Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Women's rights, Part 2--one bite at a time

I have been doing a good deal of thinking since my last post of Dec. 9/09 regarding the topic of women's rights (or better, equality rights) and how it relates to life issues, particularly reproductive rights and abortion. The lead up to Christmas has been an understandable distraction and time-consumer, so I have not been able to do anything like the research that is necessary for such a complicated subject.

But I have decided that I will have to break up the analysis into several individual studies. Otherwise I would have a post whose length would surround the block. So we'll eat this 800 pound gorilla one bite at a time.

My focus will be on women's rights in Canada for the obvious reason that I am a Canadian. But I will from time to time compare and contrast the Canadian situation with that of other countries, including the U.S. and Europe. I expect to learn a great deal from this study, and hope that you will as well.

But for now, I wish you all a blessed Christmas, a restful family time, a giving and receiving of love however expressed, and a sense of hope and purpose in the New Year.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Women's rights, part 1.

17th to 20th century North American society, historical revisionists to the contrary notwithstanding, developed to the largest extent on the basis of European values founded on the Judeo-Christian worldview as it was understood during those years.

Canada's aboriginal population was seen by the dominant culture as deficient in that it lacked this same basis for living. Consequently many, many aboriginals were forced into the residential school system to wring this deficiency out of them and to churn out individuals like unto ourselves. Immigration policy also reflected this bias. Present-day multiculturalism is a very recent departure from this preference for sameness based on our European heritage.

That is not the same thing as saying that Canada was a Christian country. Had it been, would we have ever treated other human beings the way we dealt with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis, not to mention women, immigrant Chinese labourers and their descendents, Japanese residents during WW2, and others who were oppressed in a variety of ways and denied full citizenship in such matters as voting and holding public office, entering into contracts, even being recognized legally as persons?

Slowly these societal sins are being addressed and their odious results set aright. Even Canada's prisoners vote now. The United Nations has published universal declarations on any number of rights issues, including those of women, children, and aboriginal groups. Canadians, by and large, applaud these efforts.

In other words, as we recognize that all people are equal and deserving of equal respect, we are becoming much more a Christian nation in terms of what we value.

A major sticking point, however, is in the area of women's rights, particularly within the context of what are often referred to as 'life' issues (e.g., abortion, reproductive health, etc.). I'm thinking of two problems here. One is the feminist understanding of the Judeo-Christian position on women; i.e., that women are subordinate, even inferior, and therefore not eligible for full and equal rights. This has led feminists, for the most part, to dismiss moral evaluations of women's rights issues based on the Christian heritage, even though that heritage has been the dominant moral philosophy for most of our history.

[I invited the director of a large and respected non-profit devoted to helping women to attend a "resource fair" I was setting up to acquaint women with organizations exactly like hers. She rejected me outright, solely on the basis of my affiliation with a pro-life organization, insisting that we were nothing more than a religious group that holds to the subordination of women.]

The other is that equal rights means that any inherent differences between the male and the female (e.g., that women bear children and men don't) are to be ignored in defining what 'equal' means. Equality brings with it the idea of uniformity. Equal = identical.

[For another example of this notion of equal = identical, one can consider the GoTopless campaign which urges us to stand up for topless equal rights. Here is the justification cited by this group from their website:

GoTopless Day always falls at the Sunday closest to Women's Equality Day, Aug 26. It is indeed on Aug 26, 1920 that women earned their right to vote on the basis of Gender Equality. In 1971, the US Congress has made Aug 26 into a nationally recognized date and named it "Women's Equality Day".

In a record-setting conflation, a woman's right to vote and a "right" to go topless have been lumped together as deserving equal constitutional protection:

It is only logical that GoTopless Day protests (or celebrations depending on the legal status of your city) would fall around Women's Equality Day since the right to go topless for women is based on gender equality as their right to vote once was.

See http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Video+GoTopless+returns+Vancouver/10145458/story.html for a video report of this years topless day in Vancouver on Aug. 24/15.]

I am not a philosopher nor a legal expert. I'm not even a theologian, although I am a seminary grad with a masters degree in biblical studies. Therefore, I can't bring to this dilemma a highly sophisticated analysis of the sort it deserves. But I would like to throw out a few ideas resulting from 62 years of broad exposure, an academic career, and the role-modeling of some pretty savvy women.

I'll take a crack at the Judeo-Christian view of women in this post, and then a stab at equal rights in the next. Prayer would be appreciated.

OK, back to the (for me mythical, but for some literal) Garden of Eden. I treat this part of the Old Testament as I do Jesus' parables; i.e., as a vehicle for much rich theology. Genesis chapter one has man and woman created in one fell swoop:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness". . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gn. 1:26-27). Here 'man' simply means mankind (or better, humankind), further defined as male and female. No suggestion of subordination can be found. Their origins, nature and task are identical.

In Genesis chapter two, however, the creation story is repeated with considerable detail added regarding the order of events (on Day 1 this, on Day 2 that, and so on). The notion that somehow woman is inherently subordinate to man in God's perfect world derives, for some, from this account. In fact, it turns on one word: helper.

Man (in this case meaning the male, Adam) gave names to all livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper (or in the older English versions, helpmate) was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman with the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman' (in Hebrew, ISHAH), for she was taken out of man" (in Hebrew, ISH) (Gn. 2: 20-23).

Two problems arise. One has to do with a complete misunderstanding of the word 'helper' or 'helpmate,' which many have viewed as putting Eve in a subordinate category to Adam, and by extension women to men. But what does helper mean?

