Thursday, 20 December 2007

Miracle on 96th St.

My son, Steve Sutherland, works for a non-profit organization in Edmonton, Alberta that deals with the challenges of immigrants and refugees locating in Canada. Today he sent the email message below to a number of his colleagues plus his sister and parents. I can't think of a better way to wish you a blessed Christmas, and a New Year full of opportunities to show love and kindness to the marginalized and vulnerable.

God bless you all.


Subject A modern day Widow's Mite

Mark 12:42-44 “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling his disciples to him, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’”

Over the last couple of days CHED 630 here in Edmonton has been reporting a local story originating from a Mustard Seed Church supporter. Apparently he was delivering a Christmas donation to the Mustard Seed and was thrilled to see other cars there unloading large boxes full of donations.

As he chatted with one of the church staff, a homeless lady walked up to them pulling the obligatory shopping cart. She reached down into the cart and removed a plastic bag filled with empty soft-drink cans. She then reached in and retrieved another bag full of bottles, and handed both to the Mustard Seed staff member.

“These,” she said, before turning to leave, “are for the unfortunate people.”

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Questions that are asked during a crisis pregnancy

As noted in my last post below, I preached recently on the topic of crisis pregnancies. A woman in attendance with whom I had a subsequent conversation about the sermon consented to providing me with her thoughts in writing. This post and the previous one contain those thoughts. In this response, she lists a number of questions that will likely go through the mind of a woman in a crisis pregnancy.

I note again that the writer is herself pro-life, and a devout and mature Christian. Her words are her own and are posted here unedited. Her responses regarding government support reflect either British Columbian or Canadian law.

Questions that a single pregnant woman may have to ask herself – that might lead to her considering an abortion:

Q: Why did I do this? We were just having fun. This wasn't part of the plan.
A: Of course not. When our society socialized you to be sexual, putting you in a bikini at two and sexually provocative clothes at ten, when we asked you every year if you had a boyfriend yet, birth control and pregnancy were never mentioned.
In your family, you may not have been encouraged to plan for a career, or taught to think of your own future apart from a man. You live in a male-dominant society.

Q: Why didn't we use birth control OR how come the birth control we used didn't work?
A: When movies and advertising show sex as recreation or romance, but responsibility is not part of the package. Your school may have offered some elementary sex education, but your church probably didn't. You may not want to believe you planned to have intercourse. The romantic myth says you were caught unawares and swept away by passion, not hormones (yours) or a desire to score (his)

Q: [Possibly] Who is the father?

Q: How will he react to discovering I'm pregnant?
A: Often it will be the end of the relationship, even if you have an abortion to please him.

Q: Do I want him to be my partner and the child's live-in father, even if he wants to be?

Q: I had a couple of drinks that night. Will that affect the baby?

Q: What will my parents think? Can I keep them from knowing?

Q: What will my friends think? Will any of them stand by me?

Q: Can I keep my job? My wages are low as it is and my hours uncertain. I'm just barely getting by.
A: Birth mothers in BC are entitled to up to 17 weeks of unpaid leave plus 35 weeks of unpaid parental leave, or up to 37 weeks of unpaid parental leave if pregnancy leave is not taken (Maximum of 52 weeks) but jobs often mysteriously disappear when women in “glamour” jobs become pregnant. Maternity/parental benefits (up to 50 weeks) available to people who have worked 600 hours in the last year or since their last Employment Insurance claim, are not lavish, especially since women are streamed into low wage jobs and the average income for women, even the ones who get full time full year jobs, is only 70% of the average male wage.

Q: Can I get income assistance and stay home with the baby?
A: Yes, but your income will be about half of poverty level income, and will end when the child is 3.

Q: My apartment is crowded as it is. Can I find a bigger one that I can afford? Will landlords rent to me when they find I'm a single mother?
A: Tenants report a distinct bias against families with children, especially single mothers. There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in most cities.

Q: How much does infant care cost anyway?
A: An average of $45 a day [$600-$1000 a month, North Shore, British Columbia]

Q: Are there subsidies for childcare?
A: Limited ones. See
There is also a taxable federal benefit of $100 a month until the child is six.

Q: Are there any spaces in my neighborhood, supposing that I can afford it?
A: Investigate that ASAP. There is a severe shortage in most Canadian cities.

Q: Am I the mothering type? Especially the single mothering type?

Q: It will be twenty years before s/he's independent. By then I'll be in my forties.

Q: Can I put the child up for adoption?
A: Yes, but you may grieve all your life long. “Open” adoptions are better than closed ones, for both mother and child, but usually harder to arrange.

Q: Can I get an abortion?
A: Yes, if you make your decision early, but even if you do not have a belief that the life of an non-viable fetus is sacred, you may “never know if you've done the right thing,” [quote from a secular woman who had an abortion in order to escape from her abusive husband]

Note: These are questions for a North American middle class “white” woman. In some societies a baby has made a young woman more marriageable. In others the baby will be welcome. So the answer to John Sutherland's excellent question “Who put the crisis in crisis pregnancy?” is “We did – as a society”. Pornography, advertising and movies encourage young people to be sexual without being responsible. Then when the inevitable happens, we do not provide well for the mother and her child. We are an anti-life society.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Who Put the Crisis in Crisis Pregnancies – A response

As some readers know, I am a lay preacher. Last month I was asked to address the issue of social justice. I chose crisis pregnancies as the vehicle for examining this vital biblical topic. A woman who was in attendance at the sermon spoke to me afterwards about her reaction. I invited her to put her thoughts in writing and I would post them on my blog site. She sent me three excellent responses of varying length and content. The first of these appears below.

The writer prefers to remain anonymous. She is using Mahlah as a pseudonym. I will just say that while she was present when I spoke, she is not a member of that particular congregation. And she would describe herself as pro-life. I consider her to be a mature and devout Christian. Her thoughts are her own, and this post appears unedited.

Who put the crisis in crisis pregnancy?*

WE did, as a society. We are a male-dominant individualistic instant-gratification society, and our media have promoted irresponsible sexuality along with myths of romance that obscure real-life consequences. Then we have not made adequate provisions for the victims of our societal choices: the pregnant women and their children.

First of all we raise girls to be hyper sexual. We put our little girls in tiny bikinis. We allow our pre-teens to dress like prostitutes. Ads on TV and in print present young women as sexual prizes for men who can afford an expensive car. Male publishers (and female ones too) market women as sexually available to anyone anytime. The message is: women exist for men. It's called female subordination. Pregnancy is not part of the message. Male responsibility is not mentioned**.

So a pregnancy can be a crisis in the relationship. He never meant to be a father. She was not raised to support herself and her child(ren).

Societally, women have been streamed into low wage jobs, and although feminists have worked hard to change that, women's wages, even for those who can work full time full year, still average 70% of men's.

In addition, maternity benefits and child care provisions are still poor. For every small improvement, there seems to be a setback and except for Quebec, there aren't enough accessible regulated programs affordable to average income women. Child care subsidies are inadequate. Mr. Harper's government offered a taxable benefit of a hundred dollars a month to mothers of a child under six. My daughter's childcare expenses for her four year old are $650 a month.

So pregnancy can be an economic crisis for a woman without a partner willing to contribute financially or personally to the raising of the child. A male-dominant individualistic society leaves her and her child on her own.

People in my church are under the illusion that “the government takes care of people like her.” They are unaware that income assistance is less than half the income she requires to support herself and her child. And it ends when the child is three.

Adoption, the alternative proffered by many pro-life people, is also anti-life, particularly if the adoption is closed. It ignores the child's lifelong feelings of abandonment as well as the mother's pain.

