Tuesday, 30 September 2008

John is alive and well....

....and working in Vancouver. I thought that I was done with blogging for the time being. I've started this great new job with Pacific Theatre. I'm commuting 70 clicks one way to Vancouver every day. I'm enjoying life with my wonderful spouse, Sharon. Who has time to blog?

But I miss it. I really liked cranking up the Dashboard every once in a while and hammering out a few thoughts. I'm out of the loop regarding pro-life issues right now. But I thought I would try my hand at a few political prognostications.

First, Steven Harper will be returned as prime minister with an increased minority. He will take votes away from the Liberals and the Bloc, but not in sufficient numbers to make it to majority territory. Too many numb skulls in his party have made too many mistakes; e.g., pooping Puffins, running down dead soldiers' dads, using black humour regarding tainted meat, plagiarized speeches, etc. If the political I.Q. of these people were any lower, they would have to be watered once a week.

The NDP will also take away seats from the Liberals. Stephane Dion will put on a brave front for a while and then resign. That will leave the Liberals with the choice as leader of the worst premier in recent history in Ontario, or an academic who spent 30 years outside the country and in an article referred to Americans as 'we'. Good luck to them.

Despite having a clear hatred for the private sector, and a very unsure handle on economics, Jack Layton will get a good number of protest votes and substantially increase his seats. That one trick pony called the Green Party will sink without a trace. Elizabeth May is a very nice lady and would make a great backbench MP or chair of a parent advisory council. The Bloc will retain about half of the Quebec seats, perhaps a little less than that. Duceppe will pack it in and retire.

In the U.S. the less flawed candidate (Mr. Obama) will prevail because Mr. McCain appears to have no obvious strategy for winning. While neither vice-presidential candidate should give Americans any cause for comfort, Ms. Palin is a political accident looking for somewhere to happen.

And finally, John Sutherland will be re-elected to the Abbotsford BC Board of Education.

You read it here first.

Monday, 28 July 2008


The last post. Sounds kind of mournful, doesn't it. This being the final week of my contract with Abbotsford Right to Life, I'm making my last comments on johnonlife. My next contract, which starts in September, is with that wonderful theatre company in Vancouver, Pacific Theatre, where I will be the general manager.

This post is a bit of a ripoff in a way. I wrote a response to a post in that great blog ProWomanProLife, and have decided to use it as my last comment in my own blog (my apologies to Andrea Mrozek).

So here goes. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more....

People do all kinds of irrational things, even when they are well aware of the potential consequences of their decisions. Why do people smoke? Drink and drive? Drop out of school? Neglect exercise and a good diet? Refuse to see a doctor when they experience odd and fearful symptoms? Have abortions? We all know someone who has paid the price for such decisions.

Seldom is the answer to these questions a rational, carefully thought through, intelligent answer. That’s because there aren’t such answers to these questions. Education regarding the likely consequences of these behaviours is routine in school and workplace settings. Fortunately, these education efforts are slowly having an effect, and society is the healthier for it.

The exception is abortion. Here education is almost completely lacking. Most women are kept in the dark about the harmful consequences of abortion for many women. Any attempt to address the matter is emotionally and vociferously resisted by women’s groups, parliamentarians, post-secondary students’ councils, etc. Consequently, women are duped into thinking that abortion is an nice, hassle free, in-by-nine-out-by-ten-and-back-to-work procedure.

Adding to the difficulty is that we have allowed the “pro-choice” people to narrow the field of argumentation, making stereotyping that much easier. Pro-choice doesn’t mean choosing among long-term solutions to crisis pregnancies in the best interests of the woman and anyone else affected by the decision. It simply means the choice of whether or not to have an abortion, as if there were no other good solutions.

But “pro-life” has also come to mean the choice of whether or not to have an abortion. Neither side concentrates on the long-term solutions. Both sides concentrate only on the fetus--whether it lives or dies. Neither choice is rational in and of itself, in that each is short-term and ignores the context within which the choice is being made and the long-term consequences of making it.

Pro-choice ideology is narrow, short-term, unimaginative, and potentially harmful to the long-run best interests of the decision-maker. I am suggesting that pro-life ideology, as it is understood in society today, is no different. If we want to do women and girls a favour, we will have to become a lot more creative, more daring, harder working, and more intelligent in our advocacy than we are now.

Now I understand that in taking a pro-life position, most of us are doing so on a moral, even theological basis–-the sanctity of life. I believe in this as well. But God didn’t create us just to exist–-to breathe, eat and wet our diapers. He created us to live in a certain positive and fulfilling way and for a certain purpose. People and structures that threaten this way of life and that purpose are to be opposed and destroyed. What is the pro-life movement doing to sanctify life beyond merely getting life started? That is the huge question. Its answer should be the real reason for our existence.


Now for a few closing remarks and thank yous. Abbotsford Right to Life has been very supportive of my writing endeavours, and has politely overlooked my mistakes while lauding my occasional successes. Thank you to Dorothy Blaak and Arlene Penner for being wonderful colleagues for this past year.

Suzanne Fortin's Big Blue Wave is a treasure trove of information and opinion (although I would advise her to drop some of her bloggers in the interest of greater credibility). I have appreciated her support for what I am trying to do, and I wish her the very best in raising that new baby.

Feminists for Life and ProWomanProLife are doing wonderful work in providing a creative pro-life perspective in a pluralistic society.

Approximately 3100 readers from around the world have logged into my site. While some of you ended up there quite accidentally, I hope that many of you were helped in some way to think through issues. I noticed that the IP addresses appearing in my blog counter included regular readers in the federal and British Columbia governments, as well as with Fraser Health. Thanks for your interest.

Thank you to Terry O'Neill for drawing my blog to the attention of a wider audience in its earlier days. The same to John Hof.

Thanks to everyone who sent in comments to various posts. While I sometimes disagreed with them, I was always challenged to think more thoroughly about the issue in question.

Thanks to my son Steve, who helped me to set up the blog in the first place, who provided guidance with any technical issues, and who did some good research for me on the Internet from time to time. He, along with his sister Julie and their mother Sharon, were my best critics (as usual).

And finally, thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Bloody amateurs

When I feel like laughing and crying simultaneously, I read the Toronto Star's Antonia Zerbisias. I laugh because she is such a poor reasoner. But I cry because apparently she has a following that takes her seriously.

In her Broadside dated July 22 she discusses (not very well) what life was like for women who had to resort to illegal abortions. At one point, she pokes fun at Jews and Christians with this silly reference to the Old Testament:

Nothing like ''perforation of womb and bladder'' which caused ''death from infection or hemorrhage'' to make a woman think twice about having sex or being independent. It's all so biblical.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Biblical know-nothings should simply not cite scriptural passages. They almost always mean something different from what the one quoting them thinks they do.

This reference is to Genesis chapter 3 where God pronounces upon Adam and Eve's decision to disobey him despite the good things that he has lavished on them. For centuries commentators (almost exclusively male) have taken the text to mean that it was God's intention that women would now find childbearing, and especially delivery, to be a painful experience. Similarly, it was posited that her "desire for her husband" was meant as a permanent subordination of wives to husbands and an end to a woman's independence (this despite the almost completely opposite depiction of a married woman in Proverbs 31).

Biblical feminists have led the way in bringing about a much more reasonable understanding of this passage. God was not pronouncing a curse on his creatures when he said that the world would now be characterized by scarcity and competition, that human labour would be monotonous and difficult, and that women would be subordinated to, and exploited by, men. Rather he was explaining to them the inevitable consequences of their choices.

Choices have consequences--good and bad--because of the way in which they cement or rupture relationships. If there is mutual respect between two individuals, it makes no difference that one is in a position to exploit the other. It would never happen. But throw in some hatred, some avarice, some selfishness, and Bob's your uncle.

Women have suffered from men's hands not because of God's approval, his preference, or his curse--quite the opposite. One of my goals as a pro-sanctified lifer is that the proper relationship of mutual respect, love, admiration, and support be restored as we see it in the Garden of Eden and in the principles, values and goals of God for humankind. Abortions would plummet, of that there is no doubt. Most of the reasons for obtaining an abortion would be eliminated.

But then Antonia would have to find another line of work. That would also be a good thing.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I understand the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be an extended parable intended, like any parable, to teach theological truth in accessible language. This does not change the force of my arguments above.]

That's a lot of fundamentalists!!

July 22, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A random telephone poll of Canadian households with 13,324 respondents conducted between July 17-21, 2008 has revealed that 55.8% of Canadians oppose the awarding of the Order of Canada to abortionist Henry Morgentaler.