1. Helpmate is a very poor construction as it puts together two words, 'help' and 'meet', and greatly distorts the meaning. 'Meet' means suitable, complementary, making up for some lack, a companion. Help meet (or in more modern English, suited to) Adam means giving something to Adam that complements* his combination of skills and attributes with others that are necessary to make humankind not only perfect, but complete. Each of the partners was perfect, but there were some differences between them that required their full cooperation for completeness to be achieved. I'm sure that this notion is behind St. Paul's reference to the act of marriage making a man and a woman 'one flesh'.

2. The term is used only four times in the Old Testament, and twice it refers to God. In another instance it describes a powerful military ally. It carries no sense of subservience (quite the contrary!).

It is not possible to derive any idea of superior/subordinate, or even first among equals from this biblical passage. The rub, to quote Shakespeare, comes in Genesis chapter 3, in the section describing God's curse upon his creation as a result of disobedience:

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Gn. 3:16).

Instead of giving birth to more perfect and complementary male and female babies, Eve was now saddled (and her female descendents along with her) with the pain of contributing to the pool of fallen human beings, physical pain being a strong reminder (and powerful metaphor) for this unhappy fact.

But even worse, the physically more powerful Adam (and his male descendents after him) will now take advantage of weakness of any sort for personal gratification. We see this immediately in Genesis chapter 4 in the murder of Abel by brother Cain. It is also seen in the systemic subordination of women by men throughout the biblical record. Note that God is not prescribing this state of affairs in Genesis 3, but simply describing what is the inevitable result of sin and its distortion of human relationships.

Therefore, by Jesus' time woman were not much more than chattel. But Jesus was constantly bewildering his disciples and his male opponents by treating women as if they mattered and even including them among his associates (e.g., the Samaritan woman, Martha's sister Mary, and the woman who washed his feet with her hair).

St. Paul, probably the most intelligent and best educated of Jesus' earlier interpreters, got it better than the original twelve apostles. Paul was a man with no concern for privilege. He was prepared to make any number of accommodations to culture as long as in doing so he could find ways to spread the Good News without losing a hearing from the get go. For instance, he was a Roman citizen but never presumed upon this privilege when being hassled by Roman authorities. He encouraged his followers--male and female--to emulate his approach, even if it meant setting aside personal rights.

But there were times when he clearly drew the line. Space does not permit a suitable explanation, but those familiar with the biblical record will recognize Paul's stand for equality in his contrasting the situations of the Gentile Christian Titus versus the Jewish Christian Timothy in the matter of circumcision, his remonstrations with St. Peter regarding the latter's avoidance of Gentiles, and his insistence that his Christian Gentile friend Philemon treat his runaway slave Onesimus, who was converted under Paul's teaching, as if he were Paul himself.

With respect to women, Paul insisted that the followers of Christ would now take society back to the state of perfect unity between men and women found in the Eden-story: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Consequently, Paul told men and women to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21). He numbered certain women as "fellow labourers who contended at my side" (Philippians 4:2-3). He refers to a woman named Junia in Romans 16 (the feminine form of the name, Junia, is found in the older manuscripts, with the masculine form, Junius, coming much later) as outstanding among the apostles. Women are identified in the New Testament as prophets, teachers, and deacons.

My bottom line is this: Whatever faults feminists find with the Church and modern understandings of the biblical teaching on women, the Bible is clear that women and men are equal in every respect--not identical, but equal. Judeo-Christian morality is not based on any presupposition that women deserve in some way to be disadvantaged vis-a-vis men. It just isn't there.

Next I will attempt to take this biblical view of equality and apply it to the current scene with respect to women's rights. But first, I had better get a couple of good nights' rest and perhaps a fortifying goblet or two of Australian red.
*When I say 'complements', I am in no way referring to a school of thought concerning the relationship between men and women labelled "complementarian". This view, as opposed to the egalitarian position I hold, takes this form: Male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature, but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man. I reject the complementarian view outright as unsupportable scripturally.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

TIGER, tiger, burning bright in the forests of the night...

...not to mention the fire hydrants.

Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods has joined a distinguished group of well-known, well-paid, well-coddled athletes who treat marriage vows, and the women that go with them, with the same elan as they do their competitors; i.e., an eagerness to brush them aside--to score, as it were, at will. Step aside Wilt (the Stilt, no pun intended) Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Mike Tyson, and all the rest of you serious adulterers and fornicators; Tiger has now joined the club (again, no pun intended). Mr. Privacy is now just another Mr. Privates.

What does any of the above have to do with the life issues to which this blog is dedicated? Simply this--right to life does not mean simply the right to breath. The right to a beating heart. And certainly not the right to be used or abused as another sees fit.

Let me give you some theological background to explain myself further. God created for a purpose. Creationism has nothing to do with six days versus eons of time. God can create as He pleases. The difference is sovereignty, direction, and purpose versus randomness, accident, and blind chance. God created everything in the cosmos as an expression of his wisdom, power, justice and love. And he put humankind at the head of it as His stewards (which is what the term 'dominion' in Genesis means).

The great tragedy of humankind's 'Fall' from grace in Genesis chapter 3 is not that henceforth some humans were destined for Hell and that the soft life in Lotus Land was over. No, it is the introduction of relationships characterized by superiority/subordination, injustice, and exploitation, plus an abandonment of God's values of love, justice, dignity, fidelity, and community.

Now the weak would exploit the strong; labour turned from a happy and creative activity to one of drudgery and monotony; plenty became scarcity; and childbearing's travails were greatly intensified. Love, justice, fidelity, and community now fought for space with self-love and lust, injustice, adultery and hyper-individualism. Human dignity became another attribute to be withheld or destroyed.

Back to the right to life. If all this term means is that no one has the right to take the life of another, then one could accept just about any context for living that life as long as no murder took place. Pro-lifers could ensure that abortion and euthanasia were made illegal, dust off their hands, and say, "Our work is done." If that is all right to life means, I'm out.

