Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Conscience or Contempt of Court?

Court orders abortion of woman

Province of Quebec, Canada (1999)

Sean Murphy*

In July, 1999, Quebec Superior Court Judge Paul Vezina ordered that Cassandre Lavoie have a second trimester abortion and tubal ligation. Lavoie, who was mentally ill, had been a ward of the province of Quebec for five years. Evidence received by the court was that she was not capable of requesting or consenting to the procedures.

While there were no physiological grounds for the abortion, it was the opinion of the hosptial psychiatrist that giving up the child for adoption would impose a psychological burden on the woman. No evidence was heard about the possible emotional or psychological impact of forced abortion and sterilization. Neither the lawyer appointed to represent Lavoie nor her caregivers challenged the application, which was supported by the public trustee.

If lobbying for legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide is eventually successful, courts that now order abortion and sterilization of incompetent patients will almost certainly issue orders that they be killed. Given the conduct of the lawyer, caregivers and public trustee in Lavoie's case, one is entitled to doubt that applications for such orders will be meaningfully contested.

Criticizing the judgement, Canada's National Post asked, "When did abortion become the official choice of first resort?"1

The more relevant question from the perspective of health care institutions and workers is, "If I refuse to perform a court ordered procedure for reasons of conscience, will I be charged for contempt of court?"


1. Whose Choice? National Post (Canada) Editorial, 30 August, 1999