Quebec Health Minister Exempts Abortion Facilities from New Surgical Clinic Law



August 22, 2009

By Patrick B. Craine: QUEBEC CITY, Quebec, August 20, 2009 ( – Faced with loud criticism from the Quebec College of Physicians (the College) and other groups, Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc announced Tuesday that Quebec’s private abortion facilities would be exempted from the new legislation governing surgeries at private medical clinics.

Meanwhile, while the College has denied involvement in the regulations for abortion facilties, the Quebec abortionist who wrote them told Radio Canada that the regulations actually came from the College’s own guidelines, contrary to the College’s claims.

Bill 34, passed in the Quebec National Assembly in June and originally set to be implemented on September 30th, would have required abortuaries to adopt new practices for safety, including setting up operating room equipment, such as positive pressure ventilation, in the abortion room, as well as using surgical clothing, among other things.  Health Minister Bolduc initially defended the regulations when news of the regulations broke, but faced with increasing criticism and calls for his resignation he has now backed down.

Numerous private abortuaries, whose abortion services are covered by the province, came out strongly against what they called “excessive” requirements. One facility announced it would cease doing abortions, while others threatened that they would have to if the regulations were not changed.

According to representatives of the Montreal Morgentaler facility, the requirements would have “dehumanized” the abortion room by making it intimidating.  “They want to dehumanize the intervention room,” said manager France Desilets to the Globe and Mail.  “It would become a cold environment, rather than the warm environment we have now.”

Despite the accusations against Bolduc that he was trying to restrict abortion access, he maintained from the beginning that he supports abortion rights and access.  “This is a sensitive issue, and the most important thing is to be flexible and to take the good decisions for the wellbeing of the population and, in this case, the women,” he said. “Access to abortion has always been a major issue for us, and we always kept that in mind.”

On Tuesday the College of Physicians President and C.E.O. Yves Lamontagne held a press conference at which he insisted the current standards are adequate and safe and called on Bolduc to remove abortion facilities from the bill.  Bolduc had initially indicated that the regulations had the support of the College, but the organization denied, in an August 10th press release, that it had sought to include abortion among the surgeries covered by the regulations.

It was the College’s own May 2005 document, La chirurgie en milieu extrahospitalier, however, that indicated the need for greater safety measures in private abortuaries, as the abortionist who wrote the Ministry’s regulations has pointed out.

Reacting to the College’s denial of involvement in the new regulations for abortuaries, Jean Guimond, head of abortion services at CLSC of Faubourgs in Montreal, told Radio Canada last Friday that the regulations he wrote were, in fact, based on the directives of the College itself.

The Radio Canada report contends that the College’s documents indicate that based on the sedation used in abortions and the number of abortions conducted, abortions at the private abortuaries should be done in an operating room.

Asked to respond, Lamontagne told Radio Canada that the documents needed to be interpreted properly.  “We must read what is written,” he said.  According to the document, “it should be done in a special room or in the operating room,” he added, indicating that it never says abortions must be done in an operating room.

The College’s May 2005 directives divide surgeries into three categories.  They place abortions up to 13 weeks in the lowest category, which they say can be done in the consultation office, unless performed frequently, in which case they require the same resources as the second category.  Abortions after 13 weeks are placed in the second category, which, they say, should be done in a special room designated for the purpose or in an operating room, depending on the type and frequency of the procedure.

The directives go on, however, to spell out further requirements for surgeries in the second category, most of which are the same as the third category, which must be done in an operating room.  According to the College, second and third category procedures require, for example, a positive-pressure ventilation system.  These further requirements, says Radio Canada, actually end up requiring that the special surgery room become, in effect, an operating room.

Guimond told Radio Canada that the College had confirmed to him that its directives applied to abortion.  “I called the College and I asked if its rules applied to abortion, because it was crucial.  The response was yes.”

While Guimond said he does not agree with the directive, he said, “I am not able to tell you it is not necessary if in the documents of the College, it is written that it is necessary.”

“It’s as if, suddenly, the College had just discovered that its rules were excessive,” commented Guimond.

Indeed, a link to the May 2005 document at the bottom of the College’s August 18th press release indicates that the directives are now under revision.

Phone calls to the College for explanation were not answered by press time.

See related coverage:

Bill 34: Standards for Medical Clinics (Quebec), Life Email Us 

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