in provincial hospitals. Yet we stand behind its efforts to stop this evil from spreading beyond hospital walls.
We cannot compromise our principles and defend the slaughter of children in our hospitals. Yet we must do all we can to ensure that an even greater number of pre-born children do not become the victims of free-wheeling abortionists.
After a great deal of strategy planning, we decided to direct our efforts primarily into fighting the establishment of an abortuary. At the same time we have been continually reminding government and the media that we are against all abortions, whether they are performed in a hospital or in a “clinic.”
The threat of a Halifax abortuary has given us the atmosphere and the leverage needed to bring the abortion issue out into the open. We have embarked upon a massive education blitz. We have inserted 88,000 pamphlets into the largest metro newspaper. We have sent each MP and MLA videos which show the true nature of abortion. We have had meetings with Health Minister David Nantes, as well as opposition Liberal Critic Sandi Joli. We brought Carol Everett to Nova Scotia to testify to her experience with the abortion industry in Dallas, Texas. She met with both Nantes and Joli, and gave a public presentation to over 300 people. We gave a two-hour presentation to the Liberal Caucus and expect to present the issue to the Conservative Caucus shortly.
Our presentation does not dwell on Henry Morgentaler and his proposed abortuary. It deals with abortion itself. The government has been made fully aware that stopping Morgentaler is only the first battle in our war against abortion in Nova Scotia. We have asked the health minister to institute informed decision making, as well as professional counseling prior to as well as following abortions. This will reduce the numbers of abortions until such time as all direct, planned abortions cease. We do not consider this a compromise but rather a second step towards our goal. We have recently written asking the government to invoke the notwithstanding clause if necessary to save our future, and to save the lives of future Nova Scotian children.
Our efforts have not been in vain. The Morgentaler clinic is open but is not performing abortions. They are operating a so-called counseling and referral centre. We have voiced our objections and are picketing at least once a week.
Government has agreed to hire a professional social worker for pre-and post-abortion counseling. They have instituted follow-up procedures as well. We feel that Health Minister David Nantes is genuinely concerned about the abortions taking place in hospitals. And we expect their numbers to drop during his term of office.
We are determined to prevent Morgentaler and other abortionists from gaining a foothold in this province. But that is only the beginning. We will not rest until Nova Scotia becomes the next abortion-free province in Canada.