Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - December 12, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta
22 THE LETHBRIDGE HERALD Thursday, December 12, 1974 Abortion: The uneasy solution Herald Family It's not something a woman forgets Having an abortion is something a woman never forgets. Time passes. She takes up the threads of her life again. But she realizes that a multitude of emotions are entangled with her perceptions of the abortion. Her attitudes are filtered through society's mores but most of all, she knows that resolution of the issue is never a simple matter. Three Lethbridge women who nave had abortions recently consented to discuss their experience with The Herald. Their stories follow; to protect identities, real names are not used. Betty, lies in the emergency ward of the hospital. She is calm, quiet, serious. Just a few hours ago she had had a D and C dilation and curettage in effect, an abortion. A Roman Catholic, Betty says she feels no guilt about abortion, against which the Pope recently spoke so strongly. "I feel it's my life, and this was a personal she says. "If circumstances had been different, if I'd been living farther away from home, I might even have had the child. But my mom, she couldn't stand such a shock." Betty will go home later in the day. She will be off work a day or two only her best girlfriend will know the real reason why. She's 20 and has her life, a good career before her. She says two years ago she was against abortion. Then, as she began to ponder both sides of the issue, her attitude gradually changed. When she discovered her own unwanted pregnancy, she viewed abor- tion as one of her alternatives. Amy is 18, a soft-spoken, sweet-faced girl, a university student. "When I found out I was pregnant, I was amazed, upset and scared. I felt so much better when I met the doctor and nurse and found out an abortion was City doctor says do abortions9 The doctor has the wan, lined face of a man who works long hours and puts a good deal of himself into the job. A specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, we'ii call him Dr. A., he says simply "I do abortions. I don't like doing them. But I'm here to help people, not to pass moral judgments on them." People come to him, seeking help for problems the result of their own ig- norance or innocence. He gives help but in his heart, he is not in favor of abor- tions, simply because they are a poor solution. "Abortions shouldn't need to he mourns. It's like closing the door after the horse runs away. It disturbs me that so many abortions are being done, when the vast majority could be prevented by proper birth control information." "If a woman definitely doesn't want a child and feels very strongly about it, I'd be sympathetic. I guess you could say I'd agree with her request, but wish I didn't have to." "We've gotten into something we can't get out he says. "The die is cast. Regardless of the people against abortions, I think they're here to stay." Dr. A. has been practicing in Southern Alberta since 1954. Before the abortion laws were liberalized in 1969, he saw the results of many botched, il- legal abortions. "Women would usually go across the border for the operation and come back with he recalls. "And this would happen again, if the govern- ment changed the abortion laws and went back to where we were. Those that could afford it would still get the abortion in back alleys." The ideal solution of the abortion ISSUP, he says, is to leave the matter to the woman and her doctor. "It's a farce, the way it is Dr. A. adds. "The therapeutic abortion committee tends to be a rubber stamp. We have a terrible time, finding doctors to serve on it." "I'd be very happy to get rid of the Dr. A. says quietly. "But I think I'd be shirking my duty if I quit doing them somebody has to." Dr. A. says he is very disturbed by increasing numbers of young girls seeking abortions. "When abortions were first legalized, there were a lot of patients in the late teens. With older girls, there was a certain amount of agonizing and emotional involvement. But all of a sudden, the age level dropped down to 15, 14 even 13. These kids just don't grasp the significance of what they're doing. Something has to be done education is the answer. I think our schools are the most logical place to give young people the informa- tion they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies." possible. If I'd have had the baby, it would have wrecked everything, my education, my whole life, my relationship with my family. "My dad would have been so hurt, it would have killed him." Inexperienced, even naive, Amy and her boyfriend about whom she is quite serious practised the rhythm method, but they really didn't consider the possibility of pregnancy. "I cried all the is how she recalls her early reaction. "I thought I'd try the hot water trick and took scalding baths. And I kept hitting myself in the stomach I suppose I thought I'd dislodge it. I know it was silly, but I was afraid, and just wasn't thinking clearly. "I would have gone to someone il- legal, if I couldn't have had the therapeutic she adds. She was fortunate: her boyfriend gave her emotional support