The right to life is the right to a life of love, of equality, of justice, of dignity, of faithful relationships, of creativity, of supportive community--the right to a life worth living. Tiger Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, has been robbed of most or all of these things by her husband's lifestyle choices. He was very right to label his adulterous relationships as 'transgressions', not just 'mistakes' as do so many sinners when caught with their pants down do.

Most women who decide to abort do so for someone else's reasons, not their own. I have learned this from so-called pro-choicers just as much as pro-lifers. What are those reasons?--boyfriends and husbands who don't want to support a child; families who don't want to be embarrassed; employers who don't want to extend maternity leave and benefits; builders who don't want to provide affordable housing; drug pushers who don't want to lose customers; governments who don't want to fund daycare. One could go on and on. The grim reality is that (mostly young and single) women are left to cope on their own with a crisis pregnancy. A sign on a stick brings little direction, and even less comfort and hope, at a time like this.

What is our task as members of the right to life world? To rid ourselves of permissive abortion laws? Or to address full on the conditions that rob women and and their unborn children of their chance for hope, health, dignity, love and justice--the abundant life as Jesus called it?

There are a lot of Tigers out there. I'm not satisfied to provide them with a series of exploitable women to use as they want. There is no room for Tigers in a life of abundance.

That's the life concerning which I am decidedly pro.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Enamel all over my shirt

I've been grinding my teeth in frustration these last couple of days. I recently received the Nov. 30, 2009 issue of Maclean's Magazine, with cover story entitled, "The New Canadian Morality," the findings taken from a survey by Angus Reid. As a former professional marketing researcher and long-time market research consultant, I turned directly to the section of the article that gives one the ability to properly assess the findings--the methodology and the survey instrument itself.

I'm still turning.



Well what do you know--there is no such section. So for someone with an interest in some of the issues surveyed, I can't really assess the results. Nor can I find this missing information on the internet, either via the Maclean's or Angus Reid websites.

So consider the reference to the use of stem cells taken from human embryos. I don't know if there were any questions about the use of stem cells from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, or the many other sources of stem cells that are proving to have much more potential for actually healing someone than are the ones from the aborted babies**.

What is the use of knowing Canadians' opinion on the older, less successful approach while ignoring the highly promising, cutting edge work being done with stem cells from far less controversial sources?

Or abortion. Maclean's reports that abortion is considered morally wrong by 22% of Canadians. What does that mean?
1. Morally wrong in any and every circumstance?
2. Morally wrong except in cases of rape and incest?
3. Morally wrong except if the mother's life is endangered?
4. Morally wrong after the first trimester?
5. Morally wrong after the second trimester (Morgentaler's personal opinion)?

I have seen opinion polls that put the number of Canadians who consider abortion morally wrong beyond positions 1, 2 and 3 at about 33%. And these represents only 5% of all abortions.

And for the five options taken together, I've seen survey results that indicate ~67% of Canadians have moral issues when these restrictions are exceeded. I have never seen a survey result that put the acceptable morality of our present situation in Canada (no prohibitions against abortion at any stage) higher than one-third of respondents.

So with the greatest respect to Maclean's, the article as it stands is virtually useless in that it lacks all of the information necessary to have an informed view.

Of course, that is my opinion of our pro choice society in general--all of information necessary to make an informed choice is denied to us.

**For more on the use of stem cells as a healing agent, see the article entitled "Stem cells hold hope for preemies lung strain" in the National Post, November 27, 2009, p. A10. The stem cells in question are taken from bone marrow.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Christian Wrong

We don't have anything in Canada that corresponds to the Christian Right in the U.S. Canadian Christians are all over the map politically, even when they are largely in agreement on Christian principles and values. I think it is because Christians are less likely to look to government to solve highly charged moral issues.

But I sense that in the U.S. that conservative Christians such as Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals, and some Catholics, are not only quite politicized but also tend to identify with the Republican party, or at least its most conservative segment. This is a mystery to me.

Firstly, this so-called Christian Right (C.R.) seems to espouse not just capitalism (I consider myself to be a capitalist too, except where it violates biblical principles), but libertarianism. In its broadest sense, libertarianism is an ideological belief in freedom of thought and speech.

Its political expression typically takes this form: all persons are the absolute owners of their own lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property, provided they allow others the same liberty. With respect to the role of government, libertarians hold to a political ideology that embraces individual liberty over state (governmental) authority, both in the realm of economic activity and personal or social activity. Their hero is famous U. of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Ron Paul, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, once ran for President as a Libertarian.

Consequently, the C.R. prefers minimum government intrusion in the lives of individuals, is strongly opposed to gun control and tax increases, and is suspicious of anything smacking of socialism (e.g., public health insurance), which many libertarians would not greatly differentiate from Communism. Many justify all of this with what they consider to be biblical or Christian arguments for individual freedom. Sarah Palin fits into this political segment like a hand into a glove.

Now, why did I call the association of the C.R. with the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican party a mystery? Well, it's because of the following.

Firstly, consider the C.R.'s tendency to want, in fact demand and vote for, government intrusion into individual rights where the rights in view are those to which the C.R. is opposed, particularly abortion rights and same-sex marriages. The C.R. was desperate to get their favoured candidates on the U.S. Supreme Court in order to overturn Roe v. Wade. The C.R. mobilizes routinely behind politicians who pursue their moral and economic preferences while calling for the downfall of those who don't. See, for instance, Dr. James Dobson's rejection of John McCain as the Republican candidate because he was perceived as too soft on certain moral issues.

I am not arguing the merits of abortion rights or same-sex marriages here. I am simply pointing out that the C.R. is eager for government intrusion when it suits them. I don't object to this; I simply point out that it is not the libertarian thing to do. Either you want government intrusion or you don't. You can't be a little bit pregnant.

