By Joanne Byfield

One of the challenges we face in Canada in trying to educate ourselves and others about abortion is the lack of good statistical information about the subject. Statistics Canada releases national abortion statistics each year but the numbers are not very reliable. StatsCan itself admits that the number it reports for total abortions in Canada is probably underestimated by at least 10%. That’s because of non-reporting, primarily by private clinics. Alberta is the only province in which the numbers for private clinics are fully reported. Hospitals report their totals but they are not required to report gestational ages. We have virtually no information on the women who have abortions or their reasons. It’s difficult to get reliable information on repeat rates, again except in Alberta, where the repeat rate is now 40%.

In the United States, however, there is far more information available on abortion and on the women who choose abortion and why. The pro-abortion organization, The Guttmacher Institute, surveys women and gathers statistics on abortion. An Overview of Abortion in the United States, published in June 2005, provides important information about abortion that in many cases is relevant to the Canadian landscape.

Abortion, the report tells us, is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. There were 1.29 million abortions in the U.S. in 2002. Abortion in Canada now stands at about 115,000 per year (if we add the 10% underreporting suggested by Statistics Canada) and is probably one of the most common surgical procedures here too.

Guttmacher also reports on a survey of 1,800 women who had abortions. They were asked why they had an abortion. Most women gave more than one reason (see chart). The most common reasons were inadequate finances and not being ready for the responsibility. These were followed closely by “woman’s life would change too much”, “problems with relationship” and “too young.” Only 3% cited health risks to the mother and another 3% cited possible fetal health problem. Only 1% said rape or incest.

In the area of gestational age for abortions, 89% of all the abortions occurred in the first 12 weeks. An additional 10% were performed between 13 and 20 weeks with slightly over 1% performed after 20 weeks.

The survey asked women who had abortions after 16 weeks, why they waited so long. 71% said they didn’t know they were pregnant. Almost half said they had trouble making arrangements, 33% were afraid to tell their parents or partner and 24% said they couldn’t decide what to do.

The report also charts the age, socio-economic status, race, religion and other characteristics of aborting women. This is important information that helps us to understand why women seek abortion and suggests ways in which they might be helped and supported to make another decision.

It is time that federal and provincial bodies in Canada began collecting and disseminating this information about abortion.

The full report can be accessed from the Guttmacher Institute website at

First published by The Rose. Reprinted with permission