throughout and paid the specialist's abortion fee. The operation also a D and C has been kept a secret; she says she may tell her mother eventually. Ethel had an abortion four years ago, at the age of 39. "The doctor hemmed and hawed and told me it would cost a lot of money. He acted more like it was he, not I, who was having the operation. He tried his damndest to make me feel guilty about she says bitterly. "I had three children, the youngest was 14. I was recovering from a gall bladder operation, I really didn't feel very well. I had phlebitis and had to go off the pill and use a vaginal foam instead. To start all over again with a second family was more than I could take. My husband and I both agreed that an abortion was the only solution." She attempted to obtain the abortion on grounds of poor physical health she genuinely felt run-down after the gall bladder operation but her doctor would not agree. He eventually referred her to a psychiatrst, saying she'd have to pursue the abortion on the basis of poor mental health. "I saw the psychiatrist, and he seem- ed sympathetic. He told me they'd let me know by letter when to go to the hospital. I waited and waited. Finally after a couple of weeks, I phoned the psychiatrist back, and asked him where my case stood. He became really upset he started to yell at me; he said all women were masochists and they got themselves pregnant just to suffer. "I was horrified. I didn't know how to take that kind of abuse. Even today, it's not the memory of the abortion that bothers me, it's the humiliation the doctors put me through." Eventually Ethel did get her abor- tion. She thinks doctors' attitudes to abortion have changed for the better in the past four years and they are less condemning of women who want abor- tions. INDl'CEO ABORTIONS IN ALBEHTA HOSPITALS DURING JANt'AHY K> OECEMBF.K'OF 1973 MARITAL STATUS AND ACE CliOUP Aw In Single Married Separated IJiumvd 'Widowed UNDEH 15 69 0 0 0 0 15- 20 2 23 30 -10 45 AND TOTAL 225 197 21 LMH performs most abortions in south In induced abortions were performed at Lethbridge Municipal hospital. Alberta Hospital Services Commission statistics indicate LMH serves as the only legal recourse for a vast number of women living in Southern Alberta communities where hospitals do not conduct therapeutic abortions. In 1973, only two other hospitals south of Calgary performed induced abor- tions Taber General, one, and Medicine Hat General, 55. LMH administrator Andrew Andreachuck was loathe to discuss any aspect of the Municipal's abortion policy with The Herald. He reluctantly released the total number of abortions for 1973, but said he didn't think such statistics are public information. The majority of abortions conducted in Alberta in 1973 took place in Ed- monton, a total of and Calgary, Throughout the province, a total of therapeutic abortions were conducted last year. In abor- tions were conducted in all of Canada. Statistics for 1974 show that of Canadian hospitals, only 259 have therapeutic abortion committees. Twenty-four of Alberta's 164 hospitals have committees. Only accredited hospitals, those meeting standards of the Canadian Hospitals Association, or those given special permission by the minister of health and social development may conduct abortions. It is up to the board of each individual hospital to decide the institution's position on abortions. Abortion viewed as discrimination against the unborn By Lynne Van Luven Herald Family Editor Jessica Tichenor and Joe Parsons have only one thing in common: both view abortion as a totally unacceptable means of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But both Ms. Tichenor, a slender mother of three children under four years of age, and Mr. Parsons, a heavy- set businessman and father of three daughters, felt strongly enough about abortion to consent to a Herald inter- view in which they openly expressed their feelings. "Unborn children are a, minority group that's being discriminated states Ms. Tichenor emphatically. "Abortion is a negative and recessive social action. The act of abortion takes the life of someone who has no say, who is not consulted. At least euthanasia usually pertains to other people who do not wish their life to be prolonged." There is not really any organized pro life or right to life group in Lethbridge, although the Knights of Columbus sporadically campaign against abortion through use of bill boards and public speaking engagements. Jessica Tichenor considers herself a liberal and says she was "astounded" seven or eight years ago, when she dis- covered she was against the idea of abortion. "My views are she says. "Abortion is not an appropriate response to pregnancy, un- less it is a life-saving step. Ms. Tichenor cites "overwhelming scien- tific and genetic evidence" for her belief that a fetus is human from the moment of conception and never just a conglomeration of cells. For the woman who really can find 'The whole idea is repugnant' "The whole idea is repugnant to me." That's how one Lethbridge doctor, a vehement anti-abortionist, reacts to the suggestion that termination of an unwanted pregnancy is sometimes the best solution for all concerned. "It's a way