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 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

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 Give him a look, if for no other reason than the poor bloke just turned 40 and needs a lift :).

Pro-Life Blogs ( 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 ( 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, the site of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, and its sister site called Christian Gays ( 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 ( and Silent No More Awareness (

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 (

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.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river

Those of you in the over 50 crowd that Suzanne Fortin sees as a very different group from her own will recognize that my title is taken from an old Leonard Cohen song that still gets played a lot on the golden oldie stations.

At any rate, Suzanne Fortin (the eminence grise behind Big Blue Wave) has been providing interesting and useful critique of certain thoughts that I have been posting lately. I have quibbles with some of her ideas, and downright opposition to others. But we are definitely in the same hymnbook if not on the same page.

I would like to make the briefest of comments concerning a few of her thoughts posted today. As I'm rushing out in about half an hour, and because I usually take 2 to 3 hours to compose a post, this will lack my usual incisive commentary!!

I think this is the attitude of the over-50 crowd, of amateur pro-lifers. I feel that the younger generation is better prepared and more optimistic.

While not intending to be tactless I'm sure, Suzanne has fallen into a bit of habit of stereotyping some of us outside her crowd as too old and too remote. I've been following this whole issue since long before Morgentaler was making headlines. I was picketing an abortion clinic when Suzanne was still learning arithmetic. I may be 60 now Suzanne, but believe it or not, I can still read, I can still reason, and I am still open to learning. I'm also still waiting with bated breath to see where the young professionals have made a big difference.

In the meantime, I will have to be content with my memories of focusing on the Viet Nam War, environmentalism, sexism/sexual harassment, and consumer rights. Sigh.

We don’t have to convince the pro-abortion activists. Most people are not so dogmatic about abortion that, left to themselves, they will not look at the other side of the coin. We cannot let the pro-aborts define the terms of the debate. We’ve been doing that for too long. I have found that the most effective way for arguing for fetal rights is to simply invoke commonly accepted values and use plain English, logic and good biological science. That’s not right or left. That’s not secular or religious. That’s just smart. People who are not already ideologically committed to the abortion-free-for-all ideology will give your position some consideration if you do this, and some even change their minds.

There is something to what Suzanne says here about the common person vs. the convinced ideologue. But as long as the mass media and the politicians are held captive by the pro-abortionists, Joe and Joan Sixpack will continue to be fed a steady diet of highly distorted material. Here at Abbotsford (BC) Right to Life we have been sponsoring a series of free public lectures on various life issues, the most recent being last night on Robert Latimer and mercy killing. Unfortunately, getting hands on enough money to do the kind of on-the-ground educating that is necessary is extremely difficult.

One must also make a distinction between fetal rights and creating a “culture of life” or a “civilization of love” as Pope John Paul II said. Most fetal rights activists want it. But many do not. They’re not interested in fighting against contraception, pre-marital sex, gay marriage, divorce and other social ills. The pro-life movement has a particular worldview.

Apparently the pro-life agenda, according to Ms Fortin, comprises fetal rights, contraception, pre-marital sex, gay marriage and divorce. I heard one of Suzanne's pro-life professionals speak about the twin evils of abortion and contraception. I would have thought that this was primarily a Catholic perspective. Most Protestant pro-lifers that I know would never put those two together in the same breath.

In addition, I would have thought that a consistent life ethic would include not only fetal rights but, as a minimum, euthanasia, capital punishment, perhaps even peace-making. I would also include poverty, racism, ageism and sexism.

Or is Suzanne reserving the right to define what pro-life means. In my day, it meant a lot more. But oh yeah, I'm over 50 so my views are amateur and no longer relevant (sorry, as a crotchety oldster my sarcasm came leaking out there--terrible habit).

Pro-lifers want not only to promote fetal rights (which is first and foremost) but a whole culture of life. And many pro-life feminists, gays, atheists and socialists do not. It’s an entirely different culture....We need all these people in the struggle for fetal rights, but we need many streams of activity. I don’t think the Christian and non-Christians streams of the fetal rights movement can really gel.

I may be reading more into this than Suzanne meant, but she seems to be distinguishing between Christians and gays, feminists and socialists. If that is so, that is a much bigger stereotype than her view of those over 50. I know a number of lesbians who are feminist, socialist and pro-life, and gays who are similarly pro-life.

Now I know from reading other things that Suzanne has posted that she tends to see feminism in a pretty harsh light. But no one group has the corner on what constitutes feminism. And I would guess that she can't reconcile a person as genuinely having Christian faith and being gay. Sorry Suzanne, you are just wrong if that is what you believe. And is she going to argue that capitalism is Christian? As a business professor I say, Good luck.

Suzanne, you and your young professional friends are doing very good work in the pro-life field. You are the future of the movement, and a good part of the present. But don't disparage the past. Don't allow your mind to be narrowed by your denominational priorities and your stereotypes.

And don't alienate your friends.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Pro-choice vs pro-abortion

Slowly I am coming to the conviction that the so-called pro-choice camp can be divided into two rough groupings: pro-choice, and a harder edged, ideologically driven pro-abortion. Here's why.

Firstly, polls indicate that approximately two-thirds of Canadians call themselves pro-choice in the sense that they believe that restrictions on abortion should either be limited to some point in the fetal development process (most would favour no abortions after the first trimester) or that there should be no restrictions at all. It is interesting to note that more men fall into this camp than women.

Many of these two-thirds would be personally pro-life in that they would never consent to an abortion for themselves. But they would allow others to make a limited or unlimited choice to go the abortion route.

The other third of Canadians would be classic pro-lifers; i.e., human life and personhood begin at conception, ruling out abortion as an option. A small number within this camp might accept incidents of rape, incest, and endangerment to the mother's life as legitimate bases for terminating the pregnancy, citing the principle of self-defense. About 5% of all abortions are done for these reasons.

[I have explored the various polls in Canada and and the U.S. fairly thoroughly in others posts and won't repeat the details here. You could look at My name is John--and I'm a stats addict, Nov. 8, 2007.]

