Saturday, June 10, 2006

Is there anything wrong with Canada's abortion status quo? Is it worth doing anything about?

After I spent some time riling up his commenters with my opinion that a legal requirement that a wife notify her husband before she had an abortion wouldn't be so bad, and generally trying to claim that there is a defensible middle ground in the abortion controversy, Scott Lemieux asks what's wrong with the Canadian status quo, in which there are no legal restrictions on abortion and the procedure is publicly funded. Do we see an epidemic of uninformed husbands, or late term abortions, or eugenics?

One point in response is that the Canadian approach wouldn't work in the US, and prbably won't work in Canada in the near future. For a number of reasons, we have a far more paternalistic medical profession than the US could ever have. The Public Health Agency of Canada points out that hospitals tend to have restrictive rules on the gestational age of the fetus. This paternalistic attitude, not backed by explicit law, still has significant effects, although it is bound to be undermined by market forces. Doctors and nurses will take it upon themselves not to tell prospective parents about their fetus's gender, and possibly about other abnormalities if they would disapprove of an abortion for that reason. This system could never be introduced in the US, and is bound to decline here too.

Secondly, we don't really know what the results of Canada's laissez-faire approach are. Canada doesn't keep much data except on the abortion rate, which hovers around 25 per 100 live births. Specifically, statistics are not kept on the reasons for abortion. Inferential quantitative work shows that all may not be well. The right-wing Western Standard has recently shown demographics that suggest widespread sex-selection.

My own attitude is certainly that I would not want to see the abortion issue, with all its attendant craziness, brought back on the political agenda just to accomplish such minor regulations as I think are defensible. I think that is generally the median Canadian's attitude as well. But as genetic diagnosis becomes better and better, we are just going to have to start thinking about what it means.

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