Using Dr. Morgentaler's own words to describe those who oppose his nomination to the Order of Canada, 55.8% of Canadians are either Roman Catholics, fundamentalists, or women who don't believe in women's rights. They represent a majority of respondents in every province except Quebec (47%).

Since I've never seen a poll where more than about 30% of Canadians were in favour of making abortion illegal, I have to conclude that there are a lot of pro-choice advocates who still disapprove of ol' Henry at least with respect to the receipt of Canada's highest civilian honour. Sorry, my good doctor, but you are going to have to redefine "the usual suspects".

Curiously, to the best of my knowledge, Morgentaler has never been chosen for inclusion in Canadian Who's Who, unless he has been added since 2005. This standard reference work is published by the University of Toronto, hardly a bastion of the usual suspects. While still a great honour, there are far more people in that publication (approximately 13,000) than are chosen for the Order of Canada (approximately 5,500). Yet the editors seem to sense that his inclusion was not appropriate.

The criteria for being included in Canadian Who's Who are: notable living Canadians.....carefully selected because of the positions they hold in Canadian society, or because of the contribution they have made to life in Canada. Included are outstanding Canadians from all walks of life: business, academia, politics, sports, architecture and the arts-in fact, from every area of human activity.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Means to ends

One of the more enduring stereotypes in organizational life is "We've always done it this way." Change is the single hardest thing to introduce in an organization. There is big-time investment in the status quo.

What is ironic about this reality is that it seldom has anything to do with ultimate objectives. It almost always has to do with the means to ends about which everyone is agreed. People who have no disagreement about what they work together to accomplish will fight tooth and nail over the best way to get there. The best way is, in most minds, the way we are committed to right now.

But sometimes the means get confused with the ends. People begin to see the way to do something as just as important (maybe even more important) than the objectives themselves. The means become some kind of litmus test of commitment to the goals. We tend to associate this mentality with rule-bound bureaucrats, but the phenomenon is much more widespread than that.

In a previous life, when I was teaching a certain amount of biblical studies (I'm a seminary grad with a degree in Old Testament), I used to illustrate this confusion of means and ends in the unseemly and unnecessary arguments associated with creation vs. evolution. A good many Christians can be found on each side of that argument, not to mention across society generally.

What I used to point out to those who called themselves Christians was that none of us disagree (by definition, or we wouldn't call ourselves Christians) about God's sovereignty over the cosmos as its Creator. Whatever one's view of the process by which God created, he did so with a purpose in mind. All orthodox Christians (and people of many other faiths as well) believe that Creation has purpose and direction. In other words, Creation (and therefore life) is neither random nor essentially meaningless.

Therefore to argue that a method (whether six literal days of creation or some kind of young earth theory vs. traditional evolutionary teaching) was critical rather than the purpose (direction vs. randomness; sovereignty vs. chance) was putting the cart before the horse. Yet for many, it's the means that provide the true test of orthodoxy. Therefore, as a believer in some kind of evolutionary process myself, I have had my faith questioned by "true believers."

[Now I understand that the so-called "creationists" feel that belief in a literal six-day creation is necessary if one is to take the Bible at its word. This argument is hardly decisive, as it reflects an arbitrary notion of valid biblical interpretation that forces one to commit to what are really, in my view, non-biblical positions. This holds true for a lot of issues, including the status and role of women.]

In more recent times, this same confusion of means and ends has arisen with respect to women's full and equal rights. While the nature of rights (whether to do with race, gender, creed, and so on) is largely settled, at least in theory if not always in practice, the means of achieving those rights is still very much open to debate.

So with race, for instance, some people have argued that affirmative action programmes are the way to right the wrongs and achieve full and equal status for visible minorities. Others have viewed this as shortsighted and, in the long run, harmful to the cause. But before long, those who believed passionately in a process (affirmative action) began to see that means itself as the only thing that really matters. Therefore, if you were opposed to affirmative action, you must be a racist.

This same phenomenon is true of women's rights. Compare these three quotes:

1. Concordia University social ethicist Christine Jamieson: Abortion is not something someone seeks because it's a good in itself. It's always the answer to another question.

2. Henry Morgentaler describing his opponents to receiving the Order of Canada: [T]he usual suspects: the Catholic Church, fundamentalists, women opposed to women's rights.

3. Heather Mallick, Canadian journalist, on what is wrong with crisis pregnancy centres: 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.

Jamieson has it right. Abortion is a means to some end. One doesn't get an abortion just to put it on her resume. The surgery is done to achieve some goal. But Morgentaler has confused means and ends--if you are opposed to abortion you are opposed to women's rights. Mallick views organizations that are trying to help women in crisis to find solutions as bad, by definition, because they are opposed to her choice of means--abortion.

I've been reading through the positions taken on abortion by the two presidential candidates in the U.S. Very little of the talk has to do with the ultimate goal of women's full and equal rights, as no one really disagrees with this objective. Virtually all of the talk centres on one of the means to achieving this goal--abortion. For the pro-choice side especially, if one doesn't believe in a certain way to achieve women's rights, one must not believe in women's rights at all.

How has one method hijacked this important issue of women's rights? Surely achieving those rights is far too complex to concentrate on, much less rely on, one process for getting there. The cause for full and equal rights would be taken forward much faster and more effectively if all of those who believe in this goal would sit down together and discuss it in all of its facets.

I'll give John McCain a certain amount of credit for trying to take the discussion beyond the one way of achieving full rights for women. Here are a couple of quotes:

Q: Should Republicans encourage pro-choice voters to support their candidates?
A: We must begin a dialogue and a discussion on the issue of abortion. Both pro-life & pro-choice people believe very strongly that we need to eliminate abortion. I and my wife, Cindy, are proud adoptive parents. We need to encourage adoption in America. We need to improve foster care dramatically. We can work together. We can have respectful disagreements on specific issues, and we can work together on this one.

"I have stated time after time after time that Roe v Wade was a bad decision, that I support a woman — the rights of the unborn — that I have fought for human rights and human dignity throughout my entire political career," McCain said. "To me, it's an issue of human rights and human dignity."

I am not quoting McCain to indicate I endorse him politically. I'm a Canadian at any rate. But at least he is trying to get to the broad and complex issue of full rights, and to the notion of working together to achieve same. I certainly endorse that.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Diogenes redux

Diogenes is the Greek philosopher who searched the streets of Athens with an oil lamp looking for an honest man. He was famous in his time for his great disdain for what he perceived as the folly, vanity, pretense, self-deception, social climbing, and artificiality of much human conduct. His worldview can be summarized in this pithy comment: for the conduct of life we need right reason or a halter.

I would like to bring him here to Canada in the 21st century A.D. (one that he would no doubt deplore as much as he did 4th century B.C. Athens). But rather than task him with looking for honesty (not that the real Diogenes would give a hoot what I wanted him to do), I would send him out with a searchlight into the world of the columnists and bloggers on life issues, looking for a person who could reason and research with integrity and thoroughness.

The more I read the writings of those most active in the pro-life/pro-choice debate, and listen to their clones in Parliament, the more discouraged I get. I just spent a few minutes looking at a recent article by Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias called Low Blows. My goodness, she's pathetic. Does the Star actually pay her to write the drivel she serves up? She's entitled to her basic assumptions, of course, however unfounded or unexamined. But the way that she presents her arguments that come out of these assumptions and beliefs is so lacking in historical research or logical inference that she would fail any first-year university writing assignment.

I could say much the same thing for writers such as Joyce Arthur and Heather Mallick. Arthur seems to be driven by a profound emotional reaction to her upbringing in a Christian denomination that I don't particularly like myself. If they're for it, she's agin' it. I, too, had a fundamentalist and closed-minded religious upbringing, but I don't let it be the main driver in forming my worldview. As for Mallick, she appears to be incapable of an original thought, simply delivering whatever the politically correct chattering classes believe at the moment.

Regrettably, much of the pro-life writing is similarly sloppy, vitriolic and poorly researched. Spend a half hour looking at the Shotgun Blog section of the Western Standard on-line magazine. While some of the articles and opinions are at least consistently reasoned, the many regular participants in the Response section must represent 90% of Canada's grade 8 dropouts.

Feminists for Life and ProWomanProLife are actually quite good. Suzanne Fortin certainly attempts to be consistent with her presuppositions when she argues her points, although they are heavily informed by Roman Catholic teaching, making them fairly predictable. She reads widely and has an interest in what various sides are saying. But many of the bloggers she tracks in her Big Blue Wave site are embarrassing. I'm not sure why she quotes them as they take away from what she is trying to do; i.e., to feature articles and commentary of interest to social conservatives. Social conservatives have nothing to learn from some of these benighted commentators.