So to summarize the statistics, about one-third would completely restrict abortion, about one-third would restrict it to no abortion after the first trimester or second trimester, and a third would advocate no restrictions at all.

Or to put it even more broadly, while two-thirds of Canadian women call themselves pro-choice, at least half of these would see no incompatibility between some restrictions on access to abortion on one hand, and women's rights on the other.

This analysis is further buttressed by the results of the Environics and Angus Reid polls done regarding Canadian M.P. Ken Epp's Bill C-484 Unborn Victims of Crime Act. If all of the classic pro-lifers, and all of the pro-choicers who would accept some restrictions on access to abortion were added together, it would still fall short of the number of respondents who say that they favour Epp's bill. In fact, only about 20% of respondents were opposed. Clearly, even some of the one-third of Canadians who oppose all restrictions on abortion must have claimed support for the bill.

It is probably safe to say, then, that a rather small percentage of Canadians (and more men than women) see limits on abortion of any sort, or perceived restrictions in the case of Epp's bill, as incompatible with women's rights.

Yet the pro-choice people most often quoted by our Canadian media constantly refer to any restrictions on access to abortion, or anything that they perceive to be a back door way of putting restrictions on access to abortion, as in opposition to women's rights. Consider these representative quotes:

M.P. Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-484. I will start by saying that, as a woman, I would have never believed that I would still be here fighting for the rights of women. It has been a fierce battle, waged by so many women before me.

Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada:
A private member's bill called The "Unborn Victims of Crime Act" (C-484), passed Second Reading in Parliament on March 5. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to allow separate homicide charges to be laid in the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked. If passed, this bill would be an unconstitutional infringement on women’s rights

M.P. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):
While I will not argue that murdering a pregnant woman is particularly abhorrent, this bill will in the end do more harm than good for women's rights in Canada.

M.P. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.):
As I mentioned at the outset, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the fetus and mother are one and the same. Any attempt to separate the two through a redefinition of a human being in the Criminal Code would only cloud the issue of a woman's rights over her own person. I cannot say whether this confusion and clouding of a woman's rights over her own body is the intended consequence of this bill or not but it is, nevertheless, alarming.

From the National Post: writer Heather Mallick likewise expressed approval of student associations that cut off funding to pro-life groups-- because the rights of Canadian women "are not up for debate." She also theorized that pro-life stirrings in the mainstream media were mostly the result of over-the-hill male editors seeking to control through repression the lithesome bodies that, in their decrepitude, they could no longer enjoy in the bedroom. And Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett put up a slide entitled "Role of an elected official," which declared that politicians have "no right" to oppose abortion -- because "That is the responsibility of women."

A perusal of publications on abortion-related issues would seem to indicate that such quotes as these are representative of women's opinions generally. But empirical evidence appears to say otherwise.

Within the pro-choice camp, the minority who appear to be ideologically pro-abortion rather than pro-choice put themselves forward as the spokespeople for women's rights, even though most women don't appear to agree with them.

As so often happens, then, spokespeople actually representing a relatively narrow segment of society are allowed to speak for all. Those who try to bring balance to this disproportionate state of affairs do not seem to have the same regular access to the media.

An exception to this rule is Dr. Margaret Somerville, the Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and the Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University.

She routinely takes the pro-abortionists to task for misunderstanding, or deliberately misrepresenting, the key Canadian Supreme Court ruling that found abortion restrictions of the day as contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights:

I would like to clarify the statement that "on Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court struck down Section 251 of the Criminal Code that made abortion illegal, ruling that a woman and her fetus are considered a single physical person."

The court did rule that a fetus is not a person for the purposes of attributing Charter rights to it, but that was not the primary basis of its decision that the law governing abortion was unconstitutional. Rather, it held the abortion law was unconstitutional because a woman who needed an abortion to protect her life or health might not have access to a legal abortion if she had no access to a "therapeutic abortion committee."

That potential inaccessibility contravened women's rights to life and to personal security and was therefore struck down.

All Supreme Court judges, however, including Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, the strongly pro-choice, women's rights advocate, ruled that society has a legitimate interest in the fetus and that Parliament has the power to pass laws regulating abortion, provided that it complies with the Charter.

The statement that "a woman and her fetus are considered a single physical person" is used heavily by pro-choice advocates regarding Bill C-484. But it relies on a position that is scientifically incorrect; the fetus is not the same physical entity as the woman.

Rather than bolstering their case, it seems to me that this "selective articulation" or misrepresentation of the law to support their position shows that their case is not a strong one, including ethically.

Margaret Somerville
, Montreal Gazette,April 20/08.

Most women have no difficulty with Dr. Somerville's views, it would appear. But an arrogant and unrepresentative minority do. I wish the media was more sophisticated and knowledgeable, and would bring more balance to their reporting on these issues.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Going about our business, part 2

In a post on April 16/08, I posited that the pro-life movement in Canada needs to think seriously about the ways in which it goes about its business. I took particular aim at three areas:

1. Making theological and moral statements in either overt or barely disguised Judeo-Christian language. I'm a devout Christian and seminary graduate, but I have had to learn to speak to a pluralistic society, particularly in my many years in municipal politics and in my blogging. Fellow pro-lifer Suzanne Fortin suggested that among the more professional pro-life advocates there is improvement in this area:

I think this is true among grassroots, non-involved, "amateur" pro-lifers.
But less so among people who are involved in the movement on a day-to-day business. If anything, I see a lot less biblical references. Especially among the younger set.

I hope she is right. But even if she is, it does not appear to have caused the pro-choice and pro-abortion activists to see pro-life arguments as secular. Typically they associate such remarks with a religious right. Of course, this alleged political grouping is an American phenomenon with no genuine Canadian equivalent, but the media seem to like it, so it gets repeated.

2. Relying on political parties and political processes to achieve our objectives. It's my opinion, as humble as that is, that the institutions that most shape public opinion today are public education, the courts, and the media (both news and entertainment). Government is more likely to be influenced by these forces than to influence them in turn.

