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 ( - 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 (

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 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.