Skip to main content

Mysterious robocall survey polling Albertans on parental consent for abortions

Sarah Zagoda received a robocall asking Albertans about whether minors should need parental consent to get an abortion. (Source: @SarahZagoda/X) Sarah Zagoda received a robocall asking Albertans about whether minors should need parental consent to get an abortion. (Source: @SarahZagoda/X)

A mysterious phone survey is making the rounds in Alberta, asking residents if minors should need parental consent to get an abortion -- but it's not clear who initiated the campaign.

Many Albertans started receiving the call on Thursday night.

"Minors do not, however, require the consent of their parents to get an abortion in Alberta, nor is it required for parents to even be notified about their minor child's abortion," part of the pre-recorded message said.

"What do you believe? Should parental rights include parental consent for a minor child seeking an abortion?"

Sarah Zagoda was at home on Thursday night when she received the call. She said she is very concerned about the motive behind the survey.

"Pure shock, disgust, anger, fear," Zagoda said.

"I can't believe that they're polling on this the day after such a heavy announcement was made by the government."

The question asked in the call also has Alberta reproductive rights advocates concerned.

"It frightens me because I assume it may be the next step and this government's attempts to assert certain parental rights and prescribe children's rights," said Betsy Jameson, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Calgary and human rights advocate.

"I think this is a very dangerous road to go down. And I'm frightened that it's been tested."

Alissa Golob, the executive director of RightNow, a pro-life political organization, said she thinks it makes sense to discuss parental consent for abortion alongside the proposed rules for transgender youth.

"I think that it's just logically consistent to ask people where they stand on parental rights when it comes to abortion," Golob said.

"Like if the current parental rights legislation says that a minor can have irreversible medical procedures without parental consent, then abortion should logically fall under that category."

In an emailed statement Friday, the Government of Alberta said it is not behind the poll.

It added that there are no further policies regarding minors being considered in addition to the proposed rules for transgender youth announced earlier this week.

The survey  was conducted by National Public Research Canada.

Reproductive rights advocates speak out

Jameson, 75, grew up in Galveston, Texas, where abortion was illegal for a third of her life.

She says the right to choose is fundamental for all women.

"We can't assume as the premier seems to that all homes are loving and accepting of all choices," Jameson said.

"I believe in protecting bodily autonomy. Let's assume the worst-case scenarios if parental consent was required for an abortion. What if the parent isn't in fact the parent of the child? What if we're talking about incest? What if we're talking about a case of another family member having raped the child? Where does parental consent stop? Should parents be able to dictate that their children don't learn the multiplication tables?"

Others like Frederique Chabot, the executive director for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights note that these types of surveys suggest a concerning trend pushing for the removal of reproductive rights.

Her organization is pushing for more comprehensive sexual education for minors to use to make responsible choices.

"It's one of the most empowering kinds of education we can give to children and youth," Chabot said.

"We're talking about how to actually understand our autonomy over bodies and how to be in relationships with others in ways that are appropriate, how to keep ourselves safe, and how to take care of our health. That of course builds up to the point where at an age-appropriate time, we are able to put into that context conversations of consent within sexual relationships, consent within romantic relationships and how to ensure that everyone is safe and can keep themselves healthy."

In Alberta, consent is based on capacity, not age. If a physician or clinic feels a minor understands the procedure and its risks, they can sign their own consent form.

Lethbridge family physician Dr. Jillian Demontigny says that as with anything in health care, procedures should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but a patient who has the capacity to choose should be granted that treatment.

"That patient, whether a minor or not, doesn't require the consent of an additional body. Now, if it's a minor, then they might well not have capacity, in which case, if there isn't a parent or guardian who is consenting then it's more of a murky territory," she said.

"The majority of them are mature enough to be mature minors where when they're in that doctor's appointment, they're going to understand or show they have been asked to make that decision. It's always concerning to me and it should be I think to everybody if there is any political or government body interfering in patient autonomy."

According to the latest available statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2021 in Alberta, there were 226 abortions among those 17 years old and younger of the total 11,223 abortions overall in the province.

 In 2020, it was 286 of 11,983 total abortions.

Growing influence of right-wing ideologies

The recent parental rights policies implemented by the Alberta government have some Albertans worrisome of a trend toward more right-wing ideologies that could remove reproductive rights.

University of Lethbridge political science professor Lars Hallstrom says the conversation around ring-wing ideologies needs to be "cautious" in that there may be a tendency coming from the United States or other countries.

Certainly, we're seeing some positions that are picking up on overtones that fall more to the right of the political spectrum, which is consistent with governments and leaders in other parts of the world who are seen as being more right and in some cases, more populist," Hallstrom said.

"In fact, certainly going back to the UCP convention, there's quite a bit of press about the content of that in the responses of the audience. There is definitely a sense of that at the grassroots level, and there's pride at the grassroots level, coming from David Parker and others about how that is intended to move upwards into public policy."

Hallstrom adds that Smith's recent meeting with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson highlights the Alberta government's favourability toward some more right-wing views.

"We have a premier right now who takes great pride and has for a long time said she loves to listen to everybody. That's part of her brand and she even in this event said being who she is, one of the privileges of that is not having to be constrained by what she referred to as mainstream media, or mainstream positions," Hallstrom said. Top Stories

Stay Connected