One woman who had given up a child said to me, years later, “Every time I read about a child molested or killed I wonder, “Is that my child? “

So after one adoption, next time she will have an abortion. There often is a next time, because her grief, her low self-esteem and her lifelong training in subordination will drive her into another man's arms. As a society, we have made a “life choice” very difficult for her.

Many people see all this as “no more than she deserves,” but that's blaming the victim. A truly pro-life society would work on male responsibility, different socialization, better wages for women, more affordable regulated child care programs and improved income assistance. Changing the world is harder than we think.

* Title of a sermon by John Sutherland
**There was one beautiful billboard picturing a mother and a baby with the message: LOVE THEM BOTH. Unfortunately men probably don't learn to take responsibility by looking at a billboard.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Willy Pickton got me musing

While much of the buzz this past weekend centred on Robert (Willy) Pickton and whether the jury got it right in finding him guilty of second degree murder for killing six sex trade workers, my mind turned once again to what is for me the great conundrum--why do women run the continual risk of being neglected, disadvantaged, exploited, assaulted or otherwise mistreated by men?

Results of studies vary, but some show incidences of female child abuse as high as one in three, with the vast majority of the abusers (~80%) being their father or another male figure (stepfather, male relative, boyfriend, etc.). In about two-thirds of the cases, the abuse starts under age 11.

War typically brings with it high incidents of rape and murder of innocent women. In what should be the safest place for a woman to be--the home-- women are five to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner. If you can stomach the data, see for a lengthy survey of studies of female and male abuse in all its forms.

I've often wondered to what extent the abortion rate is just another evidence of male mistreatment of women. Here's a typical vignette:

I went to the doctor because family members had pressured me, had encouraged me. There was no "Nancy, maybe you should reconsider," because it was not my idea in the first place, it was theirs. My husband had walked out the door and deserted us. The responsibility of three children was just too much for him. And my mother said "It's obvious Nancy, no man's going to want you with three children, let alone the two you already have. You're probably not going to amount to a hill of beans and you're probably going to be on welfare the rest of your life."

The source of that quote is NancyJo Mann, founder of WEBA (Women Exploited by Abortion), describing those who influenced her to abort what would have been her third child. Note that while her mother was involved, it boiled down to whether another man would want her after her husband had walked out.

Here's another:

One night, my husband never came home. I was sure something terrible had happened to him. I called the police, to no avail. The next morning, my husband walked in the door and announced that he was in love with someone else and was leaving me. Then he was gone. It was not a gradual separation. It was a sudden, dramatic break. He also walked out of my daughters' lives. A few weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant again. I alone had to meet my children's every need -- financial, emotional and physical. I had no money, job or car. I had to ask friends to drive me to the market. The five-and-dime store refused to give me a charge account to buy school supplies for my children. I couldn't make the mortgage payments, and I had to sell my home and move into a small rental townhouse. My family was forced onto welfare. Facing another pregnancy was more than I could handle.

This anecdote comes to us from Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She may be on the other side of the life vs. abortion debate from Ms Mann, but both link their abortions, to some extent at least, to male desertion.

Jennifer O'Neil, who starred in the film Summer of '42, recounts her experience with male abuse, in a book she wrote subsequent to her abortion:

I had been engaged to an extremely powerful man for two years when I became pregnant. I was ecstatic at the idea of having a child with my fiancĂ©, a man I loved so and was finally about to marry. My joy was short-lived as I stood, frozen with horror and disbelief at his unequivocal negative response to my “good news.” In short, he promised that he would do everything in his power to emotionally and verbally coerce me into getting an abortion. If I ever insisted on carrying the baby, he swore that he would take “his” baby away from me—and assured me, in a tone of voice I had never heard him use before, that he had the political clout, financial means, and industry power to annihilate me personally and professionally.

O'Neill, who has been married nine times, has in recent years become a Christian and a pro-life activist.

Two final quotes, compliments of a society called Canada Silent No More that provides help to post-abortive women :

1. I was pressured by my boyfriend and parents to abort, but I got severe depression after the abortion and thought of committing suicide several times over the next 16 years. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of that abortion and my dead baby.

2. After the abortion she felt like a piece of dirt, used, unworthy and betrayed by her boyfriend. She got clinically depressed and would sleep all the time, she wanted to kill herself, she had deep regret and remorse about the abortion. She had nightmares and has not been able to conceive since.

Yes, these are only anecdotes. My problem is that such stories come not singly but in battalions.

It was never meant to be this way. I'm speaking biblically here, so those of faiths other than Judeo-Christianity, or of no particular faith at all, will have to bear with me. But in the biblical accounts, relationships between men and women were supposed to be ones of complete equality, intimacy and trust. The fact that my faith is seen to teach otherwise is another of Satan's great triumphs, achieved through the efforts of wrong-headed male interpretation.

Whole books are written on this topic; however, I will simply note a few bedrock biblical passages to illustrate my point that there is nothing in the Jewish or Christian scriptures that would justify men using or abusing women for their own ends, despite the many assertions to the contrary both within and without the faith. [I am deeply indebted to Dr. Roberta Hestenes for the insights that follow.]

I understand the creation and Garden of Eden stories in Genesis chaps. 1-3 as the Old Testament's grand parable, containing within them enough bedrock scriptural principles to fill a library of theological tomes. With respect to female-male equality and mutuality, here are some highlights:
  1. Gn. 1:26-30. No hint of hierarchy. God creates humankind in two sexes. To them he gives the command to steward creation.
  2. Gn. 2:20-24. Emphasis on the unity between man and woman. "At last--one like me." The description of the newly created woman being the man's helper ('helpmate' in the older biblical versions) is in no sense a term of subordination. In all but two places in which the term is used in the Old Testament, the reference is to God as the helper.
  3. If subordination was never part of the Creation story, where did it come from? With humankind's fall from grace, of course (Gn. 3:16). God's pronouncement to Eve ('Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you') is descriptive, not prescriptive. Such a relationship was never God's intention.
Even with the sin of domination and exploitation of women by men that results, Old Testament women are often seen in significant positions of authority and leadership over men; e.g., Moses' sister Miriam (Exodus 15:20); Deborah (Judges 4); Huldah (2 Kings 22). Proverbs 31 describes the "noble wife" in the most elevated terms: she augments her husband's strength; she has her own earnings and runs her own business affairs; she has a ministry of teaching; and is affirmed for her strength, diligence and hard work.

By the time of Jesus and the early apostles, female involvement in men's roles was almost routine in Christ's relationships.
  1. Luke 10:38ff. Martha bustles around doing what any good and pious Jewish woman would do under the circumstances--preparing a meal for her guests, including Jesus himself. Her sister Mary has the audacity to sit at Jesus' feet in the position of a learner and disciple--something only men would do. Martha complains that Mary is not conforming to the traditional female role, and Jesus replies: "Mary has chosen what is better."
  2. John 4:1ff. Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman and proceeds to teach her theology. Rabbis believed that to teach Torah to one's daughter was to teach lasciviousness.
  3. In some of Jesus parables, he uses a female figure as a parallel for God; e.g., the lost coin in Luke 15.
  4. After the resurrection, Jesus appears first to a woman. At that time, a woman had no standing as a witness in court. There had to be a minimum of two men. Not surprisingly when the woman told the male disciples that she had seen the resurrected Jesus, they didn't believe her.
  5. In Acts chap. 2, as Jesus' followers gather after the ascension of Christ to heaven, and experience the pouring out of the Holy Spirit's presence and power, a number of woman are present. As Peter preaches to the crowds gathering in Jerusalem for Pentecost, he quotes the Old Testament prophet Joel to the effect that both men and women would now be prophets. Subsequently we read of the apostle Philip and his four unmarried daughter who were all prophetesses--in effect, preachers (Acts 21:8-9).
This momentum towards a new paradigm of male-female relationships reaches its high point in the writings of St. Paul, regrettably almost completely misunderstood on this issue. As recorded in his letter to the Galatian Christians, chap. 3 vs. 28, he makes what would have been an incredibly startling and completely counter-culture statement (in fact, blasphemous in some ears):