Where are the well-researched, rational, persuasive debaters? Dr. Somerville certainly wants to be, but nobody seems to want to really address her in the same thorough academic manner that she so wonderfully employs. Rather she is either ignored (including by the Order of Canada people who find her "too controversial") or dissed from afar with the usual tired arguments.

[Note: I say this while also admitting that I don't always agree with the good professor. I don't accept all her conclusions but I appreciate and respect her approach.]

As my year of employment in the right to life world winds down (sixteen days to go), I hope that I will still discover those who are doing what our society very much needs--taking reason and research seriously in presenting arguments. Enough of the drivel. Life is way too important to waste with badly argued opinions.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The book I would love to edit

As YMFR know, I am a more or less retired professor. My academic publishing career is becoming a distant memory (although I do have a chapter in an academic book comingout next year). I have written one book and edited a second, but this was in the 1990's. Nevertheless, I still have the itch to do one more book. And I think I know what it is.

This year working for Abbotsford (BC) Right to Life has exposed me to the complexities of the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Despite the rantings and histrionics of some activists, there is much that would lend itself to useful discussion if only a few of the saner folks on all sides could get together in one place and compare notes. I would love to provide that place.

Here are the sections and chapters that I would include in such a book.


The introduction would set the tone for what follows, of course, as any good introduction should. I would probably write it as editor, and would begin by noting that while the subjects of sanctity of life, women's full and equal rights, reproductive choice, abortion and limits on same, and so on are most often addressed in emotional and black and white ways, that such topics are quite complex and that people of good faith take different positions.

[That's a pretty long sentence I just wrote. My editors in the past have always gotten after me for this. They would carve up my wordsmithing into what they viewed as short, punchy sentences that always seemed to be aimed at a grade five reading level. But I digress.]

Next the purpose of the book would be explained. I have a high view of human intelligence and reasoning ability provided that it is done within a non-threatening, non-partisan context. Therefore, the book's aim would be to lay out the spectrum of reasoning that goes into the various positions that are taken on the topics mentioned above, and how these influence public perception and public policy.

Various real life case studies and questions for discussion would be included throughout the book. Readers would be encouraged to use the book for group study purposes. The challenge would be for readers to come to their own principled conclusions.


I am hopelessly addicted to history. [Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905.] I seldom write or speak on any topic without giving some kind of historical context. This helps to explain why we are where we are, what historical forces led to the present situation here as opposed to somewhere else.

So we would need a couple of chapters on the present legal scene with respect to the relevant issues (e.g., our abortion laws, or lack thereof, compared to say, the U.S., the U.K. or France), and a couple more on how we arrived at this place and not another.

It would be eye-opening to most readers, for instance, to know that the "back alley butcher" argument that pro-choice activists always raise as the alternative to abortion on demand is largely a myth. Prior to Roe v. Wade, 90% of illegal abortions were done by doctors, and the death rate from illegal abortions was not much different than the death rate from today's legal ones.

I think that it would be useful to compare abortion law in Canada with the very different situation in the U.S. In America abortion is a constitutional right (Roe v. Wade). Such is not the case in Canada. Here abortion is simply not illegal (R. v. Morgentaler). Thus, framing public policy would take a very different course here from there.


Remarkably little is known about fetal development, leading to the widespread public belief that the fetus is just a blob of cells for a prolonged period. But medical doctors know that each brand new fetus is a living being with its own unique set of DNA and its gender already decided. Even Dr. Morgentaler won't do abortions after 24 weeks, claiming that he aborts fetuses, not babies.

In this section a discussion of living being versus human being could be included, as well as the issue of personhood.


I'm fascinated that the early feminist movement contained both those who were ardently anti-abortion (such as our Alberta Five and Susan B. Anthony in the U.S.), while others were just the opposite (such as Margaret Sanger, the godmother of Planned Parenthood). But now:

It is taken today as a truism that in order to be a feminist you must be ‘pro-choice’. The right to abortion is often deemed to be the most fundamental right of women, without which all others are said to be meaningless. Gloria Steinem, the self-appointed matriarch, holds that ‘pro-life’ feminism is “a contradiction in terms”. At ‘pro-choice’ rallies, banners have been held up stating that “a woman’s right to abortion is equivalent to her right to be” (Pro-Life Feminism by Liz Hoskings).

Consequently the standard response to pro-life criticism from the pro-choice activists is that a for a woman to have full and equal rights, she must have the freedom to choose vis-a-vis reproductive rights. Dr. Morgentaler, for instance, characterized pro-life women who criticized his appointment to the Order of Canada as women who are opposed to women's rights.

This characterization of abortion opponents as anti-woman is used to great effect in Parliament and the public media to put the pro-life movement in its "proper place." This calls for an analysis of feminism both from the common perspective of 21st century spokespeople, and from feminists who feel that women's rights and fetal rights are compatible (positions taken, for example, by Feminists for Life and ProWomanProLife).


The church is divided on the right to life/right to choose issue. The Roman Catholic Church, it hardly need be said, is ardently pro-life, whereas the Presbyterian Church of Canada is officially pro-choice. Are the biblical data so obscure that equally well-meaning Christians can arrive at opposite conclusions?

Therefore we need to look at the various biblical passages and principles that are used to frame arguments, and how different church groups have arrived at the conclusion they have.

The religious views of other faiths could be touched on in this section as well.


Canada is a pluralistic society that often gives short shrift to religious arguments. Consequently we need to look at the abortion question philosophically and ethically as well. There are those who would argue ethically for no abortion. Others, such as Prof. Somerville at McGill, would prefer significant restrictions on the timing of abortions. [While often labeled as pro-life, Dr. Somerville does argue that abortions could be done up to 12 weeks.] Then there are those that see abortion on demand as the only ethical alternative.


Pro-choice groups appear to have been much more effective than their pro-life counterparts in shaping public perception and public policy. Pro-life groups appear to be much more isolated, marginalized and old-fashioned than the pro-choice lobby. Yet various public opinion polls suggest that the pro-life view is far more widely held than is characterized in the media and the remarks of pro-choice activists. What accounts for this public perception?

This might be the most important section of the book. As a pro-life advocate myself, I would like to see the sanctity of life argument realize their proper place in public discourse. How can this be brought about? This section would make or break the book.

Well that's the idea in embryonic form. I would appreciate your feedback on this idea. Any perspective contributors--and publishers for that matter--can apply for involvement.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Ideas that some day might grow up to be posts - vol. 1, no. 2

1. Private free standing medical clinics

Here in Canada, the protectors of the Medicare status quo are quick to rail at any suggestion of private medicine (typically referred to as the American system). Why then is much the same group silent about the private free standing abortion clinics such as those run by our newest symbol of everything that is good about Canada, one Henry Morgentaler? Are clinics that exist to end life that much more important, nay sacred, than those that would like to improve life? Is the desire to live a fuller life by having an unborn baby aborted more important than the desire to live a fuller life by having a heart that beats reliably? Or hips that permit mobility? Or backs that allow for sleep?

2. Going back to back alleys and coat hangers.

It's pretty standard argumentation for the pro-abortion activists to say that the alternative to legal abortion on demand is a return to women dying in their tens or hundreds of thousands at the hand of back alley butchers. Having grown up in the pre-Morgenaler and pre-Roe v. Wade era, and never being aware of this epidemic, I did some research recently on whether such wholesale slaughter did in fact occur. The results, which you can easily find for yourself, include the following:

a. Most illegal abortions were performed by doctors. "Back alley" referred to sneaking in the doctor's back door, not to having the abortion in a scene of squalor and filth. See, for instance, this report by the medical director of Planned Parenthood U.S.A. in 1960 (Source: Wikipedia):

Mary Calderone, former medical director of Planned Parenthood, said, in a 1960 printing of the American Journal of Public Health:

"Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physician. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind, second, and even more important, the conference [on abortion sponsored by Planned Parenthood] estimated that 90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians. Whatever trouble arises usually arises from self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 percent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of non-medical abortionist. Abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians."

b. In 1972 "the Centers for Disease Control reported that 39 women died from illegal or self-induced abortions" (Source: Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman).

c. Women die today as a result of a perfectly legal abortion done by a doctor. While the numbers are not large, they are similar to the number of women who died of illegal abortions during those alleged bad old days:

The Centers for Disease Control counted 386 safe and legal abortion deaths during the period 1972 - 2003 (Source: Real Choice.)

In other words, the case for legal abortions can't seriously be made on the basis saving women from back alley butchers. A (regrettable) few died from illegal abortions, and a (regrettable) few die from legal ones. It's a non-issue.

Monday, 7 July 2008

I want to like Obama, but.....

I don't normally weigh in on partisan political issues for obvious reasons. Once one identifies with any particular political party (and I don't, by the way), then one assumes all of that party's baggage. When it comes to certain life issues, and women's issues, all of the major Canadian federal parties are much of a muchness at any rate.

