Montreal

Woman's request for late-term abortion blocked by MUHC

A Montreal woman says she had to fight for a late-term abortion after the McGill University Health Centre denied her request, raising questions about access to the procedure in Quebec.

Medical team determined procedure went against guidelines of Quebec's College of Physicians, MUHC says

The McGill University Health Centre denied a request for an abortion after abnormalities were discovered at 30 weeks. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

A Montreal woman says she had to fight for a late-term abortion after the McGill University Health Centre denied her request, raising questions about access to the procedure in Quebec.

The woman was in her third trimester, 30 weeks pregnant, when she and her partner found out there were abnormalities with the fetus.

After numerous tests at different hospitals, she decided she'd rather have an abortion, but the MUHC refused.

I didn't want my child to suffer their whole life.- Woman who sought a late-term abortion at the MUHC

The woman's medical team determined an abortion so late in the pregnancy, when neither the mother nor the baby's health was in danger, went against the guidelines of Quebec's College of Physicians, an MUHC spokesman said. 

Those guidelines stipulate that an abortion after 23 weeks is reserved for "serious congenital anomalies" and "exceptional" circumstances.

The Canadian Medical Association, for its part, considers any abortion after 20 weeks "late term."

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, approached lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard to help her fight the decision. 

"She was panicked, she didn't understand, she felt alone and abandoned," said Ménard.

Ménard would not specify the nature of abnormalities with the fetus.

Instead of applying for a court order to fight the MUHC's decision, Ménard suggested she go to another hospital to get the abortion. She was then refused an abortion at Montreal's Sainte-Justine Hospital.

The woman was at the 35-week mark of her pregnancy when it was terminated at an unnamed third hospital. 

The woman told Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper, which first reported the story, that she and her partner made the decision to seek an abortion together.

"I didn't want my child to suffer their whole life," she said.

No law restricting access

Ménard said the law in Canada is clear.

"The decision to continue or interrupt a pregnancy belongs only to the woman. No committee, no other outside authority," he said.

In a statement, the MUHC said the hospital does recognize a woman's right to choose to end her pregnancy, under the rules laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada.

"In response to a request for an abortion, members of the treatment team provide care and services to the best of their understanding of the patient's record, engaging all of their clinical expertise, experience and judgment, working in accordance with their respective best practices," the statement said.

Guidelines being updated

Dr. Yves Robert, secretary of Quebec's College of Physicians, said requests for abortions after 23 weeks are rare.

But Robert said the college is in the midst of updating its guidelines, which date back to the mid-2000s, to ensure women have access to an abortion in Quebec.

"I think it was needing an update, and we are doing it right now," he said.

"We want to ensure this procedure is available in Quebec, well frameworked, and that women would have access to it without real problems."

While hospitals and doctors aren't required to offer abortions, there is no law in Canada restricting abortion.

In 1988, the Supreme Court declared the entirety of the country's abortion law to be unconstitutional.

"Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus a violation of her security of the person," Chief Justice Brian Dickson wrote in the ruling.

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