Gestational limits are unwise
The cover feature of the August Interim is on gestational limits. We surveyed pro-life leaders and groups and asked if they supported incrementalism (which can be a good thing) and specifically gestational limits (which we think are a bad idea). That survey will appear online shortly. Today we’ve posed a special editorial that we ran alongside the survey in the paper’s centerspread, as opposed to the usual page four slot on our editorial page. In it we lay out our concerns about gestational limits as a pragmatic way to curb the abortion license. It is our view the idea of gestational limits is seductive — it appears to be common sense, it appears to have widespread public support and its appears to reduce abortion — we don’t think it is the wisest approach to reducing the number of abortions in Canada.
We don’t think it will do much to reduce abortion because any law will likely have exceptions (health of the mother, eugenic abortions for genetically ‘flawed’ preborn children, etc…). Few late-term abortions are done for lifestyle reasons, so the exceptions to the third trimester ban (or whenever limits kick in) will not lower the number of abortions by much. Furthermore unscrupulous doctors can lie about the reason for the abortion to qualify it under whatever exceptions are permitted by law or about the gestational age of the fetus. Indeed, according to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the United Kingdom, after England moved to a 24-week ban the number of late-term abortions actually increased. With increased use of prenatal diagnostic screening, late-term eugenic abortions will only increase and it seems unlikely that any gestational limit wouldn’t permit such an exception. So instead of saving thousands of preborn children from abortion, it might only save dozens.
We don’t think that the political will is there to pass a gestational law. Heck, M-312 doesn’t appear close to having the votes needed to pass. If passed, M-312 would require Parliament establish a parliamentary committee to investigate the medical and scientific evidence surrounding the preborn child to determine if it is a human being. We are nowhere near having the required votes to make expending political capital on a flawed measure such as gestational limits worth the time or effort. What proponents of gestational limits do not seem to understand is that the political reality in Canada right now means it would take as much political effort to open the door to a tiny abortion limit as it would a larger one, including a total ban. Why not go for the gusto if both are the proverbial Hail Mary pass?
We don’t think it is smart to go into political negotiations about an abortion law with a compromise position, especially one that compromises so much (and would be of dubious benefit as we explained earlier). It might be one thing to let the legislative negotiations result in a flawed compromise, but it seems ill-advised to let that compromise be the starting position for either the pro-life movement or pro-life legislators.
We support efforts to normalize discussion about abortion and that’s one benefit of promoting gestational limits, but there are more effective ways of bringing political discourse on abortion: procedure-based limits to ban the most heinous, defunding abortion to get taxpayers off the hook for personal lifestyle decisions, informed consent laws because women have the right-to-know about the procedure and its possible side-effects, and parental notification laws so minors would have to let their parents know before getting an abortion (just like having any other surgery). These measures would do more to reduce abortion and also appear to have the public’s backing, and they would allow us to discuss abortion on policy areas in which we still have the upper hand. However, these would require political mobilization at the provincial level because they are would fall under health care regulations, not criminal law.
We did not have room in the editorial for an important point that would have been good to make: in the United States, despite there being 50 state laboratories of democracy and hundreds of pro-life groups, the use of gestational limits has been eschewed as a strategy to reduce abortion. We should follow their prudent and wise example and likewise resist the seductive simplicity of the gestational approach to limiting abortion. (One might counter that Arizona’s law banning late-term abortions is a time-limited abortion restriction — the U.S. District Court recently upheld the law — but it’s actually a fetal pain restriction that has a time-period reference within it.)
I encourage you to read the editorial.
Campaign Life Coalition also opposes gestational limits and in their July CLC National News (pdf) they outline different reasons than ours for their disavowal of this approach. We share this sentiment: “We pray for unity within the pro-life movement, but we do not seek unity at the cost of principle. We pray for charity in dealing with each other and understanding and love in working for our common goal. ” We are not working against those who are promoting gestational limits; we are trying to persuade them and the larger pro-life movement that there are better ways of advancing the cause of life. Disagreement should not be viewed as seditious to the movement (and that counsel applies to all sides). A healthy discussion among pro-lifers can be a good thing. Our July editorial and the survey is The Interim‘s contribution to that discussion.