David Suzuki has had his environmental pulpit parked in the television studio since the mid-seventies. Al Gore had eight years to make statements as American vice-president, but it was via his Oscar-winning movie that he became a celebrity. The gay community has used the courts and public education to bring its message to younger society. Ralph Nader was vastly more influential in his consumer rights campaign in the 1960s and 1970s (remember Nader's Raiders?) writing books and making television appearances than he has been as a presidential candidate.

3. Living at the margins of the media and sniping, rather than becoming mainstream media participants, Margaret Somerville and a few others being wonderful exceptions. Educating the media is a huge task that the pro-life movement, by and large, is not doing successfully. And by educating, I don't mean sending out press releases.

There are one or two additional areas that I would like to mention, although I realize that I will doubtless draw a good deal of gratuitous criticism for doing so.

The first is, the pro-life movement has to unhook itself from the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Protestantism (full disclosure--I attend a Baptist Church, graduated from an evangelical seminary, and was raised Plymouth Brethren), and to a lesser degree the Conservative Party of Canada (further disclosure--I don't belong to any federal party, although I am a member of the BC Liberals). I look at a good number of pro-life and all-purpose blogs, and find that I am getting a steady diet of denominational exposure, and political bashing of everybody except the Conservatives.

Consider these three examples.

1. Pro Life BC and Comox Valley Pro Life are hosting the 2008 pro-life annual conference. These are wonderful groups and I count their members as colleagues and friends. But the line up of speakers comprises three R.C. priests, three R.C. laypeople and one lonely Reformed Protestant.

2. The annual Focus on Life Dinner in Vancouver is a project of Pro Life BC and the R.C. Archdiocese of Vancouver, as well as the Christian Advocacy Society. [I have done some consulting for Focus on Life. I admire what they do very much. But that is not my point.]

3. On May 8/08 BC Pro Life is sponsoring the first annual Marching for Women's Lives at the BC legislature in Victoria. Co-sponsors are Campaign Life Coalition BC (led by devout Catholic and all around good guy Joh Hof), Redeemer Pacific College (a Roman Catholic liberal arts college on the campus of Trinity Western Univ.), and the Knights of Columbus. The only non-RC speaker is my good self.

What's wrong with this? In and of itself, nothing. The problem is that it reinforces the impression that the pro-life movement is all about pushing RC and evangelical morality. Like it or not, the court of public opinion has associated a good deal of baggage with those two groups that creates significant distractions from the pro-life message. Where are the Muslims-for-Life? The atheists-, gays-, Jews-, Hindus-, socialists-, and feminists-for-life? Why this narrow focus? The pro-life arguments stand on their own merits, regardless of the denominational or political affiliations (or not) of the speakers.

My second observation is that the pro-life movement displays a "remnant" mentality. What do I mean by this? Remnant is often associated with something left over, like cloth. But it also refers to a small surviving group of people. The Bible, for instance, distinguishes between Israel as a nation of people or an ethnic group, and the spiritual (or remnant) Israel made up of true believers.

Remnants are a minority who are not necessarily appreciated by the majority. They have to fight for recognition, feel misunderstood and unappreciated, and can develop either a pessimistic and defeatist attitude, or a smug, "We're the only ones who know", mentality. Seldom do they seem to know how to fight it out in the big leagues, as it were.

Yet as I see it, the view that all life is sacred is a winning proposition. Despite the lunatic ravings of the pro-abortionists, the Quebec National Assembly, Joyce Arthur, the Bloc Quebecois, etc., the idea that society is better off when the most vulnerable lives are the most deserving of protection seems to be gaining ground.

Look at the great work that M.P. Ken Epp has done in soliciting pro-choice advocates to speak for his Unborn Victims of Crime Act. Consider the ways in which public opinion is going more and more in the direction of greater concern for the sanctity of life (and thank you to Life Canada for commissioning such polls). Much progress has been made. There is a big task ahead, but there are those who are equal to the task.

My advice is twofold. First, lighten up. The cause is right. And it is becoming more and more persuasive. Live and write and speak and argue as if that were true. I get tired of the pessimism, the remnant rhetoric, the lack of gratitude for the advances that have been made.

Secondly, smarten up. We need to be cultivating more Dr. Somervilles. What is our strategy for taking our rightful place in the universities, the media, the curriculum departments of educational bodies, government, school boards, medical bodies, and so on?

Put these matters on the agenda of your next provincial or national conference. And invite a few atheists, gays, and feminists, please.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Suzanne Fortin, a pro-life activist who blogs at Big Blue Wave, was good enough to provide a critique of my most recent post. I value the interaction very much.

Suzanne, as one would expect, agrees with some of my ideas and disagrees with others. This provides useful fodder for further discussion. Of the areas where we are in disagreement I want to deal with just one. I'll quote Suzanne and then give my response.

She takes issue with the following remarks that I made in my last post:

In fact, the pro-life movement as a general rule has defined 'sanctity' pretty narrowly. We're all for saving the fetuses from extinction, but not nearly as concerned for dealing with the circumstances into which too many of them are born. There are wonderful exceptions to this, of course, but not nearly enough.

Her critique is this:

What if we lived during the Holocaust? Would we worry: gee, we want to save those victims, but are we really thinking of their interest if we don't worry about what happens to them after we save them?

If I were in the concentration camp I'd say: who cares! Just save me! Stop dithering over the details and get me out of here!

It's the same thing with the unborn: if we start worrying about whether our social programs are generous enough, we're losing focus on the main struggle.

Here are my thoughts on Suzanne's position:

1. Why were the Jews (plus the gypsies, mentally challenged, homosexuals, etc.) in the concentration camps in the first place? Because they were hated and/or feared. Long before they were imprisoned and killed they were discriminated against, ostracized, and otherwise denied virtually all that was necessary to live in safety and hope. In fact, as they became more and more marginalized, they also became increasingly vulnerable. Had they been allowed to occupy a meaningful place in society, how likely is it that they would have been imprisoned and butchered as they were? [This is not just an academic matter with me, by the way. I have a brother-in-law who is a European Jew and who lost all of his uncles in the Nazi camps.]

