Abortion in Canada and the U.S.

TORONTO – U.S. President Barack Obama announced Friday that he was backing off a new requirement for religious employers to provide free birth control coverage even if it runs counter to their religious beliefs.

The administration instead will demand that insurance companies be the ones directly responsible for providing free contraception, the Associated Press reported.

“Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women,” Obama said in a brief appearance in the White House briefing room.

“I understand some folks in Washington want to treat this as another political wedge issue. But it shouldn’t be. I certainly never saw it that way,” Obama said. “This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions.”

The withdrawal of the policy may have been made to satisfy both women’s groups and Catholic organizations in the lead up to the country’s presidential election next November.

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Abortion has always been a source of contention in politics – it appears in U.S. debates more often than Canada, though.

Global News compares the snapshot of abortion in both North American countries:

When was abortion legalized?

CANADA: Under Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s government, Canada decriminalized abortion in 1969, allowing it to be performed in hospitals under certain circumstances. With the approval of a “therapeutic abortion committee,” which decides if continuing a pregnancy can endanger a mother’s life or health, abortions can be done, however initial access to the procedure varies from province to province.

UNITED STATES: In 1973, The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states. Pregnancy trimesters were identified out of the famous Roe v. Wade case, allowing doctors to perform abortions for any reason during the first trimester. States then make their own abortion regulations in the second trimester as long as the laws protected a mother’s health. In the third trimester, states could protect a fetus except when abortion was necessary to its mother’s livelihood.

What were the challenges each country faced in handling abortion?

CANADA: In 1969, Dr. Henry Morgentaler opened an abortion clinic in Montreal, which is raided. He is charged with several offenses and serves an 18-month jail sentence in 1975. A Quebec judge convicted him of conspiracy to commit an abortion, and his appeal to this sentence is rejected. By 1973, he had said he performed more than 5,000 abortions.

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By 1990, Ottawa, under a Progressive Conservative government, passes a bill that would sentence doctors to two years in jail for performing abortions when a mother’s health isn’t at risk. The bill later dies in the Senate.

In 1994, Canadian doctor Garson Romalis is shot for performing abortions.

UNITED STATES: In 1976, Congress passes an amendment that prohibits medicare funds to pay for poor women’s abortions. About one-third of poor women are forced to carry to term in the U.S. because they can’t afford an abortion, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada estimates. For those who do get an abortion, almost half delay their procedure by two to three weeks so they can come up with the money.

The Supreme Court also gives states the right to decide if teenagers need parental consent for abortions.

What are the rates of abortion in both countries?

CANADA: Statistics Canada has continued to report a drop in abortion rates. In 2008, it released data that showed a total of 96, 815 abortions were performed on Canadian women in 2005, which was down 3.2 per cent from 100,039 procedures in 2004. Abortion rates fell in every age group, except among women between 35 and 39 years old, while the largest declined recorded was among women under 20. Abortion rates have steadily declined since 1996. According to the Toronto Right to Life Association, Ontario typically performs close to 40 per cent of the country’s abortions. In 2004, the province conducted 35,183 abortions.

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UNITED STATES: About 1.2 million abortions were done in 2005 across the United States, which is 25 per cent less than the country’s all-time high of 1.6 million abortions in 1990, the Guttmacher Institution reported. Since abortion became legal in 1973, more than 42 million abortions have occurred in the U.S. Women under the age of 25 had 52 per cent of all abortions.

How much is an abortion?

CANADA: Provincial and territorial health care covers the cost of an abortion in hospital. In some regions, both medical and surgical abortions are available and some even cover the costs of getting an abortion in another province. In New Brunswick, women need the permission of two doctors to have an abortion.

UNITED STATES: Using Guttmacher Institute statistics, U.S. reports suggest that the average price for an abortion was roughly $451 in 2009. Under federal laws, states cover abortions under Medicaid in the case of rape, incest or life endangerment but it does not cover the procedure under other circumstances. Some states’ private insurance plans cover abortion services.

How do the countries compare on the international stage?

CANADA: Canada has a low rate of abortion compared to other industrialized countries. It’s also home to one of the lowest rates of abortion-related complications and maternal mortality in the world. Canada is the only democratic, industrialized nation in the world with no laws restricting abortion. The federal government and provincial jurisdictions have all indicated that they do not plan on returning to the abortion debate, signaling that current laws are suffice.

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UNITED STATES: In a country where people’s opinions on religion, morality, and the status of women drastically differ, abortion is easily one of the most contentious issues that divide U.S. policymakers. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and four in 10 of these pregnancies end up in abortion. But the Guttmacher Institute suggests these staggering numbers aren’t an anomaly and that other countries share similar abortion rates as developed nations’ families tend to want fewer children.