The Anglican Church of Canada welcomes -- with some reservations -- the federal government's initiative in bringing forward legislation to regulate abortion in Canada. While there are important areas of concern which the Bill does not address, we would give cautious support to its provisions, as far as they go, and we express the hope that it will be open to amendment in the parliamentary process.
The Anglican Church is pleased the Bill is not based on a gestational approach, which devalues the unborn in the early stages of development. A non-gestational approach accords with the Church's opposition to any arbitrary division which would make early abortion available on demand. The Church's fundamental position is that "abortion is always the taking of a human life and, in our view, should never be done except for serious therapeutic reasons".
We think it right to try to establish a balance between the legitimate rights of women and the state's interest in the foetus.
We think it right to distinguish between contraception and abortion.
However, we question a number of matters in the legislation itself, and would raise some issues that are not included in the Bill; namely:
- we are dismayed that it includes criminal sanctions against women
- we question whether the measure will actually protect the foetus. The Bill allows its life to be taken if one physician agrees that a woman's physical, mental, or psychological health would be likely to be threatened if the pregnancy continues. The Anglican Church, in its resolutions, accepts abortion as a therapeutic measure where pregnancy endangers a woman's life or physical or mental health. But the language of "threat" provides not clear standard. Will a serious threat be required -- a balancing of rights -- or will a minor one do ? Neither the woman's rights not the foetal rights are clear.
- we would prefer the legislation to require a second and independent medical opinion
- we would prefer to see a mandatory waiting period during which counselling to women should be made available ensuring that alternatives to abortion can be explored, including social and financial supports to meet the needs of the woman, in housing accommodation, child care, employment, retraining, welfare benefits, and income support, as well as consideration of adoption of the baby expected.
- we regret there appears to be no provision for recording the reasons for which abortion is undertaken. How will legislators learn what needs to be done to remedy the conditions leading to abortion ?
- we regret there is no conscience clause protecting health care workers who do not wish to participate in abortion procedures
- we would prefer to see provisions in this, or some accompanying legislation, which would guarantee equitable access across the country to both abortion and counselling services
- we do not believe the legislation addresses the root causes of the number of abortions in Canada
Too often, women face the choice between abortion and poverty. If this is to be changed, and the number of abortions diminished, women need to be given realistic alternatives.
"True" choice will only be possible when there exists:
- adequate social and economic support structures to enable women to have their children
- programs and education to combat violence against women
- more affordable housing
- pay equity for women
- a guaranteed annual income, and other financial measures
- universally accessible, publicly funded day care
- an intensified national program to collect child support payments from delinquent fathers
- better educational programs about sexuality and contraception in schools
The Anglican Church wants to see the social context and the need for support for women to be taken seriously. This legislation puts all the responsibility on the woman herself, and on her physician. It does nothing to address the responsibility of the wider community towards children.
We urge that the Government bring in accompanying measures -- including budget commitments -- to provide the counselling, education, and preventative programs, and the social and economic supports -- such as housing assistance, day care, improved welfare benefits, and income supports -- that would ensure women have alternatives to abortion.
For these reasons we hope the legislation will be opened for amendment in the parliamentary process.
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The policy of the Anglican Church of Canada on abortion is stated in:
"Abortion In a New Perspective": Report of the Task Force on Abortion and is available from: The Anglican Book Centre, 600 Jarvis Street, Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2J6
For further information contact: The Reverend Michael Ingham, Principal Secretary to the Primate, 600 Jarvis Street, Toronto, Ontario, (416) 924-9192; Mrs. Diane Marshall (Family therapist, Report co-author) (416) 487-3613; Mrs. Phyllis Creighton (Research historian, Report co-author) (416) 978-2245