2. Suppose that we had arrived at Auschwitz and said to these people, "OK we've overcome the guards and you're free to go. Regrettably, everything else is the same. The Nazis are still in charge. Everyone still hates you, you will still face every kind of discrimination, and you will live in hopelessness, want, and fear for the rest of your lives. I hope that someday that will change but it is not our focus." Would anyone say to us, "Good job. You've done what is necessary. Now you can stand down."? I doubt it.

3. Why do women and girls abort? Lots of reasons that are well known to YMFR (you my faithful reader). Fear of economic deprivation. Fear of abandonment. Violence and threats. Lack of (or ignorance of) necessary supports. Now, we say to these women, "OK, we've passed legislation that makes it a crime to abort your babies. Regrettably, you still face economic deprivation. The education system still will not provide for you. Your boyfriend still threatens to leave you or hurt you. And as a bonus, along with the lack of supports necessary to keep your baby with any hope for the future, we have made it a crime to consider abortion. We're glad that you are more moral now, however." Does that sound like a winning plank for a political party in the next general election?

There is seldom such a thing as a single societal problem. Any particular issue is linked to many others, and all of these related problems have to be addressed simultaneously for there to be any hope of a good solution. Abortion is no different. It can't be isolated from the web of other challenges in which it is enmeshed.

It's easy enough to take the (perceived) moral high ground and say, "The issue is not stopping abortion. The issue is fetal rights", as if this changed the challenge. Women's rights were not fully addressed simply by passing a law making them legal persons. Slaves' rights to freedom was not fully actualized when Lincoln outlawed slavery. Women and blacks still fight for the full realization of their rights. And we in the pro-life movement have to fight for the full realization of fetal rights as well. That does not end with giving the personhood to unborn babies. It's a bare beginning.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Going about our business

An issue that has been plaguing me for some time now is, What should the strategy of the pro-life movement be to achieve its objectives? The answer to that question will doubtless vary depending upon which segment of the overall movement one sees oneself as occupying. But as I look at the various publications, blogs, videos, and pronouncements, I think that more sophisticated strategic planning is in order.

The phenomenon that stands out the most clearly to me is that the vast majority of participants in the pro-life movement seem to believe that moral and theological statements must buttress most of what we do and say. Now this is understandable to some extent because churches by and large, with Roman Catholic churches being the major exception, do little or no preaching/teaching along these lines.

I live in what passes for the Bible belt in British Columbia (which says very little for the rest of the province), and I find no particular urgency on the part of the local churches to do anything hard-hitting as far as the sanctity of life is concerned. There are certain token efforts (e.g., some parishioners holding a sign on a street corner for an hour a year), but nothing substantial. Three pastors have told me that pro-life issues are not on the church agenda. One called the movement just another special interest group like Love Abbotsford, a nice group of people who go around the town from time to time washing people's cars and tending seniors' gardens.

I'm a business ethicist, and I've pretty much given up on expecting preachers to have anything useful to say about economic life. Apparently it's not on the church agenda either, despite the fact that the vast majority of us participate in it, that the business world is the country's greatest creator of wealth and jobs, that business leaders have a significant impact on government legislation, and that many of the great environmental and ethical dilemmas arise from its ranks. If the churches can ignore this, then paying mere lip service to the sanctity of life should not be surprising.

What it leaves us with, however, is a generation of illiterates on life issues. St. Peter felt that we needed to be prepared to give a reasoned account for our convictions when asked: But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. I wish that we would heed his words on more public issues than we do today.

Conclusion number one is, therefore, that we have to make up for deficiencies in churches' preaching/teaching agenda by trumpeting the theology ourselves. I wouldn't argue against this being an important and useful exercise provided that it occupies an appropriate place in the broader mandate of the movement.

What we haven't grasped nearly enough, however, is that theological and even religiously-based moral arguments don't go down very well in our pluralistic and post-modern societies. Despite their vacuous arguments, many pro-abortion activists have won a following by skillfully employing concepts and ideologies that people across belief systems will accept; e.g., women's rights, choice, reproductive freedom. Look at the nonsense spouted in the Canadian Parliament these days about Bill C-484 Unborn Victims of Crime Act. The paucity of intelligence in these pronouncements may boggle the mind, but they tend to carry the day in many circles because they appeal to today's platitudes and verities. What is our strategy for speaking to a pluralistic public?

Another observation is that many participants see political answers as the route to go, particularly in the U.S. Pro-life people often align themselves with political parties, and urge support for so-called pro-life politicians who are simultaneously libertarian, pro-capital punishment, pro-gun, and inclined to militaristic action as the best way to do foreign policy. Face it folks, George W. has not turned out to be the best thing short of the Second Coming. Whatever regard he claims to have for unborn babies (or at least American unborn babies--I'm not sure what his opinion is of the Iraqi ones), he has not distinguished himself in other aspects of the dignity of life.

In fact, the pro-life movement as a general rule has defined 'sanctity' pretty narrowly. We're all for saving the fetuses from extinction, but not nearly as concerned for dealing with the circumstances into which too many of them are born. There are wonderful exceptions to this, of course, but not nearly enough.

Conclusion number two, then, is that political processes are seen as an important avenue for securing pro-life objectives. Again, I wouldn't discourage the idea of a political element to what we do (I speak as a 21 year veteran of municipal politics), but as the Bible warns, Don't put your trust in princes, each a son of man in whom there is no help.

I'm particularly concerned that the perceived best political answer is simply to make abortions illegal. In the short- and intermediate-run, that's not going to happen (I won't speculate on the long-run). I'm equally convinced that it would do as much damage as good. We must become vastly more sophisticated in dealing with government, and in understanding the limits on what politicians can accomplish.