But in the U.S., where politicians are not as reticent about voicing their religious views (compare Barack Obama to Jean Chretien, for instance), one can assess to what degree a person's faith informs their worldview. The most remarkably frank speech by a high profile politician on how his faith impacts his politics that I have ever read is Barack Obama's address to the Call to Renewal Christian advocacy group in 2006. It was exciting to read it (http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal).

Nevertheless, I still find myself disappointed with his remarks on abortion. He claimed that his views on a woman's right to choose, as found on his website in earlier days, were mere Democratic boilerplate language, and that having reflected more carefully as a person of faith, he was led to re-phrase them.

To check out the sincerity of that claim, I looked at remarks he made a year prior to his Call to Renewal speech (see 1. below), then his admission that he needed to rephrase them (see 2.). Finally I looked at some recent material that indicated where he now stands on the issues (see 3.).

I have to admit that I don't see any particular difference from 2005 to 2008. I note as well that Planned Parenthood in the U.S., that makes hundreds of millions of dollars doing abortions in its multitudinous clinics, endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton (see 4.).

I would have hoped that Obama, who shows a certain amount of creativity in other areas, would take a more progressive line on women's issues. But he resorts to the same tired expedient of abortion as an antidote for the profound difficulties American women face in connection with realizing full and equal women's rights while dealing with unborn babies.

At any rate, look at the four excerpts below and decide for yourself. What faith do you see informing Obama's view of abortion and how women's issues are best dealt with?

1. Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the National Women's Law Center
Thursday, November 10, 2005

Now, the ability for a woman to make decisions about how many children to have and when - without interference from the government - is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have. We all know, becoming a parent is one of the most - if not the most - important jobs there is. No one should make that decision for a woman and her family but them. And we must keep defending their right to make this choice in the years to come.

But even as we defend this right, it's important for us to acknowledge the moral dimension to the choice that's made. Too often in our advocacy, we forget that. And yet we know that many women who make the choice may never forget the difficulty that accompanies it. I noticed that when Hillary Clinton acknowledged this in a speech earlier this year, some criticized her. But she was merely recognizing an important moral reality for many.

I also think that whenever possible, we need frame choice within the broader context of equality and opportunity for women. Because when we argue big, we win. But when the entire struggle for opportunity is narrowed, it plays into the hands of those who thrive on the politics of division; who win by fueling culture wars.

2. 'Call to Renewal' Keynote Address
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So let me end with just one other interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of the Republican agenda.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor went on to write:

"I sense that you have a strong sense of justice...and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason...Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded....You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others...I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

So I looked at my website and found the offending words. In fairness to them, my staff had written them using standard Democratic boilerplate language to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in fair-minded words. Those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

So I wrote back to the doctor, and I thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position.

3. Women for Barack Obama is a grassroots effort to connect women with information about Barack Obama and his position on issues important to us (copyright 2008).

Supports a Woman’s Right to Choose:

Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.

Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy:

Barack Obama is an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.

4. July 07, 2008
Planned Parenthood For Obama

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is proud to endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States,” said Action Fund president Cecile Richards. “He is a passionate advocate for women’s rights, and has a long and consistent record of standing up for women's health care. As president, he will improve access to quality health care for women, support and protect a woman's right to choose, support comprehensive sex education to keep our young people healthy and safe, and invest in prevention programs, including family planning services and breast cancer screenings.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Charles Lamb, A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig

Regarding yesterday's post which started with a story I couldn't remember, I was surely right--my memory was feeble indeed. Unless there is a similar story somewhere else, the one to which I was alluding is called A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig by Charles Lamb (1775-1834), an English essayist.

In the story, it is the pig owner's house (not a nearby forest) that burns down, killing and roasting a new litter of piglets. This was the origins of not only roast pork, but of any cooked meat. Cooking meat, rather than eating it raw, caused a great scandal but eventually became the norm. Regrettably, it was assumed for a long time that the only way to accomplish the objective of roasting a pig was to burn down one's house with the porker in it.

So the details of my metaphor were wrong, although the essence is the same. So I won't re-write the post, although I will use the story in a more correct form in the future.

To read the essay, please see http://www.angelfire.com/nv/mf/elia1/pig.htm. And thanks to Steve for sending the link.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Forest fires and roast pig

Many moons ago I was told a story that I can no longer remember. I've tried to find it on the Internet, to no avail. But the essence of it, as I recall with my enfeebled memory, is this:

A forest fire raged outside a city. When the fire finally died, one of the inhabitants found the remains of a wild boar, which roasted to death in the flames. It smelled delicious and he tried a bite. This led in time to a wide demand for roasted pig.

But people were as inclined in those ancient days as they are now to artificially constrain their imaginations and subsequent decision-making. So it was assumed that the only way to acquire roast pig was to set afire forests in which they were known to live. This led to various unintended consequences with respect to the loss of enormous tracts of woodland. It also led to a host of decisions regarding who was entitled to have roasts of pork, licenses for setting forests on fire, etc. There were even pig wars.

Finally some radical (I like to think he was a wise and thoughtful sixty-one year old) suggested that there was another way to realize the sought for objective that did not result in all of this collateral damage. I think that you can guess what it was. He faced tremendous opposition at first, but good sense finally won the day.

This glimmer of memory awoke from its sleep as I read the various articles regarding Henry Morgentaler's receipt of the Order of Canada (along with other great Canadians like Kim Campbell--Kim who?). No one will dispute that women deserve full and equal rights. No one disagrees that society must insist that governments and courts honour such rights. But like setting forest fires to get delicious food, have we sought to achieve this desirable objective in a very wrong way?

A desirable objective can be legitimately sought for, but achieved through undesirable means. It was thought that the only way to achieve a delicious feast of roast pork was to burn down the pig's habitat. This realized the main objective, but at the expense of many other laudable objectives (e.g., having lumber to build one's home, halting erosion, etc., etc., etc.). Much harm was done to acquire that perfect food, and a thicket of laws, assumptions, stereotypes, and even deaths (other animals and people in the forests) developed--all because of wrongheadedness in achieving the main objective.

To my way of thinking, Morgentaler is a classic arsonist--a forest fire starter par excellence. What do I mean?

Consider this comment regarding Morgentaler's receipt of the Order of Canada from one of his admirer's, Maria Corsillo of the Scott Abortion Clinic in Toronto (Vancouver Province, July 2, 2008, p. A9):

It's not that Dr. Morgentaler needs that honour--we need to recognize
his achievements. This is a person who has single-handedly changed our country so that we are one of the few countries that absolutely recognizes women as full and equal human beings. I think that anyone, however they feel about abortion, has to recognize that Dr. Morgentaler has given every single person in this country the right to have his or her own feelings about that.

First, there is the main objective: to recognize that women are full and equal human beings. Hands up, anyone who disagree with that? Good.

Then there are the explicit or implicit assumptions:
1. Most countries don't recognize women in this way.
2. These are countries that do not allow abortion on demand. Remember, there were legal abortions done in Canadian hospitals before Morgentaler arrived on the scene, but access to them was limited, required the consent of a medical committee, etc.
3. Unborn babies can be a hindrance to the achievement of full and equal rights.
4. Therefore, achieving abortion on demand is an important way of realizing that great objective.

Morgentaler himself made other revealing comments in a story in today's Vancouver Sun (July 3, 2008):

He said he is surprised the negative reaction to his honour from religious groups "is not more violent than it already is ... The negative opinions all come from the usual suspects: the Catholic Church, fundamentalists, women opposed to women's rights."

Here we have the same main objective: full rights for women. And we have the typical assumptions; i.e., if you are opposed to abortion on demand, then you are not just anti-abortion; you are also anti-women's rights.

So to get to the main objective, we must burn down the trees:
1. Switch the attitude toward motherhood from a inestimable privilege to a burden which one bears at one's option.
2. Decide that the abuses of women's rights that most often lead to crisis pregnancies (you know the list--fear of rejection, loss of work, falling behind, physical threats, etc.) are best solved through aborting the baby. Nothing is necessarily done about the abuses, so they are still there waiting for the woman when she leaves Morgentaler's clinic.
3. Defy medical science by denigrating the developing fetus into a blob of cells.
4. Stereotype anyone opposed to this particular means of achieving equal rights for women as anti-woman.
5. Define "unwantedness" as a sufficient reason for terminating a pregnancy (while continuing to define it as an abuse in other contexts such as employment).
6. Borrow from our sordid history of legally defining Jews, blacks, women and aboriginals as non-persons by defining the fetus as such. Astonishingly this approach is supported by Jews (Morgentaler, a holocaust survivor), blacks (Barack Obama), women (Hilary Clinton), and aboriginals (Jessica Yee, Chair, Aboriginal Realities, Aboriginal Choices, and Toronto Action Committee, Canadians for Choice) who ought to know better.
7. Pretend that abortion is a routine and safe procedure despite all of the collateral physical and emotional damage that many women and girls subsequently endure.
8. Ignore indications that there may be a significant link between abortion and breast cancer.
9. Harass politicians into seeing abortion on demand as the sure indication that they are truly pro-woman.

