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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Facts, Propaganda and Somerville

It's easy to use facts and statistics to support your own view of the world. And fun too. I do it all the time. How can we tell when something is a bunch of hooey? Well, Dear Reader, part of what you have to do is educate yourself. Look to good sources. And then look at some more. Let's take Margaret Somerville, for example. She's an ethicist and director at the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University. Wow, good source. Or is she? This is a smart person, someone with excellent credentials, and way more letters after her name than me and my little M.Ed.

But when it comes to abortion, even the best vision gets myopic. MS is anti-choice and doesn't seem to think too much of me. In response to my point made in the G&M that restrictions on abortion are a way of punishing women for failing to conform to the ideals of the "good woman," she says "Restricing abortion is not a ruse of the patriarchy." (And please notice my fairmindedness, my willingness to put a critique of me up on my own blog.) I also love how she puts quotation marks around my identifier, "reproductive rights advocate." It gives me the feeling she doesn't think too much of that. I also get the feeling she doesn't much like feminists either. Well, I'm certainly both, so there you go.

Moving on, even though this ethicist says otherwise, restricing abortion actually is a tactic of patriarchy. And yes, it is a tactic, not a ruse. (For a good primer on patriarchy, try "I Blame the Patriarchy," one of my favourite blogs.) Restricing abortion is the ultimate means of denying a woman control of her own body. It's says, "Guess what? You thought you were in charge of yourself, but you're not." And if you're not, what or who is? That's a good question. Well, patriarchy is one option in the list of possible answers.

Do I have to say why the right to abortion is important again? Why don't you read this instead. This was feminism in 1971. All I could add now is that if I don't have control of my own body, I'm simply not a free person.

In another article, MS goes at it again. She's very prolific. She says firstly that there is no consensus about abortion (using Margaret Wente (!) as a source). In fairness, in my experience, ask 100 different people what they think about abortion, and give them some space for nuance, and you will get a hundred different answers. But there are identifiable themes within the nuance, and in the over-riding themes, there is consensus. The majority of Canadians identify as pro choice and there has been no change in this over the past decade.

But then it gets worse. MS goes on to say that there is a dearth of information about what abortions are performed in Canada and that this is purposefully done to invigorate the pro-choice side of the debate.

First of all MS fails to mention that, as with all medical procedures, the medical professions themselves have guidelines their practitioners must follow in order to remain in good standing in the professions. Their practice is regulated, and I personally feel that this regulation is more appropriately situated within the medical profession than put together by some random MP. I don't want said random MP telling me when my heart transplant is okay. I'd rather have my doctor do it. MS makes it sound like, without legislation controlling them, doctors are out there, willy-nilly, performing abortions at eight months and three weeks. They're not. "The majority of abortions occur in the first trimester. According to Statistics Canada, 0.7% of all abortions performed in 2003 occurred after 20 weeks of gestation, with 90% occurring in the first 12 weeks. The small percentage of late-term abortions which do occur were found to be primarily the result of discovering fatal or severe birth defects in the foetus, or because the mother’s life or health was at risk, or both." Stats Canada keeps the numbers. I personally used to receive an annual report on maternal outcomes from Alberta Health when I used to do more research. It had all the abortion numbers too. It wasn't hard to find at all.

At any rate the quote above comes from some real myth busting about abortion, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. This article does a much better job of it than MS.

And don't get me started on the anecdotal evidence. I can match anyone anecdote for anecdote. But this is already too long a post.

Here's another critique of MS, which I enjoyed. This critic takes on MS's anti-choice perspective. And here is one more, supporting the secular perspective on public policy.

On one thing MS and I do agree. Everything is ideological. Or in other words, to use the famous feminist maxim, the personal is political. In the post-modern world, there is no such thing as objectivity. What's the point?  Check your sources, and do your research.  And know the biases of the sources you use. Hopefully, they'll be honest about them. Have I mentioned I'm pro-choice?

Addendum: June 15, 2010

The critiques continue. I'll add this one from Vicki Saporta that appeared in the Letters to the Editor after MS's article was published in the Montreal Gazette. I'm printing this particularly because it clarifies the difference between where stats are avialable and who collects them. Stats Can reports the numbers, but they are collected by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Good to know.

Facts are available

Re: "Busting the abortion myths" (Opinion, June 1). Margaret Somerville's article relies on anecdotal evidence that supports her personal ideology rather than speaking to the unbiased, statistical evidence concerning abortion.

The majority of abortions in Canada are provided in the first trimester and there is statistical data to support this fact. In 1995, the responsibility for collecting abortion data was transferred from Statistics Canada to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Perhaps if Somerville had contacted the correct agency when writing this article, she would have learned that, according to the CIHT, in 2005, the percentage of abortions provided after 20 weeks was less than one percent (0.56 per cent).

Abortions after 20 weeks are provided in a hospital and data show they usually have a corresponding diagnostic code, which indicates a fetal or maternal complication. These are often heartbreaking cases of women who discovered late in very wanted pregnancies that their fetuses were diagnosed with fatal anomalies or that their health or life would be put at risk if they continued their pregnancies.

It is misleading and inaccurate to suggest that the facts on later abortion are somehow hidden from the Canadian people.

Vicki Saporta
President, National Abortion Federation Canada
Victoria, B.C.