[Believe it or not, some pro-life people are criticizing M.P. Ken Epp for the outstanding work he is doing in Ottawa on sanctity of life issues. We have to answer the challenge posed to me by a pro-life British Columbia cabinet minster: "Sometimes my biggest problem with pro-life issues is the pro-lifers."]

A third observation is that the media and the courts are seen as principalities of darkness and evil who await another opportunity to denounce and defame the pro-lifers (or anti-choicers as they seem to prefer). There is plenty of ammunition to support this observation.

But I try to put myself in the shoes of the typical reporter. She or he has little or no time to do proper research on most things that they cover. They live under the tyranny of deadlines and their editors. They also have to write at about a grade five level and to keep things precise. Therefore they fall back on stereotypes and politically correct ways of analysis as a shortcut. It saves time and gets them in far less trouble. Their jobs and their careers are dependent not on the tender sensibilities of what their publishers tell them are marginal groups, but on whether they keep the boss happy.

Our media strategy, which is by and large to snipe from the sidelines, is wanting. We don't know how to understand and use the media the way the Joyce Arthurs of the world do.

[As an aside, while I don't like a good deal of what the National Post publishes in their editorials, they have transformed the newspaper world, as far as I am concerned, in the way they explore issues in their various series. I have to assume on the basis of their format that papers like the Toronto Star have a much lower view of the intelligence of their readerships.]

Much more could be said. But I would like to see a lot more work done in these three areas: effective communication; how to best achieve objectives; and how to relate to the media.

The related issue that must be addressed simultaneously is measuring progress. The best indication of the effectiveness of a strategy is that it works! If our strategy is simply to make abortion illegal, then measurement is easy. But given the fact that this objective is not going to be achieved any time soon, how would we measure progress?

Stay tuned.

Monday, 7 April 2008

What rebellion?

I have developed, in one sense, a certain sympathy for Joyce Arthur, one of Canada's better-known pro-abortion activists. This comes from having recently received a copy of her bio (admittedly about 10 years old) that used to appear on her website.

To ensure accuracy, I'll quote what I hope are representative excerpts from this bio, and follow with comments of my own.

Parents: Uneducated Dutch immigrants who got off the boat in 1950. During the war, my father's parents hid Jews in their home. My paternal grandfather was a minister of the Dutch Reformed church. Mum and Dad were religious, but didn't really learn how to seriously indoctrinate their kids until it was too late for me. (All my younger siblings got sucked in, permanently.)

I have spent a good deal of my professional life with members of the various Reformed Churches (Dutch origins). There are certainly groups within that broad umbrella which have a legalistic, fundamentalist-type of mentality towards the content and practice of their religion. Joyce Arthur refers to her upbringing as having elements of indoctrination. She is not the only person from those circles who has described their upbringing thus, although it would be a small percentage in my experience.

I, too, was raised in a small, fundamentalist Protestant faith group. There is no question that both their understanding of biblical teaching, and their preferences regarding personal morality and behaviour, were rigid and constantly reinforced. These would have differed from Ms Arthur's group, but the same pressure to conform would have been brought to bear on us both.

Religion: Canadian Reformed, a small, strict offshoot of the Christian Reformed church. We believed everyone except us was hell-bound. The Bible was literally and divinely true, every word. Went to church religiously, twice every Sunday. Attended catechism classes weekly from age 6 onward. Always hated going to both. My father was an elder in the church.

It may be that Joyce's view of her denomination was really just her local church, or even her own family--I'm in no position to say. But she certainly grew up with the idea that true religion was a closed-system with no regard for those "outside the fold." My upbringing was not a whole lot different.

School: Brooke Elementary School, Alvinston, Ontario. Grade 1 to 8 (no kindergarten in those days). Memories of grade school somewhat negative and painful. I guess I was a nerd or something. Had friends, but we all shared the experience of getting picked on and persecuted by the snobby, more popular students.

Joyce's experiences were a bit like mine. Having been brought up a certain way, I was taught that certain of my schoolmates' activities were sinful; e.g., going to movies. It became more acute in high school where I couldn't participate in dances either. Rock music was also discouraged. Therefore, growing up feeling alienated by my religion and required behaviour are additional points I have in common with Arthur.

Adolescent angst: I was the proverbial bad apple. Broke the 5th commandment over and over again. Parents gave me up as a hopeless case. Rebelled, rebelled, rebelled. Then I rebelled some more. From age 10 on, annoyed the church pastor with my arguments over evolution, the Bible, women's rights,etc. Discovered boys at age 15 and lost no time losing my virginity. Discovered drugs and alcohol about the same time. My last school year at home was spent permanently grounded, until I "repented." I bought a backpack, kept it in my school locker, and brought something from home everyday, until I was all packed and ready to go. Then one day, I went. I never went back home again, except for occasional visits after some of the wounds had healed.

This would be the point where my reactions and Arthur's begin to differ. While many in my fundamentalist circle did rebel in various self-indulgent and potentially self-destructive ways (this was in the 1960s when drugs and promiscuity were the big attractions), I went in a completely different direction (for the Lord alone knows what reasons).

I had always felt that genuine rebellion was not the mere aping of the broader culture. This was just personal insecurity and a need for conformity in the guise of rebellion. It takes no brains or creativity. H.L. Mencken could have had the 1960's youth culture in mind when he wrote: "No one in this world, so far as I know ... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

My own inclination was to keep what was good from one's past, reexamine the rest, and rebel against close-mindedness, arrogant belief, and dismissiveness of others' ideas. It is true that Joyce did argue theological points with her pastor to no avail (been there as well). I have no idea whether her objective to was look for a better theology or to simply dismiss theology out of hand (I'm guessing the latter, given her desire for a hedonistic lifestyle and her subsequent membership in the Freedom from Religion Foundation).

But in the final analysis, where has her so-called rebellion taken her? In one sense, a long way. She is a professed atheist (I like to write on religion-related topics, and would one day like to write a novel about the origins of Christianity without an historical Jesus.) She writes off religious beliefs about life as irrelevant.