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Later he refers to two female Greek converts, Euodia and Syntyche, as "women who contended at my side in the cause of the gospel" (Philippians 4:3), employing the same kind of language used to describe important male co-workers, Timothy and Barnabas, elsewhere. Nearly half of those addressed in his book of Romans are women. The teaching team of Priscilla and Aquila are referred to three times. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul turns a symbol of a husband's domination (the woman's headscarf) into a complete reverse symbol of the female worshiper's full rights to pray and prophecy publicly with the men present. Perhaps most significantly, in Romans 16:7 reference is made to Junias, a relative of Paul's who spend time in prison with him and is "outstanding among the apostles." Junias is a male name, but it is almost certainly the female name 'Junia' that was originally recorded.

Thus we have women who functioned in every important capacity in the early church: evangelists, teachers, prisoners for the faith, and even apostles.

Well that's enough to indicate my profound conviction that my faith insists on the full equality of the sexes. Beyond this, when those enculturated men would forget this and continue to take advantage of their wives, the biblical writers would warn them not to do it.
  1. Ephesians 5:21. St. Paul begins a long teaching on family relationships (often misunderstood and abused in the male's favour) by reminding his readers of his bottom line: we are to submit (subordinate ourselves) to one another out of reverence for Christ. It would have never occurred to his male readers that this was expected behaviour--quite the opposite.
  2. I Corinthians 7:4. No surprise, then, that St. Paul would mess the men's minds further with this equally revolutionary thought: "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife."
  3. St. Peter put in his oar as well. In 1 Peter 3:7 he warns that husbands who take advantage of their physical strength and abuse their wives are cut off from God. Peter refers to the men and women as joint-heirs in the precious gift of life.
I won't get into problem passages where the apostles occasionally indicate some kind of subordination of husband and wives in their marriage roles. I understand these to be accommodations to the culture in order that the proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of the church not be hindered [The same was done concerning slaves in the little New Testament book of Jude where a runaway slave is sent back to his master, but the master is told to receive him in the identical fashion in which he would receive the apostle.] But such accommodations were surely temporary, or the fundamental premise of those same apostles (in Christ there is neither male nor female) would be meaningless.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Don't tell the Canucks, but.....

I'm an inveterate Vancouver Canucks fan. Hockey rules the universe and the Canuckleheads rule my heart. So I can only pray that I am not jinxing them by writing something favourable about the Ottawa Senators, or more specifically, the wives of a number of the Senators' players.

While this news is a bit old, it has only come to my attention lately that a number of Senators hockey wives and girlfriends, who call themselves The Better Halves, are raising money to support, among other things, a local pregnancy centre. Given the sermon on crisis pregnancies that I preached two Sundays ago and subsequently posted here in Ye Olde Blogge, I couldn't be happier that something this good could come out of Ottawa.

But once again I find myself in awe that the (so-called) pro-choice crowd has come out hard against this endeavour. The gist of their complaint is this: the centre (called the First Place Pregnancy Centre) exploits women and pressures them against having abortions.

A CBC column by a Heather Mallick (pictured) is particularly harsh in its criticism (see Hockey wives and abortion, CBC News on-line, Nov. 30, 2007). First she notes certain aspects of her worldview that give us some insight into why she said what she did:
  1. I hate picking on women. We're born at a disadvantage and in our wild flailing to stay afloat, we make such easy targets.
  2. It's bad enough that these women have hooked up with bruised artist-athletes with careers of inevitably brief span, sold by hockey corporations as if they were cans of Spam, shipped around the continent without notice, thus dooming their wives' careers from the start.
  3. But must The Better Halves bully young pregnant women during their own brush with greatness?
One has to be careful in coming to firm conclusions on the basis of a few quotes. But one does pick up some of the 'woman as victim' mentality here as a screen against which other judgments are to be made.

Secondly, she doesn't seem to have a lot of respect for professional male athletes. Or perhaps she lacks respect for those women who decide to marry these athletes at the expense of pursuing their own careers. We have no idea whether the Better Halves have made such sacrifices or not, or whether the women saw it as a sacrifice. I doubt if Ms Mallick knows either. But she is using this as her working proposition.

Third, if an organization recommends one of the choices (seeing pregnancies through with plenty of support), without recommending the other choice (aborting), they are by definition bullies, as is anyone who supports such organizations. Presumably women (who in other instances can be trusted to make decisions of all sorts) become very easily fooled, or completely craven, when they cross the thresholds of crisis pregnancy centres.

Having now demolished, through sheer logic, any arguments that might be put forward by the Better Halves or their supporters (Hint: I'm kidding here--it's the complete lack of logic that stands out), she does us a favour by revealing the "insidious means" by which crisis pregnancy centres ply their odious trade:

There are thousands of these centres across North America. They're known in the business as CPCs, as they usually have names resembling Crisis Pregnancy Centre. They have cute websites designed to appeal to teenage girls, lots of advice about boys — giggle — and sites on MySpace. They take great care to look like kindly counselling centres. In fact, they exist solely to prevent abortion.

I took a look at a number of British Columbia CPC websites. There was nary a hint of the Spice Girls and nothing that would make a person giggle. I am not saying that such don't exist, but Ms Mallick's implication that this is the norm is clearly misleading. [Gosh, a pro-choice advocate that actually misleads!! Who'd uh thunk it.]

But presumably women who can be trusted to make responsible decisions on their own can see through such stuff, right? If a girl as young as 13 can be legally allowed to decide on her own, without any parental input, to get an abortion, surely one can assume that she wouldn't be fooled by a flagrant display of Spice Girl cleavage.

Friends, I'm not just trying to be sarcastic here (although Mallick's attempt at coherent thought does invite a raucous laugh or two). I'm trying to show the complete inconsistency of Mallick's remarks. She is clearly a fanatic who is well past rational reasoning.

Here's my take. First of all, I believe that a choice has to be a fully informed choice, whether it's where to go to school, which career to pursue, whether and whom to marry, family formation and so on. So I would be very careful not to run down organizations that make an effort to explain dimensions of the various choices. To attempt to dismiss organizations I don't agree with by making up things about them, or damning them by guilt through association, or by redefining their mission for them, reflects a desire to limit rather than to promote choice. Mallick is guilty of this in spades, if her Nov. 30/07 column is any indication.

Secondly, don't push the woman as victim line and then attack organizations that attempt to meet women's needs when they truly are victimized. A great number of pregnancies are real problems for women, very often problems not of their own making. Those of the Mallick persuasion seem to be suggesting that to offer such women every possible support other than the abortion quick fix suggests ulterior motives and really keeping women from the better choice.

Nonsense. Most women in North America choose to keep their babies. Apparently the pro-life option makes sense to them. Many who have abortions subsequently regret it and feel that they were victimized by others who pushed the abortion option at them. Thousands of women are grateful that someone is willing to help them through their crisis pregnancies. For Mallick to say that such organizations only exist to stop abortions is like saying that doctors only exist to spite the morticians.

I am happy to note that the Senators' management, and the Better Halves themselves, are undeterred by the criticism and are pushing ahead with their plans. I encourage any Ottawa-area readers to throw their support behind this great endeavour.