out when you're in a Dr. B. says adamantly. "In thir- ty years of practice, treating women, you come to see that people are never pregnant at the right time that's life." "Women who have abortions done generally wish they hadn't it haunts he continues. "One of my patients had an abortion 30 years ago, and it still bothers her. She still wonders about that first child, and she's had three others since." Dr. B. says he will on very rare oc- casions perform abortions "under grave medical circumstances.'' For ex- ample, if, during the course of the delivery, the mother's life seems seriously endangered. But he'd prefer to refer abortion requests to-colleagues who don't share his religious and moral objections. "My religious principles have something to do with my feelings against Dr. B. admits, "but they're pretty far down the list. In the course of one world war, I have seen entirely too much killing." Henry Morgenthaler, the Montreal physician who is an avowed abortionist, draws especial fire from Dr. B. "It nauseates me to hear about men like Morgenthaler, who says he's a benefac- tor of womankind but is well on the way to being a millionaire from doing abor- tions. I'm one gynecologist you won't find driving a cadillac. There are too many doctors who get just a little something extra for abortions." Dr. B. says if there is a complication with an abortion, most women will not return to the doctor who performed the operation. "I see the ones that didn't go so he says. "Most doctors say 'mine never go but they don't know because women go to someone else for treatment. "When you do a D and C and tear out the placenta, you almost always leave some of the substance which may cause a low-grade pelvic he explains. Dr. B. says the "world is overflowing with contraceptives" and points out that abortion is a very clumsy method of birth control. no room in her home or heart for an ad- ditional child, or for the family too im- poverished to feed and clothe another member, Ms. Tichenor has a straight forward suggestion: go through the pregnancy, bear the child and sur- render it for adoption. She is especially disturbed by pro- abortionists Ms. Tichenor says, "because they are setting up whole new parameters on who will live and who will die." Ms. Tichenor and Mr. Parsons agree that the anti-abortionists are the "silent Most people, they say, do not favor abortions. "I am in sympathy with the women's adds Ms. Tichenor, "but I feel it has let us down and gotten off on the wrong track with the abortion issue. Women's groups should be work- ing to dispel society's pergorative at- titudes towards pregnant women, to benefits for families, pay for housewives, pregnancy leave, for more day care centres and against the whole degraded position of women in society." "Life is not says Mr. Parsons, "Society will be in a bad way if we teach youngsters they can have an abortion as an easy way out of a bad situation." Sex education is his answer: "We've got to sit down with boys and girls and tell them the facts of life when they're young, before it's too late." In addition to contraception infor- mation, governments ought to make available information on child-rearing and family-resources, to help those raising children, maintains Mr. Par- sons. "With three daughters growing up, I feel not enough is being said against says Mr. Parsons. "It is not an alternative to-birth. Nature should look after abortion man should not cause it unnaturally." He says people should go through with an unwanted pregnancy "you can't just shun responsibility and write off a mistake. You have to live with it.'' He suggests that in absolutely necessary cases of abortion, a "non- partisan" panel of clergy and doctors be available to make the woman "morally aware" of the implications of her decision. Mr. Parsons fears that liberalized abortion laws merely encourage people to rely on abortion as a birth control measure. He says he is very suspicious of pro-abortion doctors, like Montreal's Morgenthaler, because he thinks abor- tion brings them "windfall profits." Mr. Parsons describes Morgenthaler as "in the same class as Hitler who was applying his own version of the law as he saw it." Canadian abortion law bad, not specific enough says doctor Alberta insurance covers abortion Section 251 of the Criminal Code cites a "bad law" says the chairman of the Lethbridge Municipal Hospital therapeutic abortion committee. The chairman, who did not wish to be identified and shall be called Dr. C., says the section of the Criminal Code pertaining to abortion is a bad law because it is too general and "doesn't specify all sorts of things." The committee "has a horrible job interpreting the laments Dr. C. who worries that if his identity were not protected he'd suffer verbal abuse and nuisance calls from anti- abortionists. "The law is especially vague in respect to minors, girls under 18 who want an abortion without their parents' knowledge. Such a girl has to prove she's an emancipated minor, not under her parents' control." Dr. C. says the law also poses dif- ficulties for married women: they must have their husband's consent and the problem can be sticky if the fetus is not the husband's child. he