One of the most controversial topics globally is abortion. The issue is intensely personal and the conversations usually descend into morality, human rights and determining the beginning of life. In many developed nations including Canada, public opinion is largely favourable to abortion.
Canada is indeed an interesting case study. Despite the country having no laws on the topic, over 70 percent of Canadians believe abortion should be permitted. However, only 53 percent believe abortion should be whenever the woman decides. This is fascinating. Despite what politicians tell us, the debate on abortion is not about whether the procedure should be permitted — but when.
I decided to do an entire Podcast series on the abortion debate in Canada with this simple objective: learn as much about the topic from people and organizations working in this space every day. I was amazed at how little I knew.
- I discussed abortion with four organizations (two pro-life, two pro-choice):
- (Pro-Life) Cameron Côté, Western Outreach Director, Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform
- (Pro-Life) Jakki Jeffs, Executive Director, Alliance for Life Ontario
- (Pro-Choice) Joyce Arthur, Executive Director and Founder, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
- (Pro-Choice) Jill Doctoroff, Executive Director, National Abortion Federation
Here is what I learned.
Education and Awareness is Vital.
Growing up in Canada, I had never been exposed to the medical procedure of abortion. I did not learn about abortion in school, nor did my general physician openly discuss the topic with me. Throughout my teenage years and into my University days, abortion was discussed amongst friends but never formally taught. I had no idea where abortion clinics were, but it seemed these clinics were the best places to become informed about the procedure.
And I think about the approximately 90,000 abortions completed every year in Canada and wonder: how many women, partners and families feel the same way? Did the individuals feel prepared to make an informed decision?
Across all groups I interviewed, there was a commonality: education and awareness on abortion was missing. Were families, partners and women aware of the maternity homes and other social supports for raising children? Were General Physicians trained to handle conversations on abortion as a consideration? Was there a trust that was built for women, partners and families to feel safe raising the topic with the Doctor?
The resounding answer was: no. Perhaps this is why both pro-life and pro-choice groups seek to fill this void with undertaking education and awareness campaigns. Could the government undertake awareness campaigns of their own that seek to inform citizens of all options when it comes to family planning? Could we build family planning into our schools somehow to ensure we are all aware of abortion as a choice? Certainly there are risks with these approaches, but the absence of formal education on the topic was something both groups noted.
Actively Work Against De-Stigmatizing Abortion.
Women, partners and family members face stigma when openly discussing their decision(s) to have an abortion. This is troubling as the lack of open discussion can prevent honest conversations on weighing options.
While people will continue to have their own perceptions on abortion, governments should be proactive in helping to foster and create safe spaces for women, partners and families to discuss the procedure.
It was not that long ago when illict drug use faced a high level of stigmatization. Illegal drug consumption is a criminal offence, however I have noticed a willingness in doctors offices and walk-in clinics to discuss, in a formal manner, drug use and information on safe practices. This method may encourage people over time to discuss drug use with health providers to be informed. We cannot stop or prevent drug use, but we can spread information on safe practices.
Perhaps a similar method can be used for abortion.
Be Skeptical of Politicians who Quickly Declare themselves as the “Pro-Life/Choice Candidate”
In my view, governments must be conduits of the Will of the people. Governments should not dictate this Will to the people. And it is clear not all have their minds settled on abortion. Nor will they.
It is therefore impossible, or deliberately irresponsible for any politician to declare themselves Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. Such a statement furthers a very polarizing debate and does not address the two main points indicated above.
Citizens do not need politicians to declare their stanceabortion. Instead, we have to rely on governments to provide the necessary supports to women, partners and families to make informed decisions on family planning that is best for them.
I came into the Abortion debate knowing very little. I leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation for all sides of the conversation. And this is what we are missing in our discourse today: meaningful conversation.
On the issue of abortion, we owe it to be as informed as possible. It’s too important. And, we need to let our elected leaders know not to take a side in this debate. But double-down on the commitment to increase education and destigmatization.
Perhaps then, we’ll get to a safer place when discussing the topic.