The following appeared on the CBC website shortly after I posted the article above (see: Ottawa charity declines Sens Foundation help amid anti-abortion flap, Nov. 30/07)

An Ottawa charity facing controversy over its anti-abortion philosophy says it does not want to hurt the positive image of the Ottawa Senators Foundation, and will therefore turn down funding raised at Ottawa Senators games.

First Place Pregnancy Centre said it recognizes "the incredible work and generosity" of the Sens Better Halves, the wives and girlfriends of the Ottawa Senators, who chose the centre as one of three charities they would support by selling raffle tickets at Senators home games between Nov. 29 and Dec. 22.

"However, we do not wish to interfere in even the most indirect way with the Foundation's positive image and valuable contribution to our community," said Terri Mazik, the centre's executive director, in a statement Thursday.

I greatly regret this decision personally. It hurts the image of the Ottawa Senators Foundation more when a perfectly legitimate charity caves in to bullying from an angry critic. The Senators should have insisted that the Centre take the money. No wonder so much of what passes for critique from (so-called) pro-choice advocates is effective. No one will tell the empress that she has no clothes (with apologies to Irene Mathyssen).

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

What do I know?--I'm a mere male

For much of my life I have advocated for things I really know very little about. For instance, while I have certainly spent some time in the broader economic culture as a businessperson and consultant, I have lived most of my professional life in the relative serenity of the university. There I teach students how to make an impact in a place in which I don't spend a lot of time. I have to live vicariously through businesspeople I know or read about, those for whom I've done a bit of consulting, my former students, and so on. They keep telling me that I've made a difference. I hope they're not just being polite.

I was also a school board trustee (Americans tend to use the more prosaic term school board 'member') for twenty-one years. There I helped to decide what was best for school teachers and children without ever having been an elementary or secondary teacher, and having left high school in 1965. I kept getting re-elected, so I guess I wasn't totally fouling up. But one wonders whether one is doing the right thing at times. Fortunately I slept with a school teacher routinely--my wife! Having her input certainly kept me grounded.

Similarly I post articles regarding what is best for women in crisis pregnancies without--well, you know exactly what experience I am lacking here. Despite the current shape of my stomach, I have never been pregnant. I have two wonderful children, but my contribution to the exercise of conceiving and giving birth to them was solely on the fun side.

So I often wonder why I have the temerity to be posting on life issues at all.

I was browsing recently through the website of Feminists for Life of America ( Now that was inspiring! Their vision statement is as follows:

If you believe in the strength of women and the potential for every human life.
If you refuse to choose between women and children.
If you believe no woman should be forced to choose between pursuing her education and career plans and sacrificing her child.
If you reject violence and exploitation.
Join us in challenging the status quo.
Because women deserve better choices.

The organization goes on to state what it thinks are the root causes that drive women to abortion:

Feminists for Life of America recognizes that abortion is a reflection that our society has failed to meet the needs of women. We are dedicated to systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion--primarily lack of practical resources and support--through holistic, women-centered solutions. Women deserve better than abortions.

Wonderful stuff. I could have written most of it myself, but it wouldn't have meant nearly as much. Why? Because I have always received the support I need to pursue education and career. I've never had to choose between my professional life and my children. I am a white male with an MBA from one of the best business schools in Canada. I've had it all!! Most women can't say that--not yet anyway.

So why would anyone listen to me?

At the same time as I was thinking these thoughts, I received an interesting e-mail message from a woman who was present when I preached a sermon lately on crisis pregnancies (see my post entitled 'Who put the crisis in crisis pregnancies?'). She made the following valid, in my view at least, observations:

1) There's a book out lately that argues that the feminist movement went off the rails by focusing on domestic violence instead of the broader aspects of male dominance in our society.

2) Did the pro-life movement similarly go off the rails by focusing on abortion (women and infants) instead of the broader aspects of male responsibility and social injustice?

The waters are getting deeper and deeper! I'm clearly not a candidate to replace Oprah on the women's issues beat.

But all kidding aside, I do feel somewhat at a loss at times to know what is important to emphasize, to explore, to denounce. Without female input of all kinds, I'm really speaking somewhat second hand.

So I've invited the woman quoted above to do a guest post in the near future. I hope she accepts. I also plan to turn my mind more to topics where I feel on surer ground--social injustice and male responsibility.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Ideas that some day might grow up to be posts - vol. 1, no. 1

Having spent most of my working life writing for academic and professional journals, I find that restrictions on length or number of words are quite unwelcome. But once in a while, one wants to simply throw out some ideas without taking the time to write the usual multiple pages, as has been my life-long practice.

So in no particular order, here are some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my mind lately that may or may not one day grow up into full-blown postings.

1. The peacemaker (so called)

What is it about Americans and guns? I lived in the U.S. for two years as well as doing an open-line radio program in Washington State for another three. During that time I found that a major difference between our two cultures is that Canadians, by and large, see a very limited place for handguns, or weapons of any sort, whereas Americans seem to be in love with the things. In my time doing the radio program, only twice was I interfered with in my choice of topics. One of these was guns. And this was a Christian radio station! My producer admitted that he had three of his own.

Yet as I read American bloggers following the U.S. presidential race, I find self-proclaimed so-con spokespeople lamenting that there are candidates who are pro-abortion and anti-gun. Pardon me?

Can you imagine if Jesus had been born in the U.S. He would be criticized by the NRA for not packing heat. Peter would have been the hero for wielding that sword in the garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus would have been the bleeding heart liberal who offered free public health care.

2. The Prime Minister (so far)

Getting back to my own shores, there is an Ontario blogger who calls himself Christian Conservative. He identifies himself further as an evangelical Christian active in his local church and devoted to biblical truth. I have no criticism of this, of course. To some extent I could say the same thing about myself. But this otherwise unnamed gentleman also displays an ardent support for Stephen Harper, our Prime Minister. Has he questioned our first minister lately about his pathetic performance on the life file?

First of all, I would like to remind my Christian brother not to be too confident that the political route will get you far on issues related to the personhood and security of the unborn baby. It is not for nothing that the Bible warns us not to put our trust in princes (Cardinal Wolsey's dying words, quoting Psalm 146:3).

Beyond this, Mr. Harper has dismissed discussion of life matters with the comment that his position is too complicated to talk about. A couple of representative quotes:

a., June 1, 2004

Harper admitted that although his personal view of the issue lies somewhere "in between the two extremes," he has "no intention of discussing the topic during an election." "We know different people in our party have different views on abortion and they're entitled to them. But the truth of the matter is this is an issue that could not be done at the federal level anyway. It's a matter of provincial jurisdiction," he said.

Harper said that he would oppose any bill limiting provincial funding to abortion services. How health-care funding is spent, he said, should be left to the provinces.

b., January 20, 2006

Harper also believes moral issues should be a matter of individual conscience, not party policy, he (i.e., William Johnson, author of Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada) said. By not making abortion and same-sex marriage party issues, Johnson noted Harper has in effect marginalized the social conservatives. "Because the vote (on same-sex marriage) will be a free vote, and he will vote one way, yes, but the Bloc, and most of the Liberals and NDP almost to a person would oppose anything that limited abortion or same-sex marriage, it's not going to go anywhere."

It should come as no surprise, then, that Conservative backbencher Ken Epp's very important bill regarding unborn victims of crime is going the private members route. Why isn't it a government bill? Alas, it will die aborning.

