The phrase “safe, legal and rare” was coined by former first lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but that hasn’t stopped numerous politicians from using it as their default talking point when questioned about abortion. Just last year, then Minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose responded in the House of Commons to her counterpart Niki Ashton’s question regarding the commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Morgentaler decision, by saying “Stealing a quote from someone I admire very much, Hillary Clinton, I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare.”
A new survey conducted by American abortion providers indicates that the abortion rate in that country has decreased significantly in the past number of years. Not only is abortion becoming more rare, it is at the lowest point since 1975. The data for this latest survey was compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization.
The news of this decrease in the abortion rate should be cause for jubilation on all sides of the abortion debate. If there is one unifying thread woven through the discussion about abortion and a women’s right to choose, it is that abortion ought to be rare.
In examining the reasons as to why abortions are at their lowest point since the 1970s we cannot ignore the impact of hundreds of regulations that have been passed in recent years. Guttmacher reports that in 2011 there were 1.06 million abortions performed, down from 1.21 million in 2008. During that same time period there were 106 state laws enacted that regulated abortion. A quick overview of what type of laws these were, shows that the majority of the ones passed focus on care for the health of women. Laws requiring parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, gestational limits that prohibit abortions after a certain point in the pregnancy, use of public funding for abortions, mandatory counselling before an abortion, waiting periods between counselling and when the procedure is performed are some examples of regulations contributing to a reduction in the number of abortions.
With regulations in place, American women have been given the opportunity to reflect on the abortion procedure and the effects it may have on their own personal health and that of their pre-born child. They have more information to make sound medical decisions. This in turn has led to the positive development of abortion becoming more rare, something everyone should celebrate.
Currently, none of these types of regulations have been implemented in Canada. For example, teenage girls, often coerced by their boyfriends, request and receive permission to abort without any knowledge of their parents; informed consent is completely subjective when women aren’t made aware of the many physical and psychological effects abortion can produce; and, abortions occur at all stages of pregnancy and for any reason.
It is time for Canada to go beyond the rhetoric by enacting regulations that will help reduce the number of abortions. Safe, and rare are simply empty words when there is no action accompanying them.