And what are we left with? Enormous numbers of dead fetuses. And enormous numbers of abused women. We haven't addressed the nature and extent of the abuses. We've just burned down forests.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Polls only count when they support what one believes

The following poll results were recorded on the Angus Reid Global Monitor site on June 21/08:

Half of adults in Canada believe pregnancy termination on demand should continue to be allowed in the country, according to a poll by Angus Reid Strategies. 49 per cent of respondents think abortion should be legal under any circumstances.

Conversely, 42 per cent of respondents would allow the procedure only under certain circumstances, while five per cent would make abortion illegal in all circumstances.

Then only three days later, we get these results regarding M.P. Ken Epp's private member's bill, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act. The source again is that respected Canadian polling firm, Angus Reid:

Bill C-484, an act to amend the Criminal Code— also known as the Unborn Victims of Crime Act— was introduced by Ken Epp (Conservative, Edmonton-Sherwood Park, Alta.) in November 2007. The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to injure, cause the death of, or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing, or attempting to commit, an offence against the mother. The bill does not apply to consensual abortion or any act or omission by the mother of the child.

Two-thirds of respondents (68%) would like their Member of Parliament to vote in favour of this bill, while 13 per cent are opposed and 18 per cent are not sure. Atlantic Canada (80%) and Alberta (77%) hold the highest levels of support for the bill, while Quebecers (54%) are less enthusiastic.

One obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this is that most of the support for Mr. Epp's bill comes from pro-choice women and men, with a majority in every province answering in the affirmative. They apparently do not see it as a back door way of re-criminalizing abortion, nor do they see it as compromising women's rights.

But while the usual pro-choice spokespeople quoted by the media will make much of the first poll above, they will all ignore the second one. Despite all of their efforts to do so, they have not convinced their sisters that their views of reproductive freedom are fully true. Yet they will ignore the polls and go on insisting that they are acting in the interests of all women, including the majority who disagree with them.

Which is it--arrogance, cynicism, or obliviousness?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

going, going...........

....and nearly gone. As YMFR know, I'm a consultant and have been doing work for Abbotsford Right to Life for the past year. As Director of Education I have been involved in putting on public lectures, organizing youth events, and otherwise meeting our mandate as a government-registered, non-profit educational society. In addition, I began blogging on life issues as a means of educating myself on the perspectives of the various world views that underlie the pro-life/pro-choice/pro-abortion debate.

But my contract with Abbotsford Right to Life is just about over. I'll be moving on at the end of July. New contracts will mean different focuses (foci?), leaving no time for blogging.

My academic style, consisting of longer thought pieces and essays, certainly isn't the norm among bloggers in this area of human interest. That may have to do with my objective in blogging in the first place, versus the goals of others. My primary aim is to explore, discuss, float trial balloons, find spokespeople from atypical backgrounds to state their case--all of the things that we do in the classroom and in our research. No one has the corner on insight and discernment.

Two things I have learned in particular:
1. I am completely at odds morally with the pro-choice spokespeople, and their clones in Parliament, when it comes to the issue of the personhood of the fetus. God help us that we have made the state the final arbiter on who is human or when life begins. That women, 1st Nations people, and African-Canadians would countenance this for a moment only shows that if we don't learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them.
2. I am largely at odds strategically with the pro-life spokespeople whose focus on fetal rights has created more problems than it has solved.

Regular readers know that I have blogged extensively on both of these points in the past. In my few remaining weeks I will return to them again before the big sign off at the end of July.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Society for informed life choices

I have always been impressed with the way in which the Salvation Army separates its moral preaching as a church from its work among the downtrodden in society. For instance, the Sally Ann church takes historically orthodox views on sexual morality, including related issues such as homosexuality, yet it funds and staffs ministries for AIDS victims. It lays out an ideal while dealing practically with the present reality.

The same is true with an organization like, say, the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver. The leadership there is, to the best of my knowledge, pretty straitlaced evangelical. Yet they had (and may still have) an outreach to sex trade workers in which my daughter was once involved. Volunteers go to the various street corners in the area taking the prostitutes something to drink and showing them friendship. The idea is that should one of these women (a large number of whom are transgendered) want help of any kind, they would know to whom they could turn (and some do). Marvelous.

I would like to float a trial balloon among YMFR (you my faithful reader). The pro-life movement, to a great degree, is like the church. It takes a strong moral position (abortion is murder), and argues for what it sees as the ideal moral solution (make abortions illegal). Often these groups tie themselves very directly to a church, most often the Roman Catholic denomination.

Public demonstrations are usually directed at a legislature, are highly moral in character, and usually pretty obviously Christian. I participated in just such a demonstration in Victoria earlier this month when I m.c.'d the March for Women's Lives. Virtually all of the speakers were Roman Catholic, two being priests in full battle dress (dog collar, etc). One of the marchers carried a huge picture of the Virgin with child. The march was preceded by a mass (with no Protestant or interfaith equivalent available). The speeches were all pretty good, with two or three of them being very creative, passionate and compelling. A common complaint later was that none of the politicians inside the Legislature dared to show her/his face.

The pro-life movement defines itself as the opposite of the pro-choice movement, which it often labels the pro-abortion movement. Of course, the pro-choice people in turn call pro-lifers "anti-choice" and "anti-woman."

Outside of the pro-life movement, the pro-life profile is seen as follows:
1. Opposed to any choice other than life.
2. Desirous of legislating abortion away.
3. Highly religious in character, particularly evangelical and Roman Catholic.
4. Morally absolutist and intolerant.
5. Pro-fetus but anti-women's rights.

That some of the above is unfair stereotype is true but nevertheless the present reality. It doesn't help that the Roman Catholic Church is carrying additional baggage these days with the many scandals involving priests and little children, or the residential schools.

I won't argue that the moral side must not be taught. In fact, the Protestant churches by and large pay life issues scant heed, or actually take an official pro-choice position; e.g., the Presbyterian Church of Canada. So somebody has to do it.

But what if we were to follow the Salvation Army model? There would be those who, taking the place of timorous preachers, would continue to urge a moral examination of the abortion and euthanasia questions. These folks could continue to call themselves pro-life.

But there would be another group who would deal with the present reality and choose their agenda accordingly. I am using "Society for Informed Life Choices" as a working title. Such groups would deal with the issue in an educational fashion, looking at the array of choices that are available to women, and at the crises that cause women to make one choice or another.

The educational efforts (including research as well as teaching/counseling) would take three forms. One would deal with the actual physical issues; e.g., i. Are abortions safe?; ii. Is there a link with breast cancer?; iii. Fetal development; iv. The various positions on mercy killing and the strengths and challenges of each, etc.

Parties in pitched camps often have a hard time being objective about these matters. For instance, a local college newspaper published a front-page article called The Abortion-Breast Cancer Link is a Myth . When Abbotsford Right to Life held a public meeting on the issue, with a stem cell specialist as speaker, representatives from that college were invited but declined to attend. So much for the inquiring mind.

A second form that this education would take would be philosophical and moral in a more general sense. For instance, one of the big problems that pro-choice activists have with the pro-life movement is that women's rights, as they define them, are incompatible with any restrictions on abortion. Is this valid? Are there other alternatives? What is needed is more than just "because the Bible says so" (or the Pope, etc.). Some people, like Prof. Somerville, are doing this kind of argumentation right now, but much more is needed.

Thirdly, we need analysis of the many factors that make a pregnancy a crisis, and discuss these from the point of view of what makes for good public policy that genuinely supports the sanctity of life. The same thing is needed with respect to euthanasia.

What is my purpose in this? We live in a pluralistic and secular society. The church is one of many competing voices, with no more authority or credibility than any other. In fact, the representatives of the marketplace have far more credibility with right-wing governments than other voices, while organized labour has the socialists' ear.

So I am proposing a kind of "think tank" approach that avoids affiliations and positions that carry so much baggage as to paint them into a corner by definition. This would allow for a broader public reception, I should think, than is presently the case.

Is this an idea with any merit? Please fill out the little survey in the sidebar to give me your ideas. Or email a comment for me to publish.