3. The Pope (so tactless)

A number of Canadian bloggers with strong pro-life convictions have been urging Christians to encourage the Pope's presence at the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City next June. They are suggesting that this would be of great help in taking the pro-life cause forward. See, for instance, Vote Life, Canada Nov. 9/07; Stand Your Ground Nov. 9/07; The Bear Blog Nov. 9/07; and Big Blue Wave Nov. 1 and Nov. 7/07.

Now I profess great admiration for the present Pope's predecessor, John Paul II. I am beyond grateful, as well, for the leadership given by Catholics to the pro-life cause. In addition, I find at the personal level that Protestant and Catholic Christians can work arm in arm without any difficulties.

But Holy Smokes (if you'll pardon the expression in this context), this Benedict fellow is a public relations disaster.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican
Pope Benedict XVI. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Quoting from The Guardian, July 11, 2007:

Protestant churches yesterday reacted with dismay to a new declaration approved by Pope Benedict XVI insisting they were mere "ecclesial communities" and their ministers effectively phonies with no right to give communion.

The view that Protestants cannot have churches was first set out by Pope Benedict seven years ago when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed the Vatican "ministry" for doctrine. A commentary attached to the latest text acknowledged that his 2000 document, Dominus Iesus, had caused "no little distress".

But it added: "It is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to [Protestant communities], given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church."

The Pope's old department, which issued the document, said its aim was to correct "erroneous or ambiguous" interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

I mean no disrespect to the person or the office, but perhaps for the sake of ongoing cooperation between Protestants and Catholics in pro-life organizations, it might be better if the gentleman were to stay in Rome.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Who put the crisis in crisis pregnancies?

An evangelical church in greater Vancouver recently did a three-week exploration of the biblical teaching on social justice. The speaker for the first week concentrated on the needs of the world's poor. In the second week I explored the topic from the point of view of the requirements that justice places on those in positions of governance. In the third week I turned my attention to crisis pregnancies. The text that was read before the sermon was Luke 7:36-50 where a woman considered to be an outcast from polite society interrupts a dinner party given by Simon the Pharisee to wash Jesus' feet with her tears and to wipe them with her hair. Jesus accepts her love at the same time as he is being criticized by his host for his willingness to associate with her. This is the sermon.
Good morning. After a professional career spent mostly in post-secondary teaching and administration, research and publishing, and in municipal politics, I have in my elder statesman years become a full-time consultant.
Much to my surprise, the Abbotsford Right to Life Society approached me about a contract as Director of Education and Development. So much for billing at $1000 per day!
As a follow up to last week’s sermon on biblical justice, I plan to spend my 20 minutes today dealing with a pro-life issue from a justice perspective. My focus, I want to say up front, will be on women in crisis pregnancies and the church’s responsibility towards them.
I should probably also say at the beginning that I have no idea what position this church or its denomination holds on life matters, no one asked me to preach on this subject, and that I am speaking only for myself.
But first--
1. Let me begin by saying that it is not my intention to concentrate at any length on the more common focus that life is sacred from conception, making abortion an unacceptable option for those who hold to this belief.
While there is no explicit reference in Scripture to abortion, there is no question that this is the traditional Christian position, whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. It is my position as well. Time does not permit an examination of the relevant biblical passages, nor of the understanding of biblical interpreters in the 2000 years since the time of Jesus that our faith teaches the sanctity of life even in the womb.
In modern times there are those Christians but who have argued that we should view this teaching differently. One could debate their opinions of what the texts mean or their position on the authority of Scripture. But that is not my objective. It would be better done in a small group discussion format.
In a way it is almost irrelevant to do so. While climbing on to the back of a moral high horse affords a wonderful view of some non-existent perfect world, it removes the saint from the realities of everyday life with which one must deal if one is really a follower of Christ and lover of all humanity.
For to a large extent, while we may think that we have won the theological battle, we have lost the pragmatic war. In the U.S., where 1.3 million abortions are performed each year, over half are obtained by women who are members of Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches, all churches that hold to traditional pro-life positions. 1% of these abortions are done in instances of either rape or incest, and 3% because of issues related to the mother’s health. The rest are obtained as a means of birth control.
Are we to condemn, even shun, these women for breaking with our theology? I grew up in a fundamentalist environment with just that kind of thinking, but it does not square with the example Jesus left for us when he was accused of wasting all his time hanging out with those whom polite society disapproved of (as we heard in this morning’s scripture reading).
2. Neither, as passionately as I feel about the subject, am I going to talk about the personhood of the unborn child at any length. As you know, at various times in recent history African-Americans, women, Jews and First Nations people have been considered non-persons in some sense. In Abraham Lincoln’s time, for instance, black slaves were defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as two-thirds of a person for purposes of the U.S. Constitution and could therefore be denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In Canada, a fetus is not a person until she or he has fully emerged from the mother’s womb. For that reason, doctors can even perform what are called partial-birth abortions where the baby in partially removed from the mother’s body and destroyed. Thousands of them have been done, although they were recently banned in the United States after much controversy.
As another example of what it means to be a non-person, if a pregnant woman is killed, as happened recently in Toronto, and the unborn baby also dies, the murderer is charged with only one murder, not two.
While obviously a justice issue, an examination of this matter awaits another time.
If I am not planning to explore any of these obvious areas at any length, what’s left for today? Lots!
As Jet made clear two week ago, and hopefully I did as well last week, biblical justice goes beyond a sort of dispassionate fairness to actually seeking out and championing the needs of the marginalized, the exploitable, the poor—those in the least position to fend for themselves. While pro-life discussions typically center on the unborn baby (and rightly so in the proper context), I want to focus on the women who carry these little ones.
How should women in crisis pregnancies be viewed by the church and society? How can we champion their cause?
1. Stats tell us a little
A good place to start is to ask ourselves, what makes women seek abortions in the first place. There are approximately 30 abortions for every 100 live births in Canada, with women in their 20s comprising the largest group who obtain them. About 33,000 Canadian teens become pregnant each year, and 18,000 of them abort. Abortions can be obtained fairly easily. Our public Medicare system pays for the vast majority of them. A 14-year old does not need to obtain parental permission to go ahead with the surgery. Her parents very often do not even know.
2. Culture tells us more
Those are the statistics. But what are the reasons? Some indications can be gleaned from such facts as these:
  1. 75% of women who abort are single. We live in a society that not only permits, but often rewards, promiscuity. Can you imagine that at one time we considered it insulting to say that a person was ‘easy’ or ’fast’. What we once viewed as sluttish behaviour is now more or less the norm, particularly as social relationships are depicted in the media. Ever watch Friends? People who have not had intercourse are looked on with amusement and pity—such as was depicted in the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin. My wife had a 13-year old middle school student who actually passed out gag business cards to her male classmates calling herself a sex expert. Of course, it is the women who pay the price for this societal permissiveness. And it is the young women and girls who feel the strong pressure to conform. At the same time we are experiencing a significant breakdown in the traditional family structure. Combine lack of a supportive family structure with rampant sexual permissiveness, and an abortion boom is predictable.
  2. We also live in a culture, or sometimes a sub-culture, that views some lives as worth less than others. In the 1960s, when I was in high school and university, we argued that everyone was of equal worth and that no one should be afforded special privileges or be denied anything that others could access. But we have gone back to an older view that certain types of life are deemed to be lacking in worth. In Hitler’s Germany, this category included Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. In today’s Canada, it is the physically and mentally challenged, those who are unwanted, and in some sub-cultures, females. So we find that 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. In the East Indian sub-culture, and others as well, women abort female fetuses in disproportionately large numbers. And politicians actually campaign on the slogan “Every child a wanted child”, as if that were a guarantee of any social good. Are we really content with a culture that diminishes human worth on the basis of handicap, gender, or unwantedness? Is life so cheap?
  3. What is it like for a female growing up in a society with such values as these? No wonder the abortion rate has risen as it has.
But while I’ve probably outlined a pretty good preaching agenda, as well as a number of important issues for youth groups to address, we still haven’t gotten to the meat of today’s focus—biblical justice and the crisis pregnancy.
3. Who put the crisis in crisis pregnancy?
We are told that most women obtain abortions to please, or placate, someone else. Obtaining an abortion is seldom a fully independent choice. As much as society talks about a woman’s right to choose, the choice is often taken out of her hands. Or to put it another way, while a woman may ultimately make the decision, it is often with a strong element of coercion.
But before I get to that, I want to take a quick look back on an earlier chapter in my chequered career.
I once hosted an open-line radio show in Sudbury, ON. It was aimed at young people (ages 14-22), although over half of the audience was adult (the young people's parents listened in large numbers). I used to get high-schoolers calling in to complain about their dad or mom. One of the things that I used to do with such callers was to ask them to do a role play with me. First I would set the scene, along such lines as these:
MGS (my good self): What does your father do for a living?
CYC (complaining young caller): He works for INCO. He's a miner.
MGS: Does he like his job?
CYC: Not very much. Who would?
MGS: How does he feel when he gets home from work?
CYC: I never thought about it. Pretty tired, I guess. Bummed out. [Sorry, that's how we talked in the 1970s.]
MGS: OK, you play the tired-out, unfulfilled father coming home from another lousy, hard day of work, and I'll play the 15-year old son who intercepts him at the door to complain about..... (whatever the issue was that the caller had raised).
It's amazing the effect this had on the caller's perspective. I wish that many of my pro-life friends would do the same with respect to the way they approach their task of addressing what they feel is a huge moral wrong. Put yourself in the shoes of:
  • The fourteen year old girl who got high, had sex with three different guys at a party, is now pregnant, has no idea who the father is, and is afraid to tell her parents. [I'm not making this up. I had just such a call from a girl on my open-line show. Of course, it was the "girl's friend" who called on her behalf.]
  • The sixteen year old who wants to keep the baby but doesn't know how she will ever complete high school now if she has an infant to care for. [It was just this common scenario that led my school board to start our New Beginnings program at one of our high schools, providing both daycare for the young moms so that they could go to school, and parenting skills classes for these children having children as well. You may not be surprised to learn that there were those who accused us of doing nothing more than encouraging teenagers to get pregnant. Such is the life of the school board trustee.]
In fact, I’m going to go off-script here for a moment and recount a story from a school board meeting held to deal with the unfounded rumour that we were going to cancel the New Beginnings programme. A large number of people, including many who had benefited from the programme gathered to urge the Board to keep it going. One of the spokespeople was a young woman who identified herself as a former runaway who ended up on the street and sold her body to make a living. She became pregnant and decided that she had to change something in order to keep her baby. Somehow she ended up in Abbotsford and enrolled in New Beginnings. "I was able to finish high school and keep my baby," she said, her voice trembling with emotion. "You mustn't let the programme die." It's the only time in 21 years that I cried at a school board meeting.
But back to my list of people whose shoes we all need to walk in.
  • The nineteen-year-old woman whose boyfriend, having gotten her pregnant, now threatens to leave her if she doesn't abort. When a young woman in Winnipeg a few years ago refused to abort, her boyfriend actually killed her and the baby.
  • The recent university grad who, having started on a promising career, finds that she is pregnant and will have to abort the career unless she aborts the baby because her company makes no allowance for her situation.
  • The female member of a church who sees how unmarried mothers are treated.
How do these women feel when they see signs proclaiming, “Abortion is murder”? Read the rants of the many pro-life bloggers I get to read as part of my job? Sense their obvious hostility? Do they see any concern for the vulnerable, the needy, and the exploited that is supposed to be the hallmark of the Christian lifestyle? Or have these woman joined the ranks of the unwanted like the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears? Will they likely turn to us for help?
The pro-choice people may have vacuous arguments, but they do withhold judgment. Jesus treated the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), or the women "taken in adultery" (John 7:53 - 8:11) better than many pro-lifers treat such women as I've outlined above.
I am now going to give you the most amazing fact of all--the Protestant church has more or less washed its hands of the whole business. Some denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church of Canada, have simply proclaimed themselves as officially pro-choice, giving themselves the luxury of ignoring these difficulties. The evangelical Protestants have maintained a theoretical pro-life stance, which one would think would translate into a concern to address this great moral challenge and to deal with the human fall-out such as crisis pregnancies and the dividing of God’s creatures up into the wanted and the unwanted.
But I’ve learned the grim reality from actually working in the field. Pastors in Abbotsford, a seat of evangelicalism if there ever was one, have told me that such matters are simply not part of the church’s agenda. One pastor told me that we are just another special interest group like Love Abbotsford and Pray through Ramadan. At best, they see such issues as political only and none of their concern.
Ask yourselves--Is lobbying to make abortion illegal the answer? Or is it an easy solution to a vexing moral question while ignoring all of the fall-out? Being moralistic is not the same thing as properly addressing moral issues. Nor is it the same thing as doing justice.
I want to close with one last story, told to me by a long-time friend that Sharon and I visited this past summer. I will, of course, disguise some of the details to protect the innocent. I would happily expose the guilty.