But in another, very important way, she is no different than the parents against whom she rebelled so angrily in her teens. Consider this statement:

Kids: none—by choice. Kids are great if they're well-behaved AND intelligent; otherwise, the novelty wears off very quickly.
This is exactly how her parents felt about her apparently.

But more significantly, Ms Arthur has adopted the same approach to life issues and life generally as did her parents toward religious issues and life generally. There is a body of thought that is self-evidently correct (Calvinistic thought as properly understood; women's rights as properly understood); is constantly reinforced in the right circles (a pro-Reformed faith group; a pro-choice faith group); and brooks no criticism (look at virtually anything on Arthur's blog). Arthur is the same arrogant, dismissive kind of person that she accused her parents of being, holding to positions that make sense in her watertight world, however illogical they appear on the outside.

What rebellion?

Ms Arthur is obviously an intelligent and hard-working person who commands respect in some circles. It is a pity that the combination of hard bitten rebellion toward her upbringing, combined with the same rigidity and close-mindedness that she claims was role modeled by her parents, has made her what she is today.

I would wish the same experience for her as was the case with a Jewish friend of mine at seminary (I have a seminary degree in Old Testament studies). For reasons I no longer remember he became dissatisfied with his life. At the same time he was introduced to a much different kind of Christianity than was Joyce's experience. At the point that he would describe as his conversion, he said that it was as if "my mind opened and a great wind blew through." He considered this to be the presence of the Holy Spirit, of course.

While she won't thank me for it, I will pray for Joyce Arthur that her mind will also open. It is always a shame to see a good mind wasted.

Friday, 4 April 2008

lifesite news--you're outta here

I watched a bit of the Toronto Blue Jays game yesterday. The Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, got tossed for disputing a third-strike call. Frank has been in baseball a long time and should have known better than to show up an ump in that fashion. In addition, Thomas is normally a soft-spoken and thoughtful person. But he lost it this time, and he paid.

Athletes are thrown out of games for many reasons. In last night's Canucks-Oilers game (which, speaking as an ardent Canucks fan, was heartbreaking), Oiler Mathieu Roy received a game misconduct for a vicious boarding infraction. Violent and ugly incidents are the more common reason for ejections than arguing a called strike.

Donning my referee's uniform for a moment, I am afraid that I have reached the end of my patience with I have been letting it run on my blog for some time now. It does carry a lot of news about life issues that one wouldn't come across in mainstream media. But it has a negative side to it that I find quite troubling at times. I received this comment from a regular reader of this blog earlier this year:

This isn't so much a comment on this particular post as on the fact that your side banner seems to endorse - a site whose agenda seems strangely mixed and rather biased. Your blog is so thoughtful and non-judgmental that I wonder about your flagging up of that one, much more judgmental, site in particular? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Lots of gay people, for example, are on the "life" side of the "life" issue, and yet the lifesite website ostracizes those people in a way that seems unthoughtful (of course, isn't ostracising always unthoughtful?). I would like to know why you endorse that website in particular? Thank you.

Lifesite News is not the only pro-life site around that strikes a rather belligerent stance. It seems almost endemic with bloggers that stridency, sweeping generalizations, name-calling, and other aggressive tactics are not only acceptable but necessary. I for one have always thought that consistent, principled reasoning was the best form of persuasion, not mudslinging and stereotyping. [I realize that such behaviour is routine in the Canadian Parliament, but that sorry reality hardly justifies such approaches.]

There are spokespeople such as Prof. Margaret Somerville who are regularly quoted in the mainstream media because of their thoughtful and incisive analysis of life issues. The publishers of Pro Woman Pro Life, to the limited extent that I have perused the site, seem to be attempting to take a balanced approach. There are a handful of others. But the blogosphere generally is pretty negative, without much thoughtful reasoning.

What particularly offends me about Lifesite News is their gay bashing. I'm a married man with two children, so I'm not defending my own orientation. I just know too many gay men and women who are far removed from the picture that Lifesite News paints, and certainly don't deserve the stereotyping that is ladled out on that site.

As a practicing Christian, I have always been struck by the phrase "They'll know we are Christians by our love." I'm far from perfect in living up to this challenge, but the attempt must be made. Jesus said that we are to "love our enemies." I'm not picking up much love in Lifesite News.

So with the greatest respect for what you are attempting to do, you're outta here.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Switching sides again? Apparently not!

Our illustrious former BC premier, the Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh, is famous, and rightly so, for being the first South Asian-born leader of this or any other province. Prince Edward Island had a premier of Lebanese heritage in Joe Ghiz, but he was born in Canada as was his son, Robert Ghiz, the current PEI premier.

But Dosanjh is also well-known for his big switcheroo from the provincial New Democratic Party to the federal Liberals with whom he served as a cabinet minister. More recently another former provincial NDP premier, Bob Rae of Ontario, has also become a federal Liberal MP.

For one brief shining moment it appeared that the Hon. Ujjal had done another switch--from pro-choice to pro-life. Dosanjh had publicly decried the practice, not altogether uncommon in the Indo-Canadian community, of women aborting female fetuses. The former premier and Canadian Minister of Health called the motivation for such abortions “absolutely inappropriate” and “contemptible”.

John Hof, president of the BC chapter of Campaign Life Coalition, a pro-life political lobby group, made what appears to me to be a semi-jesting remark regarding Dosanjh's views on gender-specific abortions:

“On behalf of the pro-life movement,” Hof is quoted as saying, “I would like to welcome you half way home. Now that we have you opposed to eliminating girl babies before birth, perhaps we can start talking about the other 50% of abortions. Those done on little boy babies.” [This and subsequent quotes are taken from]

Pro-choice activists, who apparently had a humour bypass at some point in their lives, jumped all over this as an indication of perfidy on Hoff's part, trying to trick the public into thinking that Mr. Dosanjh had once again switched sides. Dosanjh himself complained that Hof was "playing fast and loose with my words. I never intended to convey support for his movement.”

