Margaret Somerville, director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, recently published an article in Ottawa Citizen titled "The profound complexities of informed consent to abortion.”
This article is very well-written and represents a commonly overlooked problem in society: women who are pressured into having an abortion, and then manipulated into believing that their life will return to normal after the abortion.
First off, what is informed consent? Informed Consent is the ethical and legal obligation to inform a patient of all the benefits and risks involved in a medical procedure so that the patient can make the best decision regarding any medical intervention. As Margaret Somerville puts it, Informed Consent “requires that the harms, risks and benefits of the procedure, and its alternatives, including doing nothing, are disclosed.”
In her article, Margaret Somerville presents the case of Anna (not her real name), a 32-year-old woman who was made victim of abortion in Quebec. Before her abortion, Anna asked to see the ultrasound of her child but her request was refused. This contrasts with the regulations in several states in the U.S. which mandate that a woman see an ultrasound image of her child before her abortion or at least be offered the possibility to view it.
Anna was devastated after her abortion. She is currently seeking psychological help and she shared her story with Margaret Somerville to spread the word on the dangers of abortion. This is not a rare case- unfortunately, many women suffer the same distress but their stories are kept behind a curtain so as to not disturb the pro-abortion status quo.
Margaret Somerville writes:
Informed consent is not present if the information is inadequate - that's medical negligence (malpractice). And even non-material information must be disclosed if it is raised by a person's questions, which must be answered honestly and fully. Anna's request to see the ultrasound image is relevant in this latter respect. Consent is never present where intentionally false information is given, especially when it involves consequences and risks - indeed, this can give rise to the legal wrongs of battery and assault.
Should Québec have stricter laws on informed consent for abortion procedures? Considering that abortion is an irreversible decision, shouldn’t women be better assisted and informed about the risks involved in aborting their child? Let us reflect upon this last comment which Anna told Margaret Somerville, “When a woman is pregnant, from my experience, she is much more vulnerable, and thus can be 'pushed around' more easily. This should be taken into account when a clinic is looking to have consent from a pregnant woman." – does this resonate with your experience? Please let us know your thoughts and comments.
Choose Life, a pro-life club at the university of McGill, had its club status suspended by the McGill student union on November 12.
The club therefore no longer has a budget to work with and room reservation privileges and other perks. The suspension came in response to Choose Life’s October 6 invitation of Jojo Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical reform (see the previous QLC bulletin for details). Margaret Sommerville, McGill University’s eminent bio-ethicist, had this to say about the Choose Life suspension in a November 20 letter to the Montreal Gazette:
...the MSA president said that Choose Life members’ freedom of speech could be restricted, because they “were using questionable statistics from questionable sources” to make the case against abortion. So, the MSA president is saying that if we don’t like the statistics or the sources some people use, we need not bring evidence to rebut their claims; rather, we may intentionally silence them. I thought that was called censorship. It’s deeply concerning that anyone would imagine, even for a second, that challengeable statistics or sources constitute a valid justification for shutting down free speech, let alone someone who is the president of the students’ association at McGill.
MSA spokespeople say they want, as we all do, a safe environment and peace on the campus. But, in a democracy, “good” oldfashioned Maoist “harmony” achieved through suppression of any dissenting voices cannot achieve that.
And the National Post’s Barbara Kay had this to say:
The suspension of Choose Life is a witchhunt and a very serious breach of McGill's supposed dedication to free speech for all comers. Ms Woolf claims that "we take complaints seriously" but also noted that the suspension was the result of exactly four student complaints to Equity. Four disgruntled individuals took down an advocacy club! Is this SSMU's idea of democracy?
Disturbingly, this kind of kind of censorship and illeberality coming from student unions is getting to be a big problem all over Canada and in the US. Students from B.C., from Alberta, Lakehead university and York in Ontario, etc. etc. all have faced problems with their respective student unions or university authorities.
Now the McGill student union are asking Choose Life to consult with them on what events and what opinions they can express so that they can respect the "equity policy" and gain their club status back.
Natalie Fohl, president of Choose Life, sent along this update to pro-lifers:
At the Students' Society (SSMU) Council meeting November 12, the student representatives and executives voted against a motion to outright revoke Choose Life's club status. That basis for this motion was that our events target and harass women, and that we spread false information. Specifically, at the Silent No More Awareness Campaign event, there were pamphlets available that cited the link between abortion and breast cancer and one of the sites listed in the footnote has since changed its information to say that no such link exists. Thus, our opponents argue that we are threatening students' health and safety.
Another motion was brought up, and passed 16-11, to suspend our club status until we work with the Student Equity Committee to agree on a way we can share our message while working within the SSMU's governing policies. Of course, this presumes that we have breached them with our past events in some way. In addition to the reasons listed above in support of the other motion, the Echoes of the Holocaust event and use of graphic images were of particular concern. Presumably, they would like us to agree not to use graphic images again. I haven't met with them again yet, so I don't know exactly what other limitations they would like us to agree to. Among the privileges that come with club status is the ability to book rooms in the students' society building and elsewhere on campus...
As for us at QLC, we don't know what the solution is. These students are kids, after all. They can't be expected to understand that at a university maximum debate and maximum free speech is expected.
We don't expect the kids to understand, but we expect the grownups to do something. For while McGill authorities think everything is ok, under the surface, working at the student level and the union levels is an insidious nexus of individuals and groups who aren't satisfied with free speech and open debate but want to force feed their views and squelch dissent.
What to do? Concerned alumni should band together and pressure McGill authorities to act on this. And we encourage Choose Life to re-invite Mr. Ruba, just like McGill president Heather Munroe Blum encouraged them to do. We know all this nonsense has been hard on Choose Life members, who, at the end of the day, only wanted to help student mothers and their babies, but the fight that they got is theirs to fight. And whether life is respected and future children make it out of the womb depends in large part on whether the pro-life message makes it to university students' ears. Choose Life members, you have been given a good and noble fight, please take it up, as burdensome and tedious as it may be.
A final thing: is there no debating society or some other (small "l") liberal club at McGill? What about the “Conservative McGill” club? Would it not be appropriate for them to take up the freedom of speech issue, inviting Mr. Ruba over if Choose Life can't? How about forming a coalition of free-speech loving clubs at McGill: they can all host Jojo Ruba together in solidarity with Choose Life; they don't even have to agree on abortion, just on free speech.