The scene: A goodish sized, conservative evangelical church in small town Canada. The church shows a commitment to the well-being of young people in a number of ways, including the provision of various clubs and sports camps.

The church's pro-life position: The church supports a local pregnancy counseling agency, including the provision of church members who serve on its board, raise money and do some of the counseling.

The church's commitment to babies: The congregation is young and many babies are born every year. The church puts on elaborate and generous baby showers on these occasions. A class on parenting is offered as well.
Sounds pretty good so far. But what happens when the unmarried daughter of two of the church's members has a baby? Well--nothing. No shower, no support, no joy, no nothing! Just big time rejection.

Was the girl some kind of disgusting sinner that she should be treated this way? She is not a Christian herself, so was not violating her own principles in having premarital sex (not that she should have been rejected on that basis in any event). She did not resort to an abortion. 75% of abortions are performed on unmarried women, but this young lady made the life choice and kept hers. She did not flaunt her situation, actually staying away from the church while pregnant (and no wonder!).

One of the members, a devout evangelical with several adult children, sprang into action. She approached the teacher of the parenting class about holding a baby shower for the young woman in her home. The church leaders, some of whom were privately sympathetic, made it clear that the shower could not be held in the church but could go ahead as long as if was off-site. A number of supportive people attended, gave various gifts (including a generous amount of money), and generally made the girl feel appreciated.

But the official position of this alleged pro-life church was that the young woman would not realize the warmth and support of her parents’ home congregation because of having had a child out of wedlock. It makes me want to cry.
Should we as Christians promote the sanctity of life? By all means. Should we work to lower the abortion rate so that, in Hilary Clinton’s words, “the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances”? Even the National Abortion Rights Action League wants to lower the abortion rate.
But what should distinguish us as individual Christians and as a church—some vague, if ever thought about at all, notion that it would probably be a good thing if there were no more abortions? That’s moral high horse thinking and completely useless in the cause of justice.
It’s time that we started to take our faith seriously. There are hundreds of thousands of crisis pregnancies in our city, province and country. How many churches are committed to aiding woman in this situation? Must they turn to the public school system, or to the government for help? Or simply abort? Have we no responsibility here?
The answers to this challenge are as individual as the people and churches that face it. There may be crisis pregnancy centres in your community that need financial help, personnel, and professional guidance. Perhaps one should be started here in the church building. Only you know what best meets the needs in your circumstances.
But what we don’t have is the luxury of pretending that it is someone else’s problem. It is time that the church’s agenda was broadened. We must add the crisis pregnancy to the list. In fact, it needs to be near the top. Justice demands no less.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Canadian women deserve better

While I have not been formally involved in the pro-life movement for very long, I've been an educator at the post-secondary level since 1974. People have trusted me as a consultant to address problems and give well-reasoned opinions. I was also a municipal politician for 21 years. I think that I know something about the information that is necessary to make an informed choice. And Canadian women are not getting such information with respect to the abortion question

It is time that women young and old in this country were treated as human beings with brains and critical thinking abilities and not, on the one hand, as people who have to be protected from anything upsetting or controversial, nor on the other hand, as willing partners in something that is clearly wrong. They also need to be taken seriously by our federal and provincial politicians.