continues, warming to his subject, "saying abortions shall be legal in cases where a woman's life or mental health is endangered is about as clear as mud. In short, the committee can be as liberal or as conservative as it wants." Dr. C. says that the therapeutic abor- tion committee at LMH does not approve every abortion request before it. "We have turned down occasional applications and the reasons for objecting are very valid he maintains. He doesn't think that leaving the decision of an abortion "to a woman and her doctor" is quite as simple as it sounds. "It would still involve hospitals, nurses and he points out, "Unless it was within the early weeks of pregnancy and could be terminated in the doctor's clinic, which is illegal in Alberta anyway. "The lawgivers probably had no idea what they were getting said Dr. C. "I think Canada moved too fast in '69 they moved from everything being il- legal, to suddenly allowing contracep- tion and abortion. It might have been better to legalize contraceptive devices and gradually educate people to that end. getting them to practice con- traception intelligently before in- troducing abortion as a second-line defence. Now it seems we have haphazard contraception and too many abortions." Dr. C. served on the therapeutic abortion committee for two years prior to recently becoming chairman. It's his job to call the formal meetings, if an especially difficult case is submitted, and to confer daily with the two other members of his committee, to approve or reject the requests for abortions sub- mitted. All cases referred to the committee must be documented and in most cases it is advisable for a doctor to have a se- cond opinion usually another doctor, perhaps a specialist, or a psychiatrist. If a case is referred directly to the committee witho'.t a second opinion, it must be very evident that continuation of the pregnancy would be harmful to mental or physical health of the woman. All therapeutic abortions are covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Commission. The Alberta Medical Association and AHCIC have agreed to a standard schedule of fees to cover abortion procedures: the two vaginal route ter- mination methods, the D and C (suction curettage) and the intra-amniotic saline injection, are both billed at the abdominal route termina- tion procedures involves the hysterotomy (a 'mini-Caesarean' method) and costs, Anaesthetist's fees, billed separately from the operation procedures, are also covered by AHCIC. If a doctor wishes, he may levy an ad- ditional specialist's fee, providing he so mtorms the patient in advance. This fee, usually ranging from to is payable by the patient. Child surrender rules not cut-and-dried issue Anti-abortionists' suggestions that unwanted babies be carried through a full-term pregnancy and be sur- rendered for adoption are not as simple as they first sound. Bob Rechner, regional administrator for the department of health and social development, says social workers are very cautious about accepting child surrenders from married women. Traditionally, says Mr. Rechner, the child welfare act has been interpreted to apply mainly to children being sur- rendered by single mothers, widows, divorced or separated women who have no involvement with the legal husband and father. However, this past July, DHSD ten- tatively extended interpretation of child surrender clauses to include married women. Since then, several surrenders from married women have been effected. "Let's say consideration will be given to married women who wish to surrender an unwanted says Mr. Rechner, cautiously voicing the department's lack of hard-and-fast in this area. "The director of child welfare is not committing himself to accepting all such children. The door is not wide open, nor is it closed, nor are we instituting a surrender on de- mand policy. Mr. Rechner shudders at the prospect of vast numbers of mothers surrendering children from unwanted pregnancies. "I don't think it's the best solution but it might be one way to meet the demand for adoptive children, which we are now unable to he speculates. In Canada, no induced abortion whatever is permissible after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In the U.S., the limit is 27 weeks. Committee not a rubber stamp The Lethbridge Municipal Hospital therapeutic abortion committee is definitely not a 'rubber stamp' says a city psychiatrist wno served on that body for several years. Dr. Larry Kotkas is quite emphatic when he says, "It (the committee) is not capital N-O-T a rubber stamp. It's a lot of trouble, but trouble well- spent. It is just as viable and worthwile a committee as any at the hospital." Dr. Kotkas says there has been "very little trouble" with abortions since the Lethbridge committee's inception, whereas, "before the act (to liberalize abortion we sent plenty of women to Ponoka to finish out their pregnancies." The psychiatrist says public opposi- tion and disapproval of abortion is "pretty much the same" as it was in 1969. "That's because the majority of people favoring it recognize abortion as a humane decision. Those who disagree with abortion, do so on ideological grounds and ideologies don't change."