Friday, 16 May 2008

Talking past each other

Observing the to and fro between the Ken Epp supporters and the Ken Epp denouncers simply serves to illustrate again that the ardent pro-life people and the ardent pro-abortion people simply talk past each other.

Like it or not, the nature of our secular society is such that a woman's rights are tied up with a notion of independence that makes it impossible to see a fetus as of equal personhood. Because genuine Christianity, and a number of other major religions, are communally-focused rather than individually-focused, the pro-choice notion of independence makes no sense to people of faith.

Now this secular view of women's rights is, to some degree, an attempt to address wrongs of the past (and the present) that have victimized women far more then men. This is understandable and laudable. But it has come at a cost.

Over the centuries societies have created various fictions to justify other things that are more important to them. The best examples are the legal fictions that black slaves, women and native North Americans were not persons. All of these inventions were for a purpose deemed to be rational or self-evident within the circles that created them (e.g., a strong economy was more important than the personhood of slaves; or, men are inherently superior to women and must protect them from things that they can't handle or understand--like voting). I suspect that the Sudanese political leaders have just such a fantasy to justify what is happening in Darfur. The widespread popularity of eugenics certainly required such illusionary thinking.

In Canada we have two such fictions. First is the medical one, that a fetus is part of the woman and not distinct from her in any way that matters. That this is nonsensical medically hardly needs to be said, but it is nevertheless widely held. Thus we have pro-abortion advocates parading around with signs saying, "Keep your hands (laws, religion, etc.) off my body." It's the unborn baby's body that is at issue, but to the pro-abortion crowd there is no difference.

The second is the hoary chestnut that the state can decide in its wisdom what human beings are viewed as persons. We have decried this over the centuries, but continue to perpetrate it now in the exact same fashion as did those societies of the past.

To maintain this fiction, a number of very illogical positions have to be taken. They are stated routinely in the Canadian Parliament's Question Period if you could stomach watching it for several days. Often misrepresentations and outright lies are resorted to, particularly when fighting with "enemies", that would be rejected as nonsense should they be used in arguing any other cause. But the ends justify the means apparently, so utter drivel is not only proclaimed but acclaimed.

What we have is the clashing of two world views. Because many pro-life Christians have not grasped the importance of "taking the crisis out of a crisis pregnancy", but have focused almost exclusively on fetal rights, their view will inevitably be rejected outright by their secular "foes". It is unlikely that the secular view will change in the foreseeable future. It's up to the people of faith to begin to exercise the creativity necessary to bring society around. The clergy and other Christians did it in the 19th century with the slaves. Let's do it again.

Let's make it possible to have women's rights and fetal rights. That will take a lot more work than organizing a march, however large. In fact, the focus will have to swing from debating the pro-abortionists (as I said, the two worldviews are watertight and admit to no alterations), to redeeming society in such a way that women will not feel the pressure to resort to abortion.

Isn't redemption what we're all about?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

I normally write new things in this blog. I'm still sorting out some of my own thoughts on life issues, and I find the writing process as the best way to think things through.

But today I am reproducing an article I found, you may be surprised to know, at the Pagans for Life website, one that I had not visited before. The article is old (first published in 1992). I borrowed it, and to some degree it made me blue to read it, despite its strong pro-life worldview. We live in a tremendously polarized society with respect to life issues, and rational thought appears to be the victim--a depressing thought to an academic.

At the time this article was written, Bill Clinton was president, having succeeded Republicans George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan. Jesse Jackson was still seen as a credible force in political life (he's a bit of a caricature now).

The author, Nat Hentoff, is a distinguished American in many ways, and has retained both his left-wing views and his support for pro-life to this day. You might want to read his bio. I found my old friend Wikipedia to be quite helpful in this regard.

Please read it through to the end. It's a first-rate piece.

Pro Choice Bigots
by Nat Hentoff

This article first appeared in The New Republic (Nov. 30, 1992)

Not too long ago, he was a pro-lifer. He wrote and spoke about the right to life and attacked advocates of abortion rights. "There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life," he would say. "That was the premise to slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation, because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned." He told the story of how he himself had almost been aborted. A physician had advised his mother to let him go, but she wouldn't. Don't let the pro-choicers convince you that a fetus isn't a human being, he warned: "That's how the whites dehumanized us, by calling us niggers. The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify that which they wanted to do-and not even feel like they'd done anything wrong."

But as Jesse Jackson decided to run for president in 1984, his fiery pro-life rhetoric suddenly subsided. If being black was a political obstacle, being black and pro-life would raise the odds much too high. Jackson understood that it is hard to be a pro-lifer if you want the support of the left-or just have friends on the left. The lockstep liberal orthodoxy on abortion is pro-choice, as Bill Clinton's election showed and his presidency will reinforce. Dissenters are not tolerated.

Nearly ten years ago I declared myself a pro-lifer. A Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer. Immediately, three women editors at The Village Voice, my New York base, stopped speaking to me. Not long after, I was invited to speak on this startling heresy at Nazareth College in Rochester (long since a secular institution). Two weeks before the lecture, it was canceled. The women on the lecture committee, I was told by the embarrassed professor who had asked me to come, had decided that there was a limit to the kind of speech the students could safely hear, and I was outside that limit. I was told, however, that I could come the next year to give a different talk. Even the women would very much like me to speak about one of my specialties, censorship in America. I went and was delighted to talk about censorship at Nazareth.

At the Voice, some of my colleagues in the editorial department wondered, I was told, when I had converted to Catholicism-the only explanation they could think of for my apostasy. (Once I received a note from someone deep in the ranks of the classified department. She too was pro-life, but would I please keep her secret? Life would be unbearable if anyone knew.)

To others, I was a novelty. Interviews were arranged on National Public Radio and various television programs, and I spoke at one of Fred Friendly's constitutional confrontations on PBS. Afterward, men, women, and teenagers wrote from all over the country that they had thought themselves to be solitary pro-lifers in the office, at school, even at home. They were surprised to find that there was someone else who was against capital punishment, against Reagan and Bush, and dismayed at the annual killing of 1.6 million developing human beings. They felt, they told me, that it was absurd to talk blithely of disposing of potential life. These were lives-lives with potential to someday do New York Times crossword puzzles and dig Charlie Parker. That is, if they weren't thrown out with the garbage.

I felt less alone myself. In time, I found other heretics. For instance, the bold, witty, crisply intelligent members of Feminists for Life of America. There are some in every state, and chapters in thirty-five. Many of them came out of the civil rights and anti-war movements, and now they also focus on blocking attempts to enact death penalty laws. They have succeeded in Minnesota. You won't see much about Feminists for Life in the press. When reporters look for pro-lifers to interview, they tend to go after pinched elderly men who look like Jesse Helms and women who wear crucifixes.

On the other hand, not all stereotypes are without actual models. As an exotic pro-lifer, I was invited to address an annual Right to Life convention in Columbus, Ohio. The event was held in a large field. A rickety platform faced the predominantly Christian crowd.

I told them that as pro-lifers, they ought to oppose capital punishment and the life-diminishing poverty associated with the policies of their Republican president. Ronald Reagan, I emphasized, had just cut the budget for the WIC program (federally funded Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children). He and those who support him, I said, give credence to Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank's line: "Those who oppose abortion are pro-life only up to the moment of birth."

From the back of the crowd, and then moving forward, there were growls, shouts, and table-thumping. Suddenly, a number of people began rushing toward the platform. I said to the man sitting next to me, a leader of the flock, that I had not quite decided that this cause was worth dying for.

As it happened, the souls on fire only wanted to say that I was in grievous error about these Christian presidents because I had not yet found God. Indeed, I often get letters from religious pro-lifers telling me that it is impossible for me to be simultaneously an atheist and a pro-lifer. Some of the pro-abortion-rights leaders whom I have debated are certain of the same correlation. No serious atheist, no Jewish atheist, no left-wing atheist could want to-as my fiercely pro-choice wife puts it-enslave women.

Yet being without theology isn't the slightest hindrance to being pro-life. As any obstetrics manual-Williams Obstetrics, for example-points out, there are two patients involved, and the one not yet born "should be given the same meticulous care by the physician that we long have given the pregnant woman." Nor, biologically, does it make any sense to draw life-or-death lines at viability. Once implantation takes place, this being has all the genetic information within that makes each human being unique. And he or she embodies continually developing human life from that point on. It misses a crucial point to say that the extermination can take place because the brain has not yet functioned or because that thing is not yet a "person." Whether the life is cut off in the fourth week or the fourteenth, the victim is one of our species, and has been from the start.