Second, the C.R. claims to base their beliefs on biblical teaching. I'm tempted to ask, whose Bible? There is nothing in the teaching of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that warrants the Christian Right's commitment to hyper-individualism, laissez-faire economics, or militarism. Regrettably this is not an argument that can be made within the limitations of a blog, but believe me as a conservative Christian business professor and dean with no axe to grind with capitalism that the C.R. arguments are simply not there.

To the extent that there are political and economic principles played out consistently over the whole of Scripture, the Bible teaches other-centeredness, not self-centered individualism, places restrictions on individual use or abuse of property as the owner sees fit, and maintains a strong commitment to peace. These biblical principles, if anything, would fit better with moderate Republicans and Democrats than with the right wing of the Republican party.

Third, the C.R. claims to be opposed to abortion. Yet at the same time it rejects any increase in taxes, including those that might make it easier for individuals to choose life over abortion. This is the biggest mystery of all. To misapply Winston Churchill, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

Women decide to abort for all kinds of reasons, both social and economic. Very often it is because they are poor and do not have a social and economic safety net that would see them through a crisis pregnancy. Canada is relatively generous in its government and organizational maternity benefits. But consider this quote from a lovely little website called "babycenter" (http://www.babycenter.com/0_maternity-leave-the-basics_449.bc):

Maternity leave, now often called parental or family leave, is the time a mother (or father) takes off from work for the birth or adoption of a child. Actual paid "maternity leave" — while the norm in every other developed country — is unusual in the United States, although some enlightened companies do offer new parents paid time off, up to six weeks in some cases. Most likely, you'll use a combination of short-term disability (STD), sick leave, vacation, personal days, and unpaid family leave during your time away from work.

Or this from another site called "FitPregnancy"(http://www.fitpregnancy.com/yournewlife/work_money/us-maternity-benefits-lag-40724547.html):

If you're getting paid while on maternity leave, consider yourself lucky: Out of 173 countries worldwide, the United States is one of only five that don't guarantee paid leave to give birth and care for a newborn, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and McGill universities.

"It's dramatically striking that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world," says lead researcher Jody Heymann, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill in Montreal, Quebec. "Every industrialized country offers paid leave. So can the United States."

While a small minority of enlightened U.S. companies offer paid maternal leave, most don't, even though research shows the practice increases employee retention, reducing hiring and retraining expenses. "It's often too hard for companies to offer it if competitors don't," Heymann says. And while several states are considering paid family leave, California is the only one that currently offers it. "The only way to ensure that all Americans are protected is to pass federal legislation," she adds.

If, as we are seeing now, the conservative Republicans are so dead set against improving health care in the U.S. (something considered a human right in Canada), is it likely they would be supportive of improved maternity benefits? Why do I doubt it? And yet it could be an important resource for lowering the abortion rate.

I know that I have taken on a subject that needs a better medium than a blog to address properly. I have had to be brief in my remarks, when I could have gone on at considerable length in, say, an academic paper. But at least you have a taste of my thinking. I urge you in the Christian Right to consider that on some topics your positions might just be wrong based on biblical religion, not American civil religion.

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity (Romans 12:2, Phillip's translation).

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

More on ideology

. . . not to be confused with moron ideology. But more on this below.

An ideology can be defined as "a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things." This is more or less identical to the concept of a worldview.

Another definition: "the body of doctrines, philosophical bases, symbols, etc., associated with a particular social or political movement, large group, or individual."

And finally, "an ideology is the creation of some identifiable group (political, cultural, economic) for the purpose of spreading or maintaining its perspective on reality among themselves and others."

There is nothing in the above set of definitions (culled from various websites) that is inherently bad or scary. In fact, everyone has, at least, a worldview, which is very similar to an ideology. Perhaps the difference between the two notions is that ideology is often linked to a political or cultural movement that has not only views but ends and means.

I can think of some political and cultural movements that one could label as ideologies of which I wholeheartedly approve, despite regrettable excesses in some cases: Wilberforce's anti-slavery campaign; the Alberta Five and their push for full personhood for women; the corresponding campaign for aboriginal rights; the peace movement; Ralph Nader's leadership of the consumerism movement; much of the modern feminist movement; even the societal push for a greater concern for environmental causes.

All of these required the conviction that only a strong commitment to principles and values can create; great courage; effective leadership; strong communication skills; and, more often than not, the use of political processes. I still shiver and tear up whenever I listen to Martin Luther King's incredible speech, Free At Last--ideology at its best!

How important is ideology? Obviously it is very important when it defines a movement, or even a society. A clear current example is that of health care in the U.S. versus Canada and most European countries. We Canadians see universal health care as a human right. It is the largest budget item of every provincial government. And who did we pick as the greatest Canadian in the CBC contest of a few years back?--Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare.

In the U.S., health care is seen very differently. Many Americans are content to live in a country without genuine universal access. And we see the results before our eyes in the U.S. at this moment as President Obama (who would not be voted as the greatest American) tries to achieve a pale approximation of Canadian health care in his country.

What happens when ideology goes bad? Racism, sexism, ageism, in fact most "isms", are based on some notion that there are inherently superior and inferior people or groups, and that the superior ones have the right to suppress the lesser ones (e.g., the U.S. Supreme Court defining an African-American slave as two-thirds of a person for purposes of the Constitution, or the Canadian government withholding the right to vote from aboriginal and Chinese Canadians).

Groupthink occurs when a closed group defines any contrary views as heretical, with those holding those views written off as unworthy of membership in the group (the most famous being JFK's advisers' decision-making process leading up to the Bay of Pigs fiasco).

A corrupted ideology is one whose adherents willfully ignore any evidence that their views held do not bear up to scientific or historical scrutiny (e.g., Holocaust deniers). Or that would use immoral means to achieve its goals (e.g., the KKK).

