Today, women over 40 in Canada on average earn more money than in any previous time in history.  More women hold managerial and executive positions than ever before, more women are involved in public life and their buying power has businesses scrambling to please them.  Women over 40 today are historically more powerful and better educated than ever before. It’s about time!

Yet, disturbingly, among women between the ages of 35-40 and 40- 44, where one would expect to witness a decline in abortion rates, statistics indicate otherwise. This is surprising since abortion rates have fallen in all other age categories.  Young women under the age of 20 reduced their rate from 18.9 abortions per 1000 women in 1996 to 13.0 in 2005.[1] Perhaps most impressive is the fact young women aged 18 to 19 years drove this trend by reducing their abortion rate from 34 abortions per 1000 women to 24.9 making them responsible for almost half of the overall decline in the under 20 age category.[2] In all fairness, women 35-40 and 40-44 are not the age groups responsible for the greatest proportion of induced abortions in Canada.[3] None the less any increase or even the maintaining of the status quo especially when numbers are declining in every other age category can only make one wonder what exactly is going on here.

When we think about abortion and effective family planning we tend to first think of young women (and, as a mother, I hope we also think of young men).  We spend a lot of time, energy and money on the education vs. abstinence debate: all of it aimed at getting young adults to act in a “responsible way,” no matter how one chooses to define sexual responsibility.  Statistics indicate that efforts in this area are yielding positive results.

Yet, the fact that abortions rates among women 35-40 and over 40 stabilized fluctuating only slightly during this same period suggests something is not happening within this age group that is happening in the others. Interestingly, the abortion rate for women over 40 in 1996 mirrored the abortion rate of young women under the age of 15. By 2006 the abortion rate for those under the age of 15 was half of what it had been.  The rate for women over 40 remained the same.[4] Given the complexity of women’s lives one can only speculate as to why this might be.

In the end it’s irrelevant if it is a lack of awareness about this issue or the belief that conception after 40 happens to other women.  The results remain the same. The number of abortions performed on women over 40 is not declining and it should be.  There is no excuse for it not to be. Abortion as an issue is filled with emotion, social and economic consequences and personal politics. Though perhaps sometimes less obvious, it is also a reflection of how women, as members of society, view themselves, their lives and their responsibilities.  So how is that at a time where women in their 40s enjoy more economic, political and social power than ever before that these statistics are even possible? If you are, like me, a woman over 40, or even over 35 or 30, and you know that having a child or another child is not something you desire then it is time to ensure you do not become a statistic. If you haven’t yet made certain that you do not end up pregnant then the time to do so is today. Program it in your blackberry, put it in your calendar program, or simply make a note to call your doctor on their next working day.  If we expect women under the age of 20 to take control of their ability to reproduce and to behave in a sexually responsible manner then surely, we, their more experienced counterparts need to step up and do the same.  Those 15 year olds sure do make us look bad.

by Heike Mertins

[1] This statistic reflects the most recent data available for this age group. Statistics Canada, “Induced Abortion Statistics”, Catalogue no. 82-223-X, 2005, p.14,

[2] Statistics Canada, “Induced Abortion Statistics”, Catalogue no. 82-223-X, 2005, p.14,

[3] 31.4 % of all abortions  performed in Canada are preformed on women aged 20-24 years of age and 22.4 % performed on women aged 25-29. Together over 50% of all abortions are performed on these two age groups. This percentage remained consistent from 1996-2005 varying only slightly from year to year.  (ibid., p.14),