Life is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions and no where more so than the ban on capital punishment and the condoning of unrestricted abortion on demand. Those who condemn the practice of capital punishment on moral or ethical grounds are often the same ones who insist that women must have the right to demand an abortion at any time from conception to birth.
Here in Canada the state protects the lives of even its most notorious residents, including rapists, serial killers and unrepentant child molesters. The worst legal fate to befall the Clifford Olsons, Paul Bernardos and the countless child molesters is a lifetime behind bars—no death penalty for them. In fact, even foreigners can seek refuge in Canada from the mere threat of a death sentence in their own country.
According to a January 2010 poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion, 62 per cent of respondents in Canada support relying on the death penalty for homicide convictions, and 10 per cent were not sure. Yet, the death penalty is banned in Canada.
Many who do not favour the death penalty, of course, are more concerned about wrongful conviction, that morality or ethics—and given the recent wrongful convictions we have heard about, who can blame them. (Since abolition, at least, six Canadian prisoners convicted of first-degree murder have been released on grounds of innocence.)
But many with strongly held views base their opposition on a belief that the death penalty violates the right to life, making it the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
“Anecdotally, as an ethicist, I have been consulted in a professional capacity on two late-term abortions, both of which were carried out. One involved a 34-week gestation pregnancy, where the mother was an unmarried graduate student from a foreign country; the other a 32-week gestation pregnancy, where the married parents did not want to have a ‘defective child’—the baby had a cleft palate (a relatively minor physical deformity that can be largely corrected with surgery).”
– Margaret Somerville,
Yet, Canada, because it extends no legal protection to them, condemns tens of thousands of unborn babies to death each year, even those in late stages of pregnancy, known as post-viability abortions1.
How can the life of a child in the later stages of pregnancy be less valuable than Clifford Olson’s or Paul Bernardo’s?
Many who support abortion on demand would have us believe there are almost no cases of late-term abortions in Canada. Earlier this month, Margaret Wente wrote in the Globe and Mail: “Virtually no late-term abortions—the rarest and most contentious kind—are performed here, even though they’re legal.” Recent comments on this blog have also echoed this, apparently, wide-held myth.
Margaret Somerville, the Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University has addressed this myth in an article in The Montreal Gazette. She writes:
“The facts on late-term abortions are intentionally made difficult to obtain. Some time ago, I contacted a staff member at Statistics Canada to ask about the numbers of late-term abortions. She told me they were instructed for political reasons not to collect statistics on the gestational age at which abortion occurs. She explained, however, that hospitals must report the number of abortions and about 45 per cent had continued to report gestational age. From these unsolicited reports, it’s known that at least 400 post-viability abortions take place in Canada each year and the actual number is most probably more than twice that.”
In May, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted an all-party motion in favour of unrestricted access to free abortion, with no limitations mentioned. And, according to Ms. Somerville, there was a media report that “the Quebec government sent a specialist obstetrician to the United States for training in late-term abortion.”
The notable ethicist also writes that “there is a special clinic for post-22-weeks gestation abortion in downtown Montreal and that there is one designated hospital for abortion of 20- to 22-week gestation pregnancies.”
The unavailability of statistical data obscures the the reality of late-term abortions in Canada and allows the pro-choice lobby to duck the moral or ethical debate of the sort Canadians seem more than willing to have on capital punishment.
On the one hand, the pro-choice lobby argues that because late-term abortions are rare, we do not need any law on abortion. On the other hand, even though capital punishment was extremely rare (1,481 people were sentenced to death, with 710 executed) in Canada, it should be abolished.
So, we are outraged that over several decades 710 residents of Canada were executed by the state for serious crimes, but have no moral or ethical dilemma over 400, at least, late-term abortions each and every year.
1The Canadian Medical Association sets viability (some chance of the child living outside the womb) at 20 weeks gestation.