Don't give up your day job, John. Stay out of comedy. Nobody gets your jokes.

But what Hof was really doing, I suspect, was exposing an important inconsistency among pro-abortionists; that is, that they are not always so pro. In virtually the same breath we have Dosanjh saying:

He said he does not support gender selection, which he called, “absolutely inappropriate” and “contemptible”. Yet, he also thinks women seeking abortions in Canada should not have to say why they want one.

“That’s between her and her medical advisers,” he said.

If abortion-seeking women should not have to say why they want an abortion, surely it is not the place of anyone else to judge their motivation either. If women are not to be judged for seeking one, then shouldn't they also be free of judgment for wanting one? The latter would seem to follow from the former. But not so for Mr. Dosanjh.

I'm really trying to grapple with this but I can't make it work. Roughly the same number of baby boys and girls are conceived and born each year (males have a slight edge). It stands to reason, then, that just about as many female babies are aborted as males. No pro-abortion activist questions or criticizes this. From their point of view there is nothing inherently wrong with aborting a female any more than a male. Both are fair game, as it were.

Let's go further. Approximately 5% of abortions are solicited because the child was conceived through rape or incest, or posed a threat to the life of the mother. That leaves 95% of abortions that are obtained for a host of other reasons:
a. I'm too young to start a family.
b. I don't want to be a single mother.
c. I have too many children already.
d. My boyfriend will leave me.
e. I'll lose my job.
f. I'll have to quit school.
g. My parents will reject me.
h. The fetus has Down's Syndrome.
etc., etc., etc.

While the pro-choicers may regret that these crises exist, and decry the poverty, pressure and so on that causes them, they would never judge the girl/woman who aborts as a result.

But if they abort because they prefer not to have a female child, their choice is inappropriate and contemptible. Why?

There is more than one culture that values boys over girls. In China, where a one-child policy is the law, many Chinese couples abort female fetuses because if they can only have one child they want it to be a boy. Some in the Indo-Canadian community similarly value males over females. [For further information, see "Some Asian Americans screening out girl babies--is abortion used?", Chicago Sun-Times, March 31, 2008.]

In the politically correct culture of our times we are not to judge cultural differences. In fact, we move heaven and earth (if one can still use the word 'heaven' in public discourse) to accommodate the differences. But now I find pro-abortion activists drawing lines.

So we have the contradictory state of affairs best summarized as follows: You can have an abortion for absolutely any reason--whether the fetus is male or female--unless you are aborting for the simple fact that the baby is female.

Now pro-life people also draw lines. It so happens that they feel that all life is sacred; therefore, abortion is "absolutely inappropriate" and "contemptible", to use Dosanjh's words.

The pro-abortion line is much fuzzier and more arbitrary. It seems to go something like this: "No (fetal) life is sacred, male or female, except sometimes." The "sometimes" has to do with certain cultural values and certain motivations. But I don't know how the pro-abortionists can claim what they otherwise do and yet make such distinctions.

Sorry, Ujjal et al, it just doesn't work.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Grading Joyce

As YMFR (you, my faithful reader) know, I'm a lifelong academic. I've taught at Cambrian College, Trinity Western University, the Univ. of British Columbia, King's University College and Regent College, as well as the odd course at other august learning institutions such as Simon Fraser University and Niagara College. I was nominated for recognition for teaching excellence at UBC. My first book won several writing awards. I think I know my business.

Once in a while I take articles written by alleged spokespeople and grade them the way I would an undergrad's paper were it submitted to me as an assignment. Regrettably, I often find these articles wanting even at a second-year (what you Americans would call sophomore) level.

It's rather dismaying to think that those to whom many people look for guidance on important issues provide such low-level leadership. Even worse, these badly-written thoughts show up in places like the Canadian Parliament where they are considered sufficiently persuasive to shape important legislation.

Today I am going to give pro-abortion advocate Joyce Arthur the old Sutherland scrutiny. I won't use a red pen (I'm told that red is seen as judgmental and punitive rather than caring and rehabilitating). I certainly won't employ dismissive language, however tempted. But for Ms Arthur's sake, I will try to provide her with the kind of critique that apparently was missing when she was scribbling away at wherever she went to school (she gives no personal information along those lines on her blog).

The article in question was published in today's edition of the National Post. It appears under the following headline:

Joyce Arthur: Bill C-484 isn't about protecting pregnant women, it's about recriminalizing abortion
Posted: March 31, 2008, 9:24 PM.

I'll highlight Ms Arthur's comments in italics, and then provide my professorial responses.

1. Suzanne Fortin engages in a distortion of facts in her article “Canadian women need a fetal homicide law” (March 10). Bill C-484, which passed second reading in Parliament before the Easter break, would create a separate offence for the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked.

Now I may be picky here (I'm often accused of such), but Arthur does not identify Suzanne Fortin. If she is important enough to rate a response, she must have some bona fides to which a quick referral would be helpful for the less informed reader.

2. When pregnant women miscarry due to a violent attack, they’ve suffered a loss and had their rights violated. That hardly needs stating, but Ms. Fortin bizarrely thinks the pro-choice movement denies it. Everyone, including pro-choice advocates, wants to protect pregnant women from violence. We simply disagree on the best way to do it.

Of course, I read Ms Fortin's article to which Ms Arthur refers. I'm not sure that Arthur has quoted Fortin accurately. Arthur seems to be saying that Fortin accuses pro-choice advocates such as herself of not wanting to protect pregnant women against violence. But what Fortin in fact wrote was:

If I were the subject of an attack in which my unborn child was hurt or killed, I would be devastated and would want the perpetrator to be brought to justice for both the injury to me and to my unborn child. When women grieve for a miscarried child, they are not grieving for a mere body part. Whether they treat the fetus as a potential life or as a full-fledged member of the family, they are not grieving the loss of themselves, but of something other than themselves. And when they are violently deprived of him, it can only be said to be a violation of their rights, separate from the actual injury that they incur.

