News / Canada

Canadian physician debunks Donald Trump's 'glaring and obvious' abortion ignorance

Abortions in the second trimester are "necessary procedures," Dr. Wendy Norman says

Dr. Wendy Newman points out "glaring and obvious" inaccuracies in Donald Trump's statement on abortions: They just don't happen at nine months gestation.

AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Wendy Newman points out "glaring and obvious" inaccuracies in Donald Trump's statement on abortions: They just don't happen at nine months gestation.

As she listened to Donald Trump describe Hillary Clinton’s views on abortion as, “In the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” at the U.S. presidential debate on Wednesday, Dr. Wendy Norman was disappointed, but not surprised.

“The inaccuracies are glaring and obvious and they are akin to many inaccuracies we’ve heard from this particular candidate,” said Norman, a family physician and chair of Family Planning Public Health Research at the University of British Columbia.    

The terms “partial-birth abortion” and “late-term abortion,” which the moderator used in his question, are not medically accurate, Norman explained.

“The word ‘term’ refers to the time between 37 weeks and 42 weeks, when it’s safe and normal for a baby to be born. There are no abortions happening then … and abortions are not ‘birth’ processes,” she said.

What pro-life advocates call “partial-birth abortion” is an intact dilation and extraction. It’s one method of several — along with dilation and evacuation and inducing labour —  used in second-trimester abortions (13-27 weeks of pregnancy). Most commonly, it's done when there’s been a diagnosis of devastating or fatal birth defects and a full autopsy is needed or parents want a body to grieve over.  

The procedure is perfectly legal in Canada, but banned in the U.S., with some exceptions.

“These are necessary procedures,” Norman said. “Women who are unfortunate enough to be faced with this decision at that (later) point in their pregnancy usually have a number of calamities.”

Dr. Wendy Norman


Dr. Wendy Norman

Cases with “something really devastating about the fetus” — like a skull with no brain growing — make up the majority, she said.

Rarely, the fetus is fine but the mother has faced “significant barriers to access care,” like severe domestic violence, incest, or being so young that the pregnancy was diagnosed late because the girl had “no idea what was happening,” Norman said.

Canada has gotten better at providing access to abortions in the second trimester over the past decade, she added, but there’s room to improve.

The average age of providers is going up, and access is limited in rural and remote areas. Easier access to medical abortion — such as by allowing pharmacists to dispense the abortion drug Mifegymiso — would reduce travel-related delays and ultimately the need for abortions later in pregnancy, Norman said.

In contrast to the United States, “Society in Canada has always supported the best health for women and families … we base policy and the provision of care upon the best evidence.”

More on