Yet rational arguments like these are met with undiluted hostility by otherwise clear-thinking liberals. Mary Meehan, a veteran of the anti-war movement, tried to pierce this pall of left orthodoxy in a 1980 article in The Progressive:

Some of us who went through the anti-war struggles of the 1960s and 1970s are now active in the right-to-life movement. We do not enjoy opposing our old friends on the abortion issue, but we feel that we have no choice. We are moved by what pro-life feminists call the "consistency thing"-the belief that respect for human life demands opposition to abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and war... It is out of character for the left to neglect the weak and helpless. The traditional mark of the left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor... The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient.

Meehan's article provoked an extraordinary amount of mail. A few writers praised The Progressive for having enough respect for its readers to expose them to a perspective opposite to the magazine's. But the great percentage of letter writers were furious, indignant that a "left" magazine should print such vicious right-wing propaganda.

Because defending the killing of the fetus is inconsistent with the liberal/left world view in other matters, the abortion rights orthodoxy has relied on extraordinary hypothetical arguments to justify its position in the twenty years since the Roe decision. Take two examples. In 1971, when abortion was legalized in New York state, an editorial on WCBS radio in New York attempted to define abortion as an act of compassion: "It is one sensible method of dealing with such problems as overpopulation, illegitimacy, and possible birth defects," the announcer said. "It is one way of fighting the rising welfare rolls and the increasing number of child abuse cases."

In 1992 the defense has changed. No longer a means of compassion, abortion is now viewed as a form of preemptive law enforcement. As Nicholas von Hoffman writes in the New York Observer:

"Free, cheap abortion is a policy of social defense. To save ourselves from being murdered in our beds and raped on the streets, we should do everything possible to encourage pregnant women who don't want the baby and will not take care of it to get rid of the thing before it turns into a monster....

"At their demonstrations, the anti-abortionists parade around with pictures of dead and dismembered fetuses. The pro-abortionists should meet these displays with some of their own: pictures of the victims of the unaborted-murder victims, rape victims, mutilation victims-pictures to remind us that the fight for abortion is but part of the larger struggle for safe homes and safe streets."

As a sometime admirer of von Hoffman, I take this to be-maybe-his assuming the role of Jonathan Swift in these hard times, but it doesn't matter particularly whether he's serious or not. Those who see abortion as a cost-effective, even humane, way to thin the ranks of the lower orders are not few in number.

Pro-choicers clearly are only interested in their version of the choice in this matter. But why are the liberals among them so immovably illiberal only when it comes to abortion? The male pro-choicers, by and large, consider this to be entirely an issue for women to decide. And the only women they know are pro-choice. If a man has any doubts or subversive ambivalences, he keeps them to himself because should he speak of them, he will be banished from the company of all the progressive women he knows-and any whom he might hope to know.

Pro-choice women are so unyielding because they profoundly believe that without the power to abort at will, they will be enslaved. Once an abortion is wanted, the fetus, as one woman told me, is-to some women-"the enemy within." In the fight not to be enslaved, liberalism is an abstraction.

Accordingly, I am no longer surprised to find myself considered an external enemy. For years, American Civil Liberties Union affiliates around the country invited me to speak at their fund-raising Bill of Rights dinners. But once I declared myself a pro-lifer, all such invitations stopped. They know I agree with them on most ACLU policies, but that no longer matters. I am now no better than Jesse Helms. Free speech, after all, has its limits.

This disdain on the left for anything or anyone pro-life has clearly taken a toll on the political process. Liberal/left politicians who remain true to their philosophy and oppose abortion are virtually impossible to find. Like Jackson, most simply cave in to abortion rights pressure, fearing that no matter how left-leaning they are on other issues, if they come out against abortion they will be branded as right-wing fanatics. Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, a liberal pro-life Democrat, was forbidden from speaking at this year's Democratic convention. And when The Village Voice later offered him a forum in New York to talk and answer questions about whether it is possible to be both liberal and pro-life, he (and I, the putative moderator) was shouted down by pro-choicers. Meanwhile, the president-elect, who has been on both sides of the abortion question during his career, has already pledged to satisfy his pro-choice backers by requiring that any nominee to the Supreme Court be an explicit and public supporter of abortion rights.

I saw Jesse Jackson recently on a train, and we talked for quite a while about George Bush's awful nomination of Ed Carnes to the federal bench. An assistant attorney general in Alabama, Carnes built his reputation on sending people to "Yellow Mama," the state's electric chair. He would replace Frank Johnson, whom Martin Luther King once described as "the man who gave true meaning to the word justice." (A few weeks later Jackson joined the campaign to defeat the nomination. To no avail. Carnes was eventually confirmed.) I then asked Jackson about another form of execution. I told him that in speeches I often quote what he wrote as a pro-lifer. He looked uncomfortable. I asked him if he still believed what he said then. "I'll get back to you on that," he said. He hasn't yet.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

ProWomanProLife and other good places to look

Regular readers (all three of you) will have noticed an added feature to this blog. You can now click on to the thoughtful blog ProWomanProLife directly from here. I don't know anyone connected with that particular life site. I don't necessarily always agree with what they say. But I think that they are raising important issues in a far more balanced way than do many other commentators on life issues. So I commend the blog to your attention.

I would have also added the Feminists for Life blog had they provided the necessary feed. Regrettably they don't, so you'll have to look them up for yourselves at http://www.feministsforlife.org/. I urge you to do so.

The site I check every day is Big Blue Wave. It is a self-styled so-con (social conservative) site, and carries all kinds of things, some of which I enjoy and some that I personally have no interest in. But its woman of affairs, Suzanne Fortin, somehow manages to track down the most amazing number of news items from around the world, providing a smörgåsbord of issues to consider. You can pick and choose for yourself which ones are of use to you. There is always something.

Certainly one of the most inspirational life bloggers is Mark Pickup, who lives just south of Edmonton, Alberta. His blog is called Human Life Matters. The title is particularly significant in Mark's case because he suffers from M.S. Here is an excerpt from his blog profile:

I am disabled (triplegic) with advanced multiple sclerosis. As my disability increases I have become interested in discovering Christian meaning in suffering. My priorities are faith, family and sanctity of human life. I will dedicate whatever energies I have left to these things. I am now convinced that if a society does not embrace the sanctity, dignity and equality of all human life (and North American society does not) then any barbarity is possible. A truly civilized society includes in its tender embrace every human life.

To say that he is a good read is to grossly understate the case. Find Mark at http://humanlifematters.blogspot.com/.

Alex Schadenberg is doing some excellent work in the rather gloomy field of euthanasia. He runs an organization out of London, ON called the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and blogs at http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/ Give him a look, if for no other reason than the poor bloke just turned 40 and needs a lift :).

Pro-Life Blogs (http://www.prolifeblogs.com/) is an independent news site that "disseminates unique news and commentary on life oriented issues and events that are ignored or under reported by traditional news sources." It originates in the U.S. but Canadian issues are not ignored. It appears to favour conservative political views.

LifeSiteNews (http://www.lifesitenews.com/) is a Canadian-based news site. It is described as the "portal of news stories about pro-life issues in Canada, the United States and the UK." This site also pulls together a large number of articles and commentary. Its choice of subjects does reflect the Catholicity of its leadership, and it indulges in what I consider a good deal of gay bashing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out for items of interest, however.

For those who want to venture far outside your comfort zone (certainly far outside LifeSiteNews' comfort zone), you might want to look at http://www.plagal.org/, the site of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, and its sister site called Christian Gays (http://www.christiangays.com/). I know virtually nothing about either site other than what I picked up lately in a cursory glance at each. But if one wants a different look at familiar issues, there's no better place to start than here.

I also bring to your attention two sites devoted to the trauma that women (and often men as well) experience as a result of abortion. These are Canada Silent No More (http://www.canadasilentnomore.com/ and Silent No More Awareness (http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/).

Finally, I appreciate the integrated worldview of the Consistent Life Ethic people. They take the sanctity of life to what they consider to be its logical conclusion, resulting in the following mission statement:

We are committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today's world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia. We believe that these issues are linked under a 'consistent ethic of life'. We challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected (http://www.consistent-life.org/).

For those of you for whom this movement is new, I provide the following information from that invaluable source, Wikipedia:

An important early proponent of the Consistent Life Ethic was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, though he did not coin the term. Bernardin and other advocates of this ethic sought to form a consistent policy that would link abortion, capital punishment, economic injustice, euthanasia, and unjust war. Bernardin sought to unify conservative Catholics (e.g., who opposed abortion) and liberal Catholics (e.g., who opposed capital punishment) in the United States. By relying on fundamental principles, Bernardin also sought to coordinate work on several different spheres of Catholic moral theology. In addition, Bernardin argued that since the 1950s the church moved against its own historical, casuistic exceptions to the protection of life. "To summarize the shift succinctly, the presumption against taking human life has been strengthened and the exceptions made ever more restrictive."