But the abortion lobby doesn't see it that way. The most vocal opponent of Bill C-484, Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), has yet to acknowledge that losing a fetus is in itself an injustice.

Now it could be that Ms Arthur disagrees with what I have quoted from Ms Fortin's article, but she doesn't reproduce it accurately nor answer to it directly. This seems to be a case of misdirection.

3. Our justice system already allows for harsher penalties for aggravated crimes. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada supports such remedies, and we’ve also called for better measures to reduce violence against pregnant women, who are at increased risk of domestic violence. Further, we’ve advocated the use of Canada’s hate crime legislation (which has a gender clause) and even suggested passing a specific law to mandate increased penalties for attackers of pregnant women.

No serious argument with the logic here, except for the reference to hate crime legislation having a gender clause. It seems to me that murder is pretty hateful of both genders. But let that pass. I wish that she had given an example of what she means by "harsher penalties for aggravated crimes" and demonstrate that it has been used by the courts in dealing with the murder of a pregnant woman and her fetus. After all, we are dealing with a specific type of murder here. She should establish that the harsher penalties that exist on the books are seen to contemplate such murders.

4. Giving separate legal status to a fetus is an unnecessary approach that could endanger not only abortion rights, but the rights of all pregnant women. Fetal homicide laws are prevalent in the U.S., but have done nothing to reduce violence against pregnant women. Instead, they have been used to arrest and prosecute pregnant women for their behaviour, and to justify restrictions on abortion — even when such laws exclude abortion and pregnant women from criminal liability. Our fear that this bill will be used in a similar way in Canada is not unjustified.

This brief paragraph is packed with allegations without a whiff of substantiation. Consider the following:

a. Fetal homicide laws are prevalent in the U.S. - What does prevalent mean in this case? Are they worded in the same away as Ken Epp's bill? As each other?

b. ...but have done nothing to reduce violence against pregnant women - These kind of statements cannot be made without some kind of legitimate study done by competent researchers. Are there such studies (Arthur certainly did not refer to one)? Were they done in a jurisdiction with a law the same or similar to Bill C-484? If the studies in fact exist, did they show that there was no statistically significant difference as a result of the legislation?

c. They have been used to arrest and prosecute pregnant women - Examples please? Are we supposed to read what we want into these statements?

d. ...for their behaviour - What possible behaviour could be indicated here? This paragraph represents Joyce Arthur's key rebuttal of the Epp bill, and she gives us nothing of substance--in fact, nothing at all--to help us come to any conclusion.

5. Ms. Fortin repeats the word “fetus” numerous times and claims that Bill C-484 “does not in any way confer personhood or rights upon the fetus.” That is false. The bill never even uses the word fetus! Instead, “child” and “unborn child” are used to refer to even very early pregnancies, as soon as the woman suspects she might be pregnant. This is an unprecedented extension of such language in the Criminal Code and clearly, it confers personhood on the fetus. The bill makes the penalty for killing a fetus the same as for homicide, and includes it as an offence “Against the Person and Reputation” (even though that part of the code already defines fetuses as non-persons). Just by making it a separate crime to kill or injure an “unborn child,” the bill creates at least some degree of fetal personhood.

Ms Arthur is quite right that the term "child" rather than "fetus" is employed in the bill. It would easy enough to change the term to fetus, although I doubt that this would change Ms Arthur's opinion of the need for the legislation. I do note, however, this line in the bill:

It is not a defence to a charge under this section that the child is not a human being.

This line recognizes that an unborn child does not have legal personhood as a human being, but that this legal reality is something that could be used to plead innocent in the case of the willful murder of that fetus.

6. The bill’s proponents, including Ms. Fortin, are fond of citing a survey from last October that found 72% of Canadians support a bill like C-484. What they never say is that the poll was commissioned by anti-abortion group LifeCanada to measure “Canadians’ attitudes towards abortion issues.” The poll’s question on a fetal homicide law was grouped with other questions on abortion restrictions, with biased wording to elicit a positive answer.

Arthur is leading with her chin on this one. She refers to the poll done by the respected Canadian research firm Environics as employing biased wording, without actually giving us a single example. She also tries to discredit the poll not by exposing the methodology, or even the interpretation of the findings, as faulty, but by noting that she disapproves of the organization that paid for the survey. This is unfair to Environics unless she can substantiate her claims of bias.

But even worse, Arthur completely ignores a second poll, done independently by an equally respected research organization, Angus Reid, that came to the identical conclusions. Such an omission can only be deliberate and completely undermines her slagging of the first poll.

7. Ms. Fortin pulled a couple of phrases from an unrelated essay I once wrote about women and fetuses, but she ignored the context. Other quotes from the same essay contradict Ms. Fortin’s thesis that I discount the importance of a fetus to a pregnant woman: “She has full authority and rights to consider her own personal fetus to be the most important and valuable thing in the world.” “A pregnant woman wants a good outcome for her baby far more than anybody else, so all we have to do is give her the means to make it happen.” That essay argued that it’s up to the pregnant woman to decide how she views her fetus, and that it’s society’s job to support her decision — whether that means providing access to legal and safe abortion, or helping ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.

I have no comment on these accusations. They may be true or not, but do nothing to advance Ms Arthur's argument.

8. It’s not the place of the law to decide the legal status or worth of the fetus, because that interferes with women’s privacy and freedom of conscience — and ultimately their right to life and bodily security. We need to protect pregnant women first — because when a pregnant woman is safe, so is her fetus.

This statement is simply silly. It was a legal decision, made by male legislators, that gave previously disenfranchised women the legal rights to vote, hold public office, enter into legal transactions on their own merit, and to enjoy privacy and freedom of conscience. Women were once in virtually the same legal situation as fetuses are today. To say that the same kind of legal decision-making that once liberated women could not be used to confer some kind of different status on fetuses is a strange kind of reasoning.

Sorry Joyce. I have no option but to give you a D on this assignment. That you have done a small amount of research keeps me from simply assigning an F. But I expect to see a much better job next time. I wish that were true of all your readers.