Saturday, March 24, 2007

Late-term abortion research

I've been trying to find more information about late-term abortions in Canada.

According to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, the most common type of late-term abortion (past 20 weeks) is prostaglandin abortions (btw, they claim that partial birth abortion is practically not done in Canada-- for the time being I have no way of verifying this.) I assume that if they make the claim that it's the most common type of abortion, there is some truth to it-- after all, they lobby for the abortion industry itself.

Prostaglandin abortions are committed by administering a drug that causes contractions so strong that they kill the baby. As you might imagine, many "dreaded complications" i.e. live babies, result from this method. If the baby is young enough, he just dies on his own. Sometimes the baby is injected with a poison, such as potassium chloride.

After doing an internet search, I've unburied some interesting information about late-term abortions in Canada.

Late-term abortions are often not called abortions because they take place after 20 weeks gestation. Since the baby is considered potentially viable after this point, and the abortion is often for "health" reasons, they're called "genetic terminations" (in the case of babies with health issues) or inductions.

I note that the babies who die from these inductions can be considered "stillbirths" according to the Statistics Canada definition:

Fetal death (stillbirth) is death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy; the death is indicated by the fact that after such separation the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles. Only fetal deaths where the product of conception has a birth weight of 500 grams or more or the duration of pregnancy is 20 weeks or longer are registered in Canada.

Note how this definition does not exclude aborted babies.

We know that in 2003, at least 325 babies were aborted past 20 weeks. But those records are incomplete. Hospitals tend to be more thorough in their reporting, and abortion clinics often do not put down information like gestation (although clinics don't usually do late-term abortions because of the complications.)

Since late-term abortions are called "inductions" or "genetic terminations", not necessarily abortions, and there is nothing to exclude aborted babies from being termed "stillbirths", I have a hunch that there are more late-term abortions than we suspect.

I am not the first pro-lifer to suspect that late-term abortions are counted as "inductions" and not abortions. Joanne Byfield of Alberta Pro-Life made this observation in 2005:

In addition, although some late abortions are performed surgically, others are done by induction of labour in hospitals. These are usually the so-called “genetic terminations”, abortions done because doctors suspect the baby has some anomaly. These anomalies can range from serious defects, such as anencephaly to less serious and non-lethal conditions like spina bifida, Down syndrome or cleft palate. The tests used to determine these “defects” are often incorrect. These late procedures, though intended to kill the baby, are done by induction of labour so they do not show up in the abortion statistics. They are coded as stillbirths.

She continues:

We learned about these “genetic terminations” after nurses at Calgary's Foothills Hospital complained to the media in 1999 that they were being forced to assist in these late-term abortions and occasionally the babies did not die in the process. Rather, in several cases the babies survived the procedure and according to the nurses, the babies were given no assistance but left to die. One of the cases, which the hospital initially denied, was a 35-week baby that the nurses said lived for about 12 hours before dying. [NOTE: The RCMP investigated and concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing.]

The ensuing scandal and investigations led to a revision in the CPSA guidelines to include a provision that for “terminations” after 20 weeks of gestation, “patient and physician may consider feticide prior to initiating the termination procedure. Feticide may be done by intracardiac injection of KCl into the fetus in utero” Translation: Before doctors induce labour to kill the baby in the womb they can inject potassium chloride (a fertilizer which kills humans) into the baby's heart to ensure it will be dead before it is “born.” Dr. Busheikin and Ms. Posyniak failed to mention this guideline.

We have no idea how many of these “terminations” occur or the reasons for them. Alberta Pro-Life spent two years trying to get this information through the province's lame Freedom of Information process but to no avail.

I suspect that it's politically "safer" to code these procedures as "stillbirths" rather than abortions, given that most Canadians oppose late-term abortions. If you knew there were late-term abortions at your local hospital, wouldn't that raise your hackles? It would be easier to galvanize pro-life sentiment if such knowledge were public, now, wouldn't it?

Another thing that had made it easier to code abortions as stillbirths is the lack of a standard protocol for investigating stillbirths in Canada, or an internationally agreed-upon definition for stillbirth. The Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recently issued guidelines in the last year for investigating stillbirths. Yet, these seem to be guidelines. It remains to be seen if they will be implemented.

I happened upon this presentation about the lack of agreement on coding stillbirths. The study involved a number of professionals trying to judge what is or is not a stillbirth. Interestingly enough, one of the examples involved an 18-week "induction", which some considered to be a stillbirth. I saw an abstract of the study on another site, but I haven't been able to recover it.

I think that there should be more standards on this issue. We have the right to know how our tax-money is spent. There should be some kind of governmental investigation of late-term abortions/inductions and their coding in statistics. What happens if there are 1000 late-term abortions every year? That makes a big difference in the fetal rights debate. And aside from the fetal rights issue, there is also a wider publich health and social policy issue. These kinds of statistics are necessary for researchers.

Babies who die as the result of an induction should be acknowledged in the statistics. It is unnatural to compare the "stillbirth" of a 21-week fetus who had the misfortune of having Down Syndrome, to the stillbirth of an older fetus who dies of natural causes in the womb. One is a natural death, the other is procurred death. Of course, I have no hard evidence that late-term abortions are regularly coded as stillbirths, but I find it funny that at least one researcher found one coding professional (they are coded by a variety of people) who agreed it was a stillbirth.

If you have any more information on the subject of late-term abortion in Canada, I would appreciate your tips in the comments box.

My hunches have yet to be confirmed. But there is a lot of hidden information here. It seems all lost in the shadows. I will keep you updated if I find more.

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