The worst-case scenario is one where an ideology has all of the above characteristics, and yet still meets with broad public approval. I see this to some extent with those who genuflect before the Kyoto altar. People who find any alleged fault with any aspect of the ideology of addressing climate change are deemed as inferior (intellectually, morally, or both), are bullied into accepting the received wisdom or being pushed aside without a hearing (and labeled climate change deniers--an obvious parallel to Holocaust deniers), and are invidiously contrasted with heroes like Al Gore, despite the many mistakes in his Oscar-winning movie. Consequently, a legitimate scientific evaluation of an important world phenomenon is crippled by a dubious ideology.

Well, my blog is devoted to certain life issues, among them such topics as abortion, euthanasia, and alternatives to same. I have said in a previous post that I could accept a pro-choice ideology for Canada if we truly had one. But the pro-choice ideology shows much of the superiority, close-mindedness, and corruption that I have discussed above. The result is that the ability to make an informed choice is severely compromised.

Back to the U.S. and Obama's attempts to have a health care bill (greatly watered down already from his original rhetoric) passed into law. The House of Representatives (corresponding to the House of Commons in Canada and the U.K.), has passed a law that has now gone to the Senate. And here is where an intolerant ideology could rear its ugly head. Remember that the Democratic Party controls both houses.

The House of Representatives comprises 435 members, of which 234 are Democrats, leaving 201 Republicans. Unlike the Canadian Parliamentary system where departing from party lines is unusual (and often fatal to the political prospects of the maverick voter), American lawmakers are more open to breaking ranks. Consequently some conservative Democrats have shown reluctance to supporting their leader's vision in whole, while a few moderate Republicans have been supportive.

Consequently, the health care bill passed by a vote of 220-215. Aside from the enormous cost ($1 trillion), some Democrats probably voted against the bill because of a last-minute amendment that prohibits coverage of abortion services under the new government-run public portion of the plan with the exception of incest, rape, or the death of the mother (about 5% of all abortions currently). But some Democrats supported the amendment as well, or it would not have passed.

Now this bill is before the Senate, and some conservative Democratic senators are insisting that this amendment be included in the Senate version of the bill. The bill is huge both in cost and scope. The health of a multitude of uninsured and under-insured Americans rests on its passage. Aside from costs, what other sticking point could there be? Well, it's abortion. It would appear that some American politicians would vote against an all-encompassing and desperately needed health care bill on the amendment alone. And pro-lifers get called one-issue people!

How much would this amendment limit access to abortion in the U.S.? No more than now exists. 85% of private American health insurance plans cover abortion services. That won't change. Some Americans would feel that this isn't enough, and that the government should be expanding access. That is their right. And there are means at their disposal to work to that end. But to hold up a bill that provides the kind of care that Canadians not only take for granted but consider to be a fundamental human right, because this particular bill does not advance a certain ideological agenda, is just wrong. It's corrupt. It's intolerant.

Who are the uninsured and under-insured in the U.S.? Racial minorities. One-parent families. The working poor. Immigrants (legal or otherwise). They would be denied decent health care (or any care at all!) because of one amendment that, while it may not improve access to abortion, does not further limit it? Are these people to become sacrifices on the altar of the pro-abortion agenda?

Moron ideology.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Rights becoming wrongs

I first encountered Hungarian-Canadian author George Jonas in the late 1980s when I read his book on famous Canadian defense lawyer Eddie Greenspan, Greenspan: The Case for the Defence. Jonas, who is also Jewish, was a refugee from the Communist regime as a result of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

I now read his columns in the National Post, and typically enjoy (while not always agreeing with) his forthright analysis and acerbic wit. Today's column (National Post, Oct. 21, 2009, p. A14) on the egregious Roman Polanski contained the following remarks which sent my mind a-skittering:

The Pill, along with the "make love, not war" generation of the Vietnam years, propelled Western societies from their quiet quasi-Victorian 1950s lagoons to a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah within a decade. The solemn pillars of misdeeds buttressing society's moral edifice either crumbled or metamorphosed into "choices" one by one:
- Divorce "progressed" from a scandal that cost Nelson Rockefeller his political career in 1964 to a statistical commonplace (about 50% for first marriages in the U. S.);
- Pre-marital sex changed from a taboo to standard practice for teenagers (including Polanski's 13-year-old victim);
- Adultery was reduced from a grave marital misconduct to an irrelevancy in no-fault divorce;
- Fornication grew from biblical prohibition to fashionable spouse-swapping venues at Plato's Retreat and, eventually, the Internet;
- Abortion turned from a crime into a civil distinction (a medal for Dr. Morgentaler); and
- Homosexuality from a love that dared not speak its name into one that couldn't shut up about it.

None of this mitigated what Polanski did, but by the time he was detained in Switzerland, his misdeeds were virtually the only sexual offences left. The rest became human rights. Polanski's pillar was holding up society's edifice of sexual mores. When Hollywood tried to knock even this one down with Whoopi Goldberg's "rape but not rape-rape" plea, something snapped. The next thing on the screen was a lynch mob --and dumb me, with nuances about ages of consent.

Although I lived through this whole period (I can even vaguely remember the Hungarian Revolution), I was nevertheless struck with how quickly society can change its collective mind on any number of controversial issues, transforming the status quo from bad to good (as in Jonas' examples), or from good to bad (such as the racism and sexism I also remember well from the 1950s and 1960s).

But if the changes Jonas mentions came over a period of decades, we are now watching the latest installment of what constitutes women's rights morphing within months.

First the status quo, circa 2007: Women's inalienable human rights are full and equal with those of men. Therefore women are entitled to reproductive rights, full access to abortion services, and the unhindered right to choose.