In the United States, several organizations have promoted the "consistent ethic of life" approach, including both Catholic groups (e.g., the National Conference of Catholic Bishops), and broader coalitions, such as Consistent Life, founded in 1987 as the Seamless Garment Network. The ethic and its organizational expressions are difficult to define in terms of the conventional U.S. political spectrum, since those who subscribe to the ethic are often at odds with both the right wing over capital punishment, war, and economic issues, as well as the left wing over abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Women's rights vs. women's rights

It is with genuine fascination that I have been observing this issue of unborn babies being aborted for the simple reason that they are female fetuses. Its practice was condemned yesterday by the Prime Minister of India, who labeled it a "national shame" and called for stricter enforcement of laws designed to prevent doctors from helping parents to get rid of unwanted unborn daughters (National Post, April 29/08, p. A12).

Now I want to say straight up that I don't personally think that this is any more repugnant morally than unborn babies being aborted because they are inconvenient, or disabled in some way, or too expensive, or just plain unwanted. While I have sympathy for some women who feel pressured into aborting, I have none for the act, and utter disgust for the doctors who provide the service.

But what is different about this gender selection issue is that it pits one facet of women's rights against another.

Logically it does not. If we accept the usual rhetoric, unborn babies of either gender are non-persons and therefore of no more moral worth than any other non-human, such as unborn salamanders (with apologies to PETA and Paul Watson).

A pregnant women can drink too much alcohol, or sniff glue, or do anything else that might (and probably will) endanger the fetus' health or life and the law is helpless to intervene--we know this because it's happened. A homicidal maniac can kill the fetus deliberately while also attempting to murder the mother, and be charged with one homicide only, or none at all if the mother survives. And if it were up to the alleged women's rights activists in our Canadian Parliament and their clones in the post-abortion movement, it would stay that way.

But now we have females killing females because they're female. Wow! What a conundrum for those champions of women's rights. Former BC premier and one-time federal Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh has condemned the practice as absolutely inappropriate and contemptible.

The CBC has nicely framed the debate (April 2/08):

Speaking to CBC 's The Current, Dosanjh said the tests need to be regulated and a debate launched about whether it's acceptable to have an abortion because of the gender of a fetus.

"The women's' right to choose, for me that's paramount," he said, "[but] I believe we need to make sure that [if] people are aborting simply for gender selection, that is absolutely not supported.

"This is about gender equality. If there is a medical need for these tests, I have no difficulty … to deal with disease," Dosanjh said. "Being a female absolutely is not a disease."

That's also the position of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada which recently said that using abortion to determine the gender of a family's offspring "cannot ethically be condoned in this country."

Medical ethicists say the issue is complicated because Canada's abortion law recognizes a woman's right to choose as paramount. Tim Caulfield, research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, told The Current that more research needs to be done into potential links between fetal sex selection and abortion in Canada.

"Anytime you pass a law, you're regulating individual choice," Caulfield said, "and how do you regulate … reproductive autonomy? That's a sensitive issue."

But how can one distinguish between motivations? If a woman's right to choose is paramount, then her motivation should be irrelevant--right? It goes even further. If a woman has chosen to keep the unborn baby, and someone kills that fetus against her choice, the dead fetus should not be viewed as the victim of a homicide. In this sense, we've gone even further than the woman's motivation--or even the woman's personal choice. CHOICE must prevail. Not the woman's personal choice (never mind her motivation), but some societal commitment to CHOICE in the abstract, that not even murder can shake.

So I ask again--on what basis does one fulminate against gender selection? Because it's morally repugnant? I wouldn't disagree with that, but what about all those signs carried by female protesters telling me to keep my laws and my moral values and my religion off her body? Will they now come with an asterisk?

Once we have ventured into the area of judging motivations, or finding some aspect of abortion to be immoral, than the pro-choice movement as we know it has ended. Now everyone will be in some sense anti-choice and anti-abortion--except for those purists who will still argue the old paradigm. I can't wait to see the fight.

Over to you, Joyce.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Escaping the fundamentalists

I feel like I have spent much of my life running from one group of fundamentalists or another.

In my young days, it was my church upbringing. I do not disparage my little gospel hall's emphasis on gospel preaching and devotion to scripture. And I feel that I experienced some kind of emergence (call it conversion if you like) from one state of being to another during those years. Prior to this foundational change my points of reference were my parents, my school, and while I was not particularly aware of it, my culture. After that change, the Lord's opinion became part of the mix, and the Bible and prayer started to have some real meaning--as much meaning as they can have to a naive and sheltered eleven year old.

But any kind of growth in mature spirituality was stunted by other factors--a very narrow view of the teachings of the Bible, an even narrower understanding of the implications of the faith for one's culture, and a constant focus on personal lifestyle choices as being a prime indicator of spiritual growth. A legalistic understanding of Christianity stood one in far better stead than a questioning, experimenting, and learning approach.

Having completed the MBA and launched off into the business world, I found myself swimming in another fundamentalist pool, that of Canadian capitalism. There was an unspoken (and occasionally spoken) assumption that one would do what made one a good employee at work (no matter how repugnant this might be personally), and to save one's personal morality for private life.

A move to Chicago to attend school gave me another experience with The One Best Way. My American colleagues (who seemed to be hampered by an almost complete ignorance of the rest of the world) could not imagine why I would not prefer to up stakes and move there permanently.

[Quite frankly, I think that I could move permanently to the Oregon Coast, but I digress.]

But I've found this same closed universe mentality in nearly every field of endeavour into which I've ventured. Academics with whom I have spent a good deal of my life seem virtually oblivious to the world outside the ivory tower, where there be Philistines. They have some glimmering of it, depending on their area of specialty, but don't seem to see that something could be learned from it that might change the academic worldview.

Then there are those guardians of our secular souls (if one can use the term soul at all in this context), the politically correct. My heavens (oops, there I go again)--my word, there is fundamentalism!

What has been characteristic of all of these little prisons that I have inhabited in my life are:
1. A dominating and unquestioned worldview.
2. A strong emphasis on rules of behaviour, although these vary completely from context to context.
3. A suspicious and denigrating view of outsiders.
4. An inability to accept criticism.
5. A complete inability or unwillingness to take an arm's length look at their little world with a view to possibly improving it, or even abandoning it.

All that I have ever wanted to do is to think through how things are done, and why things are viewed the way they are, and what might be the best use of resources, and what ought to be the goals of any activity, from a biblical worldview perspective.

For me the Christian faith comprises a set of eternal principles based on the character and will of God, that can be applied very creatively and flexibly to one's place and time; e.g., the family unit, one's view of the place of material life, how one is to steward God's creation, and above all, what are the implications of the sanctity of life.

Now here I am in the pro-life movement, and I find once again that there are fundamentals that are not open to question, at least according to the guardians of the truth. One appears to be that Catholicism rules. Now I share about 90% of my theological beliefs with Catholicism. But that "aberrant" 10% does put me on the outside. For instance, when I attend pro-life conferences, for whatever reason the issue of contraception always seems to come up as a necessary part of the discussion. There is always a mass arranged for us to attend, but I am denied communion at it, despite the fact that I am a Christian and pro-life, because I am a Protestant.

Consider this revealing statement from my friend Suzanne Fortin:

I can see why non-Christians would not want to attend my local Campaign Life meeting. It's Christian-dominated from top to bottom-- from the location (a church) to the opening prayer, to the rhetoric used, to what assumptions people hold about who attends, etc. I can see how that can be very alienating.

On the other hand, if you open it up to people of various backgrounds, you open it up to the advocacy of things you may find objectionable. I know of a non-Christian pro-life activist who is a strong advocate of contraception. As a Catholic, I would not feel comfortable opening the floor to the woman on this issue. And I could see how such a person might feel alienated from a Christian-run meeting.

This sounds exactly like the fundamentalist Protestant criticisms of evangelist Billy Graham. The Bob Jones and John R. Rices and all of the other red neck southern evangelicals would scorn the man because he might have a priest on the platform with him, or someone from a liberal church. They would forbid their students or parishioners from attending the Graham crusades because they might hear something "wrong."

No movement is ever better served by arbitrarily cutting itself off from other points of view. No human being, no human activity, no human understanding is every fully mature, ever completely on track.

[I recognize that for Catholics their belief in the infallibility of the Pope gives them a certain confidence in their opinions on some subjects. It has brought with it, I fear, a complacency and closed mindedness that does them no good.]

My plea to the pro-life movement (at least as Ms Fortin and others define it) to not be so cocksure of your opinions. I find it harder and harder to work with you as you push your agenda on me and on others who are not identical to you. I am all for unity--but not uniformity.