So I am about to write three pleas--one to pro-choice activists, one to the prime minister, and one to my pro-life colleagues--with none of the nice academic sugar-coating that I normally employ in my writings. Too many women are being hurt and victimized to always write with equanimity.

First, to the (self-labeled but not at all obvious) pro-choice activists. You are really as committed to choice as I am to having a frontal lobotomy without anesthetics. You simply do not trust women to make fully informed choices for themselves.
  • Rather you push a few slogans relentlessly (particularly the illogical and odious "Every child a wanted child") while vilifying anyone whose views are different from your own.
  • You attack what you call (legitimately or not) false information that you say will mislead a woman about medical and psychological issues surrounding abortion, while ignoring information that is either erroneous, exaggerated, understated or just plain missing from your favoured websites and literature.
  • You demean women who join, often in very large numbers, organizations that take a contrary position to yours. I guess this isn't a woman's 'choice' that you feel 'pro' about.
  • And perhaps most surprising of all, you push the male agenda when it comes to abortion legislation.
Beyond this, you have chosen for yourselves spokespeople who, whatever be the state of their IQs and the extent of their education, are capable of writing some of the most irrational opinions that I have ever read, Joyce Arthur's column in today's National Post being a prime example (see "Fetal homicide laws are not the answer," National Post, Tuesday, November 13, 2007, p. A17).

I have written on all of the above points in numerous posts in the past, and space does not permit a review of them all. But I'll briefly address two.

First, the male agenda. If you go back just two posts from the one you are reading now (look for the picture of my baseball hero Hank Aaron in his Atlanta Braves uniform), you will see my analysis of the latest statistics from American and Canadian polls on abortion-related issues. There you will read that many more men than women want unrestricted access to abortion, and far fewer men than women call themselves pro-life. The pro-choice cheering section has a decidedly baritone sound. Apparently their views are carrying the day.

Second, Joyce Arthur's column (which would get a D at best in my classroom). Let me take just two quotes to show you how empty the reasoning is:

Creating a "fetal homicide" law that would allow murder charges to be laid for the death of a fetus would be an unconstitutional infringement on women's rights...

How is a law protecting unborn victims of crime an infringement on choice? The woman has made her choice--she is pregnant after all, and has not chosen to have an abortion. A killer ignores that choice and murders the baby. Where is the infringement? In fact, in some of the recent cases in Canada, the father killed the mother because she refused to have an abortion.

A "fetal homicide" law would completely sidestep the issue of domestic abuse and do nothing to protect pregnant women.

What!? Parliament is capable of passing only one law? If it puts one legal restriction in place, it is shut out from also passing another dealing with the issue? Wouldn't that be like saying that if the government passes a law saying that a homeless person can't steal my money that it is bypassing the broader issue of homelessness? Ridiculous.

While many pro-choice activists are too addicted to ideology and too immersed in groupthink to take an arm's-length look at themselves, I would make this plea to those ordinary women and men who have, perhaps somewhat uncritically, taken a pro-choice position:

Take stock. Do you have all of the information necessary to make a fully informed choice? Are you ignoring possible sources of information because they have been ruled out in advance by yourself or others? Are you even aware of public opinion on the issue? If you say that you believe in choice, start looking everywhere for what you need to make that choice. Don't be bullied, manipulated or otherwise kept from seeking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It's there if you really look. But there are those who are trying to keep it from you. If the pro-choice activists don't trust you, trust yourselves.

Next, to my pro-life colleagues. I used to host an open-line radio show in Sudbury, ON. It was aimed at young people (14-22), although over half of the audience was adult (the young people's parents listened in large numbers). I used to get high-schoolers calling in to complain about their dad or mom. One of the things that I used to do with such callers was to ask them to do a role play with me. First I would set the scene, along such lines as these:

MGS (my good self): What does your father do for a living?
CYC (complaining young caller): He works for INCO. He's a miner.
MGS: Does he like his job?
CYC: Not very much. Who would?
MGS: How does he feel when he gets home from work?
CYC: I never thought about it. Pretty tired, I guess. Bummed out. [Sorry, that's how we talked in the 1970s.]
MGS: OK, you play the tired-out, unfulfilled father coming home from another lousy, hard day of work, and I'll play the 15-year old son who intercepts him at the door to complain about..... (whatever the issue was that the caller had raised).

It's amazing the effect this had on the caller's perspective. I wish that my pro-life friends would do the same with respect to the way they approach their task of addressing what they feel is a huge moral wrong. Put yourself in the shoes of:
  • The fourteen year old girl who got high, had sex with three different guys at a party, is now pregnant, has no idea who the father is, and is afraid to tell her parents. [I'm not making this up. I had just such a call from a girl on my open-line show. Of course, it was the "girl's friend" who called on her behalf.]
  • The seventeen year old who wants to keep the baby but doesn't know how she will ever complete high school now if she has an infant to care for. [It was just this common scenario that led my school board to start our New Beginnings program at one of our high schools, providing both daycare for the young moms so that they could go to school, and parenting skills classes for these children having children as well.]
  • The nineteen year old woman whose boyfriend, having gotten her pregnant, now threatens to leave her if she doesn't abort.
  • The recent university grad who, having started on a promising career, finds that she is pregnant and will have to abort the career unless she aborts the baby.
  • The female member of a church who sees how unmarried mothers are treated (see my post from this past August entitled 'Why I am occasionally sympathetic to Bertrand Russell'.)
How do these women feel when they see your signs? Read your rants? Sense your hostility? Will they likely turn to you for help? The pro-choice people may have vacuous arguments, but they do withhold judgment. Jesus treated the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), or the women "taken in adultery" (John 7:53 - 8:11) better than many pro-lifers treat such women as I've outlined above.

Ask yourselves--Is lobbying to make abortion illegal the answer? Or is it an easy solution to a vexing moral question while ignoring all of the fall-out? Being moralistic is not the same thing as properly addressing moral issues.

Finally, to our Prime Minister. You have shown yourself to be a good leader in a number of ways that most people approve of (e.g., cutting taxes, reducing the nanny state). You are not afraid to tackle some moral issues (e.g., Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan, Parliamentary ethics). But on the pro-life vs. pro-abortion issue you are an abject failure. Let's start with your limited discussion on the issues:

"I've been clear. A Conservative government led by me will not be tabling abortion legislation. It will not be sponsoring an abortion referendum," Harper said, adding he has no intention of discussing the subject further during the election campaign....Harper said his own views on abortion fall somewhere "in-between the two extremes." (CBC , Tuesday, June 1, 2004).

That's it. On this subject, you are silent. You can be very blunt on many controversial topics. But you treat this one like it has leprosy. Doubtless recognizing the political difficulty it could cause, you have run very hard in any other direction.