But much to my astonishment, the ardent feminists who argued most for the status quo have now begun to place restrictions on the right to choose (although they would deny my assertion, and its rationale, if challenged of course). Here's how:

Restriction no. 1 - An Alberta MP has introduced a private member's bill that would allow charges to be laid in the death of an unborn child if the mother is a victim of a crime. Known as the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, the bill is in response to repeated calls from the families of murdered pregnant women to recognize that their unborn children were victims too, Conservative MP Ken Epp said in a news release Wednesday (Canwest News Service November 22, 2007).

Mr. Epp modeled this bill (which his political party initially supported but eventually abandoned) after U.S. legislation. Remember that in the U.S. access to abortion is a constitutional right.

What was at stake was whether a mother who had made her choice (i.e. to carry the baby to term) would now have protection from those who might otherwise be tempted to treat her violently, simultaneously harming or even killing the unborn baby. This has happened several times in Canada in recent years, and Epp's bill received much support from these victims and their families, including those who maintained a pro-choice position themselves.

I anticipated that the bill would be well received because it honoured choice and even gave it added protection. But to my surprise, the supporters of choice came out with guns blazing, attempting to paint the bill as either a hidden attack on choice or a slippery slope towards restricting women's rights. Here, for instance, is the response in Parliament by keepers of the flame:

Ms. 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.
The Conservatives, with this bill, are implicitly trying to achieve an objective, that is, restrict the right to abortion. . . It is up to women to decide. They have their own reasons for their choices. This is a pro-life bill that is trying to hide behind the concept of the unborn child. This bill opens the door to limiting women's power to be free and to make the choices they have the right to make. . . I urge the House not to support this bill, which opens the door to the criminalization of abortion. There is a hidden objective in this bill to prevent a woman from choosing whether or not to have a child.

Ms. Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP):
Let me say the evidence is very clear that the bill not only could become a thin edge of the wedge in the direction of re-criminalizing abortion . . .There are many more things I could say, but I think that in the final analysis the point is that women need to be protected far more effectively and aggressively against violence, and that is the best way to protect vulnerable fetuses. If that were the objective, then we would be very much wanting to support such a bill. . .I, for one, am very uncomfortable with where the bill is intended to go and what its real purpose is.

Mr. Raymond Gravel (Repentigny, BQ) (n.b. Gravel is also a Roman Catholic priest):
As a Catholic priest, I find it somewhat difficult to relate to this bill quite simply because the member who tabled it belongs to a pro-life group, the Campaign Life Coalition, which, in my humble opinion, is a fairly extremist and fanatical group. I am pro-life, but I do not belong to that group.
In my opinion, this bill will open the door to re-criminalizing women who have an abortion, and that is not a good thing. I am against abortion, but I do not believe that is how we will deal with the problem of abortion. I have always stated that we need education, support and assistance for women dealing with unwanted pregnancy. In my opinion, the problem of abortion will be solved with these types of measures and not by re-criminalizing abortion. I absolutely do not want that.
When a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed and her fetus is killed at the same time, I agree completely that it is an abominable crime. It is revolting, but at the same time I believe that when the fetus is in its mother's womb, they are one being. Only when it leaves her womb does it become a child. I believe that is the Supreme Court definition of 1969.
I know that killing a pregnant woman, like any murder, is a serious matter. However, I believe it is dangerous to establish a new law that would treat the murder of the fetus and of the mother as a double murder. I believe that it is dangerous and that is not how we will put an end to abortion. Not in this way.

These quotes are representative of the many made in opposition to the bill. What was at stake, in the view of the opponents, was that the bill might open the door to recognizing a fetus as a person. Thus, the added protection it gave to a choice made was sacrificed for the sake of the issue of personhood (or not) and the fetus.

Restriction no. 2 - I won't go to the same length with my next two examples. The first has to do with the practice of some South Asian women (and others) who sought an abortion if the fetus was determined to be female. I found this phenomenon to be reprehensible on several levels, but it never occurred to me that it would be opposed by the pro-choice movement. Look at the quotes above. Women should be free to choose and not to be judged for it--until now!

No less a spokesperson than former British Columbia Premier, and federal Liberal Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh led the charge. What follows is an excerpt from CBC News, April 2, 2008:

Among those who believe that sex-selective abortion is also a problem in Canada is federal opposition health critic Ujjal Dosanjh. A prominent member of British Columbia's South Asian community, Dosanjh says Canada needs to be concerned about imbalances in the ratio of boys to girls in Vancouver, Greater Toronto and elsewhere.

The former federal health minister and B.C. premier says newly available DNA tests that determine the sex of a fetus at six weeks or less could easily lead to more abortions among couples seeking to have sons, a practice he describes as "absolutely irresponsible".

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."

Dosanjh's logic in this case was so convoluted that pro-life advocate John Hof welcomed the former premier to the pro-life movement. While Dosanjh testily rejected Hof's teasing, there is no question that he was advocating a restriction on choice, in the case in the interests of gender equality.

Restriction no. 3 - This example takes us back just to August of this year. The Quebec provincial government was attempting to impose uniform standards of safety on all out-patient medical clinics. The huge irony was that the abortion clinics opposed the bill--just for themselves. Here is some commentary from the excellent blog ProWomanProLife:

Bill 34 in Quebec was an attempt to legislate the same standards for all out-patient medical clinics. The bill, it's worth noting, never mentioned abortion, but that didn't stop abortion activists from shifting into high-gear apoplexy. Those who purportedly stand for women's rights jumped to demand lower standards for their exclusively female patients. And on Aug. 17, they won. Quebec's beleaguered Health Minister Yves Bolduc retreated, and will now wait for the Quebec College of Physicians to create new guidelines.

