How much does abortion cost taxpayers?

Abortion costs Canadians taxpayers at least $80 million a year.
Government is less than open about the costs of abortion (and other abortion numbers).
If abortion is real health care, why is everything about it a secret?

When Alissa Golob, head of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, started to prepare for the Oct. 22 Defund Abortion Rally at Queen’s Park she began researching the issue and found it difficult, if not impossible, to find reliable numbers about the cost of abortion. Despite the fact that every province funds abortion, not one of them releases data about how much it spends on the procedure. So the task of determining how much taxpayers are on the hook for paying for abortions is a complicated one.

Golob and her CLC colleagues examined data from pro-life and pro-abortion sources and came up with an average cost of $800, the same figure used by Life Canada in its educational material and, perhaps surprisingly, pro-abortion groups. The main data comes from Joyce Arthur of the Pro-Choice Action Network. In 2002, Arthur noted that early abortions carried out in private abortion mills typically cost between $450 and $550 while first trimester abortions in hospitals cost between $900 and $1200. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has estimated the same costs to taxpayers. In 2006, the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton charged women between $500-$750 for an abortion.

Considering that most abortions are done in hospitals, Golob calculated that the average cost would be $800 and with at least 32,351 abortions in Ontario in 2007 (according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information) and perhaps as many as 51,060 (based on Life Canada calculations of numbers from the Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report), the $30 million annual figure is probably low-balling it. It should also be noted that those costs are based on numbers from 2002 and there is more than a distinct possibility that costs have risen in the intervening nine years.

CLCY’s Facebook page for the Defund Abortion  Rally attracted pro-life and pro-abortion comment and numerous abortion supporters questioned its estimate of $30 million for Ontario abortions. Yet, Joyce Arthur herself commented on the webpage defending the figure saying “it seems accurate.”

Looking at Canada as a whole, the public spends $80 million on the direct costs of abortion based on the yearly average of 100,000 surgical abortions in Canada at the low and out-dated estimate of $800 per abortion.

(The estimate also underplays the higher costs of the growing number of late-term abortions. Of course, hospitals no longer release figures for when abortions are carried out as they used to in the 1970s and early 1980s, but figures from other developed countries show that while abortion rates are declining slightly, the number of late-term abortions is growing steadily.)

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim that it is “ridiculous that the government hides the cost of abortion from taxpayers,” asking “where is the accountability?” He said it is in everyone’s interests to know how tax dollars are being spent and noted that if abortion was like regular health care procedures, it would not be shrouded in secrecy.

Hughes also notes that the $30 million annual figure for Ontario and $80 million for all of Canada is not only a low estimate of the direct cost of procuring abortions at hospitals and abortion mills, but an incomplete tallying of the total costs. The Ontario government pays for the security of the Morgentaler abortuary in Toronto, it pays for residents from the north to travel to southern Ontario to obtain abortions, and both Ontario and Quebec have paid for women to travel to the United States for late-term abortions. It goes without saying that the provinces will not release those costs either.

Furthermore, there are also the costs for treating complications including infections, uterine perforations, cervical lacerations, bowel and bladder injuries, problems with anesthesia, removal of the retained products of conception (essentially a second abortion to clean out what the abortionist missed in the first procedure), endotoxic shock, pain and fevers, and hemorrhages. No province releases statistics related to abortion complications and few even maintain such records. The Springfield, Ill.-based Elliot Institute reports that statistics from other countries indicate that 10 per cent of women who have abortions suffer immediate complications with one-fifth of them facing “major” complications. However, other studies suggest complication rates are higher: a study published in the Lancet suggests the infection rates are actually much higher, with about a quarter of women requiring treatment for an infection after abortion, and Dr. Jack Willke’s Abortion Handbook noted that in the 1970s that 12.5 per cent of women needed stitching for cervical lacerations.

There are other long-term effects of abortion including breast cancer, depression, pelvic inflammatory disease, and infertility, and other reproductive problems. The 1994 Canadian Report of the Committee on the Abortion Law found that women who have abortions visit their family doctors 80 per cent more often than women in general, confirming an earlier American study that found women who have abortions suffer from overall poorer health afterward.

A Canadian study found that while three per cent of women in a control group visited a psychiatrist, 25 per cent of women who have had an abortion have used a psychiatrist. A California study has determined that women who have an abortion are 160 per cent more likely to require hospitalization for psychiatric treatment 90 days after undergoing an abortion and have higher hospitalization rates up to four years later.

Abortion causes damage to the reproductive system of women with 2-3 per cent being rendered infertile and women who have an abortion are two to five times more likely to experience difficulties during subsequent pregnancy.

The costs of treating infertility and subsequent pregnancy problems, as well as depression and lower overall health, can be added to the health care bill that no one is counting.

The $80 million annual national bill and $30 million Ontario bill is a conservative estimate and even then it fails to take into consideration the costs for complications which can be substantial. But there is another way the dollar figure fails to capture the costs of abortion. CLCY has a YouTube video promoting the Defund Abortion Rally and they point out the opportunity cost of wasting $30 million annually on abortion. Opportunity cost is what is given up by buying something. In Ontario, they note, $30 million could pay for 200 family physicians, 400 nurses, or 20 MRI machines. Extrapolating nationally, the choice is between funding for 100,000 abortions, or 1066 nurses, 533 doctors, or 53 MRI machines. At a time when 4.1 million Canadians are without a family doctor and waiting times for diagnostic imaging exceed the medically recommended time frame for care, $30 million each year could be redirected to more pressing health care needs.

Polls show that the public does not support the status quo of funding (nearly) all abortions. Annual Life Canada-sponsored Environics polls consistently found that a majority of Canadians wanted abortion to be seldom or never funded. You might dismiss those numbers because of the sponsoring organization, but Angus Reid Public Opinion released a poll in January 2010 that showed only 43 per cent support all abortions being funded by the public health care system, while 41 per cent thought they should be paid for by taxpayers only “in the event of medical emergencies”, and 7 per cent said they should not be funded at all. In May of this year, Abacus Data released a poll that found 45 per cent of respondents supporting the funding of all abortions whereas 22 per cent thought they should be paid for “only in extreme cases” and another 20 per cent said women should pay for their own abortion (another seven per cent said abortion should not be available at all).

The public is split on the issue of funding abortion with public money and that means the issue should at least be debated in the public square. However, politicians will not touch the issue with a proverbial ten-foot pole. The last time defunding abortion was a political issue was 1991 when 61 per cent of Saskatchewan voters supported a non-binding referendum calling for cessation of taxpayer funding for abortion. However, the NDP won power in that same election and ignored the referendum results.

Of course, the misspent taxpayer dollars pales in comparison to the real cost of abortion: more than 3 million lost lives since 1969. Hughes said, “it should offend everyone that governments waste so much money killing defenseless unborn children and that they hide those costs, but it is so much more offensive that the government permits the killing of children in their mother’s wombs in the first place.”

It may seem callous to apply the concept of opportunity cost to children lost forever because of their mother’s choice to eliminate them, but what brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, co-workers, and neighbours have not existed because of abortion in Canada? That is a cost to which it is impossible to put a dollar figure.

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