I don't respect you for this.
  • Fetuses enjoy less protection in our criminal code than do people's pets (see my post entitled 'Of hamsters and Nellie McClung'.)
  • The majority of Canadians don't approve of public funding of abortions as is permitted now (Environics October 2007 poll). You simply dismiss such issues as provincial responsibilities--but campaign on reduced hospital wait times in those same provincial jurisdictions.
  • Your Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, was prepared to risk his leadership aspirations of the Ontario Tory party in 2002 by publicly taking a pro-life stance. You won't even take a Henry Morgentaler stance (no abortions after 24 weeks).
  • Many Canadians think that it is immoral, and should be illegal, for a man to kill a pregnant woman and her baby and yet be charged with only one crime; i.e., murder of the woman. In the U.S. that killer would be charged with two murders. You are satisfied with this state of affairs?
  • You are accused (wrongly in my view) of being too close to the current U.S. President George W. Bush. I would be happy if you were within hailing distance of the next U.S. President, Hillary Clinton, who said: [Abortion is] a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women. There is no reason why government cannot do more to educate and inform and provide assistance so that the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.
Can't you muster up enough compassion for women, and respect for public opinion, to at least propose an unborn victims of crime law? Is an extra seat or two in Quebec and Ontario more important than stemming such violence? Do you really find yourself convinced (or intimidated) by the likes of Joyce Arthur? Judy Rebick? The Bloc? Aren't Canadian women and their unborn babies worth as much of your concern as their Afghan counterparts? Right now they're not worth as much as a couple of hamsters in the Canadian Criminal Code.

Canadian women deserve better from you.

Monday, 12 November 2007

'Youth for Life' is on Facebook

In anticipation of the introduction of some youth-focused initiatives at Abbotsford Right to Life in the New Year, we've set up a Facebook group called 'Youth for Life.' Since controversial issues like pro-life, etc. tend to attract the irrational fringe (on all sides) out of hiding, we've set the group up as an invitation-only space on Facebook.

In addition to the discussion board, the 'Youth for Life' group will be a space through which local pro-life events can be publicized, and photos, videos, and links can be uploaded.

If you are already on Facebook and would like to join the Youth for Life group, send me a message via the Facebook site with your request, or contact me directly by e-mail and I'll invite you.

If you don't have a Facebook account (they're free, by the way) then go ahead and set one up so that you can request access to the group. Alternately, e-mail me your request to join the group, and the e-mail you receive for the invitation will also allow you to set up an account (just follow the links in the message).

I look forward to further pro-life discussion with you on the 'Youth for Life' Facebook group.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

My name is John--and I'm a stats addict

Or so some would say. I do have an insatiable interest in statistics. No, not standard deviations from the mean, the Pearsonian coefficient of skewness--not those kind of statistics (gag!) I mean the kind that show up in box scores on the sports pages, and are derived from market and other kinds of research.

How bad is it? As a young teenager in the early 1960s, being poorer than a church mouse, I devised my own baseball game using the bottom of a Sears box and a plastic spinner from some tabletop game. I would write down various baseball lineups from the paper so that I could have full sets for each major league team, complete with pinch hitters and relief pitchers. On a piece of paper taped to the box, I had I forget how many alternatives that can happen when a pitcher faces a batter--strike, foul, wild pitch, single with runners advancing one base, home run, etc., etc.

I set up a schedule of games, spun the spinner, played nine innings or whatever it took to finish the match, kept statistics of every game, and even compiled tables of leading batters, pitchers, etc. Now the X-Boxes and Playstations do it all for you. No imagination, these young people.

[I was a huge Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves fan. To this day, Hank Aaron is my favourite baseball player. You can imagine what I think of Barry Bonds.]

I suppose that this fascination with statistics is what led me eventually into a career in market research. As I mentioned in an earlier post (Pro-life and....) I love using research to unearth information that clarifies the picture and aids in decision-making.

So you will not be surprised at my delight when I discovered a number of polls done this year in the U.S. and Canada having to do with societal opinions of the life vs. abortion issue. As I have said in the past, stereotypes and myths come crashing down when accurate information is compiled.

I will try to summarize the data from these research efforts in a way that does no violence to their integrity as sources of information. I say this because the questions posed to respondents, while similar, were not necessarily identical, and the samples of respondents, while large and random, were slightly different in some cases (e.g., general sample of Americans vs. registered voters). The polls were done between May and October 2007, most of them in October.

1. Abortion should be legal in all cases (or, it is a sufficient basis for abortion that the baby is unwanted).

Fox News - 39% of Americans
L.A. Times/Bloomberg - 24
CBS News - 26
CNN - 23
Pew Research - 21
Environics Canada - 33% of Canadians (30% of women, 36% of men)

2. Abortion should be legal most of the time; it should be legal in most cases.

L.A. Times/Bloomberg - 19%
Pew Research - 32
CBS News - 16 (more restricted than it is now)
Environics Canada - 11 (support law protecting the fetus after 6 months)
Environics Canada - 21 (support law protecting the fetus after 3 months)

3. Abortion should be illegal with a few exceptions; e.g. only in cases of incest, rape or the mother's life; illegal in most cases.

L.A. Times/Bloomberg - 41%
CBS News - 34
Pew Research - 24
Environics Canada - 47% support public funding for abortion only in such emergencies

4. Abortion should be illegal with no exceptions; never legal; always illegal; illegal in all cases.

L.A. Times/Bloomberg - 12%
CBS News - 4 (another 16% say legal only if woman's life is endangered)
CNN - 22
Pew Research - 15
Environics Canada - 30 (34% of women, 26% of men)

5. Do you consider yourself (more) pro-choice, (more) pro-life, both/mix, unsure?

a. Pro-Life
Fox News - 37%
Gallup - 45
CNN - 50

b. Pro-Choice
Fox News - 48%
Gallup - 49
CNN - 45

c. Both/Mix
Fox News - 8%
Gallup - 3
CNN - 2

d. Don't know/Unsure
Fox News - 7%
Gallup - 4
CNN - 3

6. Do you personally believe having an abortion is wrong?

CNN Yes - 60% No - 36% Unsure - 4%

What can be drawn from this snapshot of societal opinion? Certain trends seem to be indicated.

1. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of North Americans want unrestricted abortion. In Canada there is no abortion law and unrestricted access to abortion, in most cases paid for by the health system, is the current reality. In the U.S. abortion is a constitutional right, although some restrictions exist in most states and many people have to pay for the procedure out of their own pocket.

Despite this open door to abortion access, however, the vast majority of North Americans (two-thirds to three-quarters) would accept (or even prefer) restrictions. In Canada, men are considerably more in favour of unrestricted abortions than women.

2. Abortions related to saving the mother's life or to pregnancies resulting from rape and incest are a very small fraction of total abortions. For all intents and purposes, one could lump together the statistics for making all abortions illegal, and restricting them to extreme cases as mentioned above, to arrive at the statistic for eliminating virtually all abortions. The American respondents in this category fall somewhere between 40 and 50%. Canadian support for public funding for emergency abortions only stands at 47%.

3. Perhaps the most interesting statistic of all indicates that many people who call themselves pro-choice actually mean it in a legal way, while still retaining the moral view that abortion is wrong (what I call the Elizabeth May position). While a little under half of respondents put themselves in the pro-life camp, fully 60% see abortion as immoral.

As for the "every child a wanted child" slogan that so many politicians and abortion advocates use, Fox News found that only 39% favoured abortion because the pregnancy was unwanted, while 50% opposed "unwantedness" as a legitimate basis for abortion (11% were unsure). In other words, for those with an opinion a solid majority reject the common slogan.

Finally, in Canada women are more pro-life than men.