Now Bolduc made it clear he's not pro-life. Bill 34 wasn't an end-run attempt to curtail access to abortions. That's a laughable idea in Quebec of all places, the province with the country's highest abortion rate. This was an attempt to apply uniform standards to all medical clinics.

No doubt, it would have been a sweet irony for pro-lifers that a law from a pro-choice politician which failed to mention abortion even once could potentially have caused the closure of three abortion clinics.

Yet the more telling irony is that those who run abortion clinics have rushed not to criticize the proposed legislation in general, but only to demand that they be exempt. The rules for out-patient eye surgery clinics, oral surgery offices and dermatologists meet with their approval. In short, the new standards are just fine for other facilities, but they mustn't be applied to clinics that perform surgery on women's reproductive organs.

The restriction on choice in this case is that women are not necessarily entitled to safe access. If the choice is between full access or safe access, full access trumps. [I'm tempted to ask, What's next? Back to coat hangers? But I won't.]

So we see between November 2007 and August 2009 that the pro-choice movement modified, and was even prepared to restrict, unhindered choice in these three ways:
1. No to protected choice.
2. No to choice for any reason (all reasons are OK except for gender selection).
3. No to guaranteed medically safe choice.

Do I sense a hidden agenda at work here? Stay tuned.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

On pulling plugs and other difficult decisions

It was a year ago yesterday that my eighty-seven year old father, having just voted in the 2008 federal election, suffered a stroke from which he died four days later. It is a testimony to my father's lifelong love affair with politics generally, and with the Conservative Party in particular, that one of the last things he ever said before lapsing into a coma was, "Did our local member win?" She did.

On the day before he died, Dad's doctor gave us the grave news that my father would not recover. Or if he did, he would live in an unendurable state (at least from the doctor's point of view). He suggested that the medical people cease to give him the medications necessary to keep him breathing--in other words, to metaphorically pull the plug.

This led to quite a discussion among my siblings at the hospital, my son, and even a nephew and niece who were present. Two other siblings were phoned as well. Apparently my father had told some of his children that if he were very ill and certainly dying, he did not want any extraordinary measures taken to keep him going. This is not uncommon, even among strongly committed pro-life and anti-euthanasia folks.

Some, out of nothing but love and compassion, wanted to let him die. Others felt that the doctor had not outlined anything extraordinary to keeping him alive, and had not made a convincing case for discontinuing medical intervention. My son's succinct "I'd treat him" carried the day. Nevertheless, Dad died the next morning.

Less than three months later, I was at another bedside, that of a woman in her mid-twenties, gasping for life as her lungs, a gift from another person who had died about ten years earlier, lost their ability to function. This dear young friend had cystic fibrosis. Another transplant was impossible. Keeping her hooked up to numerous machines was the only way for her lungs to function at all. She was in an induced coma or she would have torn out all of the tubes coming out of various places in her wasted body, leading to certain death. The decision was made, literally this time, to pull the plug. No one disputed the decision.

As the time neared for the young woman to die, a large group of her friends and those of her mother and step-father gathered in the waiting room of the ICU. The room was as quiet, if I may use the expression, as the grave. Some began to cry. One clutched a rosary. Another asked me if I would pray just before 6:00 p.m., the appointed time for letting the young woman go. Feeling incredible emotion, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility, I recited the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall want for nothing...I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever) and prayed for her and the family. I'll never forget it.

Within three months, I twice faced the decision of whether to euthanize a loved one. Nothing in life prepares you for this. And that's the trouble. The Canadian government, for the seventh time in eighteen years, is confronted with a private member's bill seeking to legalize some form of euthanasia. The Member of Parliament in question has cancer herself. Apparently the vast majority of Canadians believe that she has the right idea. But our political masters have always backed away from allowing these bills to see the light of day. Thus, necessary research of the experience of other countries with such legislation, an exploration of the ethical and legal facets of the issue, and a good debate have not happened.

Our nation needs a thorough examination of this topic. Really, most Canadians know little or nothing about the matter. People throw around terms like "death with dignity" without understanding what ramifications could come from choosing one form of euthanasia over another, or banning it entirely.

Euthanasia can't just grow surreptitiously until its acceptance become inevitable without any real debate. Just as abortion gets little genuine discussion in our society, neither does euthanasia. The feds run for cover when either topic is raised. And we're left with Robert Latimer and Sue Rodriguez as our exemplars.

Where will a useful forum for discussion of these critical life matters come from? With the greatest respect to my late father's political passion, not Ottawa apparently.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

15 and counting

Like many of you, I have just become aware of a book about to be released entitled Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict. It involves a New York woman of Puerto Rican heritage named Irene Vilar who had fifteen abortions in fifteen years before finally getting help for her addiction, as well as ridding herself of a husband who didn't want children, and giving birth to two live children
(See http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2060984).

I don't want to go into the details of the book. They are complicated and very, very sad. A few salient points are these:
1. She seemed like a prime candidate to be addicted to something. Her mother, who was depressed, was addicted to Valium. While still a young woman with small children, she jumped out of a moving car and died. Her father was an alcoholic and addicted to gambling. Two of her brothers are heroin addicts.
2. She married a 50 year old man who didn't want children. She did want them, however, and found herself between the proverbial rock (maternal instinct) and a hard place (potential loss of her husband). It led her to allowing herself to becoming pregnant again and again and then aborting. She said that getting pregnant, despite the inevitable result, was an attempt to retain some control in her relationship.
3. All but one of her abortions were performed in New York state, sometimes by the same doctors.
4. She remains ardently pro-choice.

I suppose that in pro-life circles this woman will be labeled as a monster, or else some pathetic soul duped by the abortion industry into murdering fifteen real persons. Some pro-choicers will turn her into a kind of hero for recognizing that her aberrant behaviour does not take away from her strong belief in the rightness of their position. I'll leave them to slug it out.

What strikes me about this horror story is this:

1. Whatever obsessions and compulsions Ms Vilar had, her first husband did not. He was a professor. Presumably he loved her. He didn't know about all the abortions, but he was aware of some of them. What is it about our culture that made him comfortable with these serial abortions, at least for a while? Was he just another psycho, or did he view abortion as that trivial an activity?
2. Who were these doctors performing multiple abortions? I believe even the most committed pro-abortionists admit that the likelihood of physical and emotional damage from abortions increases with each such surgery. Are abortions not tracked? Is the mother's health of such little consequence? I know that there is big money in the abortion business (just look at Planned Parenthood U.S.'s financial statements), but doctors also take the Hippocratic Oath. Are medical ethics that corrupted in some circles?
3. The article reviewing the book quoted studies of woman who have multiple abortions as considerably more likely to have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or coercion. We also know that most abortions (and I got this from pro-choice literature) are done for someone else--an unwilling partner, embarrassed family, inflexible school authorities, hardhearted boss, etc. Does an abortion really solve such problems? Did they for Ms Vilar?

What do I take from this book? First of all, woman are still being taken advantage of in ways that I can hardly imagine as an educated white male. Secondly, women pay a big price, and take huge personal risks, in availing themselves of the most recommended option--to abort. Finally, how often does an abortion solve the problems that led women to securing one in the first place? I suggest seldom if ever.

There must be a better way. Not that our present provincial and federal governments are interested.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The big life challenges as I see them

My blogging will concentrate on four general areas that I view to be fundamental to the pro-life/pro-choice/pro-abortion debate. The skinny follows.

1. What does pro-choice mean? I'll admit my biases up front. I am pro-life in the classic sense that I believe that unborn babies are just that--unborn real persons. And I wish that no pregnant woman felt the impetus to abort. Nevertheless, I could live with a pro-choice agenda in Canada if we really had it. At this point, many women do seek abortions to address whatever personal problem they have that they hope abortion will solve. But does she have the full information necessary to make an informed choice? I think not, which explains why so many women complain after the fact that they were misled, even lied to, and that had they been told everything that was necessary to make their best choice, they would have chosen differently. Real and informed choice requires full information, and our society does not encourage this in the case of abortion.

2. The moral argument.
Everyone debating the life/choice issue believes that she or he occupies the moral high ground. People of faith who argue for the dignity of life from conception do so on what they feel has been revealed as true by a Higher Power. Even those pro-life people who do not look to their faith/scripture/God for direction will still argue it morally on a philosophical basis. The choice argument is made on the basis of fundamental human rights. Consequently, moral arguments become judgmental salvos hurled at "the other side" as a means of condemning immoral behaviour.

3. The definition of full rights for women. People who argue for full and equal rights for women and men often posit the following premises.
a. For a woman to have full human rights, equal to a man's, there cannot be any restriction on the exercise of those rights that would not be placed on a male.
b. That means that women must have reproductive rights. That is, just as men are not hindered in the exercise of their rights by pregnancy/motherhood, so too must women have the choice of rejecting any restrictions placed upon them by an unwanted fetus. Therefore abortion must be legal, affordable and accessible.
c. For abortion to be legal, the unborn baby must be eligible for termination. This is possible only if it is denied personhood.

Those who argue for pro-life often restrict themselves to moral arguments (personhood of fetuses, abortion is murder, etc.). Therefore they see the rights argument as a red herring. But the pro-life side has been remiss in not tackling the issue of full and equal rights for women and what that means in a pro-life context.

4. Legislative action taken by governments.
The governments of North America and western Europe have, by and large, bought the women's rights argument and have allowed abortion up to a certain stage of pregnancy or have placed no restrictions upon the procurement of an abortion at all. Such legislation ignores the reasons why most women seek abortions; i.e., lack of information, pressures of various sorts from others (often illegal and violent), and so on. As is often the case with ticklish moral questions, governments have addressed the symptoms while ignoring the underlying causes.

I am going to attempt to address these four complex areas in my posts. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.....

...or at least I hope so. I last blogged almost a year ago, offering my Canadian and American federal election predictions. I wasn't far off, was I? By the way, I was correct with my municipal election forecast as well--I was re-elected to the Abbotsford BC Board of Education. Thank you, thank you very much, thank you.

A poignant story for you. Two weeks after I wrote my last post, which was election day in Canada, my father had a stroke. He was a political junkie who had served many times as a city councilor and school trustee, and once ran federally for the former Progressive Conservative Party. He suffered the stroke just a couple of hours after voting at his assisted living home in Pembroke ON. That night in the hospital he awoke from his coma. His first question was, "Was our local member re-elected?" We were happy to be able to tell him that she had been. Three and a half days later he died, aged 87.

This past spring I made the big decision to retire from full-time professional work. That is not to say that I would not look at short-term or part-time opportunities that may present themselves from time to time. And I would welcome speaking opportunities. But I am through chasing contracts. The school board will keep me busy (as will my wife, she assures me), and I will be re-creating my life at the robust age of 62.

One thing that I have been asked to do by a number of people is to return to blogging. I was pleased that even a few individuals had thought enough of my ramblings to ask me to continue.

So here I am.

I intend to pursue my interests in dignity of life issues, particularly the pro-life/pro-choice debate and women's rights. I know, I know--what does a man really know about women's rights? Fair question and I'll continue to need help as I always have with this issue. So I'll be talking to a number of women, older and younger, as I deal with topics of interest.

I can't say how often I will be blogging, but I hope to get something out weekly. I know that a good number of bloggers are posting much more often, but my posts are really essays and take more time and research than more frequent blogging would allow.

So bear with me as I get back into harness. I look forward once again to mixing it up with others interested in the same topics.