Monday, 22 November 2010

I hate women....apparently

It would come as quite a surprise to my sophisticated wife, my feminist daughter, my dear female friends, and the many female colleagues with whom I have worked closely over my long professional career, but apparently I hate women according to the geniuses who run (roughshod over, some might say) the Carleton University student society. My crime above all crimes? I don't believe that women have to be identical to men to be equal to men.

If truth be told, I believe (and I'm not being frivolous here), that in more ways than not women are, on balance, superior to men in meeting our society's needs these days. Men are excellent at starting wars (though not finishing them), painting themselves into rhetorical corners (which is why we also excel at blustering and prevaricating), setting up structures that artificially boost men's chances for success vis-a-vis women, hoarding power, failing to sense when another person is trying without success to articulate deep problems or confusion, taking credit, committing crimes, abusing people of the opposite sex, rape, coercing abortions, constructing glass ceilings, and exploiting the vulnerable generally.

For some reason, the people who ruin run the student society at Carleton University have set men as the standard by which women's rights should be measured. Unless women have the same rights to undermine the chances for a just society as men do, they fall short of the glory of God.

How do I know this? The Carleton intelligentsia has determined that suggesting that abortion is not in a woman's long-term best interests is hate speech. Better to view the incredible gift of life-giving, and the apparatus that goes with it, as an enormous obstacle for women inching their way up the mountain of male attainment than to do the hard work of removing the artificial barriers to women being fully women and fully equal.

[And look what we've attained!! Stalin. Hitler. Pol Pot. Al Qaeda. The My Lai massacre. China's one child policy. The Taliban's 70 virgins promise. The Indian Act. Honour killings. Female circumcision. No wonder the Carleton bunch are so jealous!!]

Well, the Carleton brain trust may prefer women who are merely men in skirts, but the world would be a much worse place were it to actually happen. But for now, what these fearless proponents of a bitter better society should really do is continue to respect freedom of expression and test their theories in a court of law. If being pro life is legally hateful (and I don't believe it is), then they can pass their draconian laws to their little hearts' content.

It won't happen, of course. If they went to court they'd lose. So they will just go on suppressing legitimate protest, and otherwise acting like, er, men. And if they ever get bored with the life issue, they can always nip over to York University and squelch the concerns of the Jews over what they perceive to be discrimination on that campus. It would be the manly thing to do.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Plus ça change...

I have thought for a long time that we, the great unwashed electorate, vote with everything but our brains and the fruits of our research. How else does one explain the benches lined with dolts that get sent to Parliament without a significant thing to commend them.

At times I wondered if I was just too arrogant or too demanding to make a valid judgment of our elected representatives, although the Lord knows that I have had personal acquaintance with enough of them to retain my long held view. But then this letter appeared in a recent edition of the National Post:

Re: Repelling The Best And The Brightest, editorial, Nov. 5. I was struck by the words "the duds kicking around the backbenches of many political parties." It seems the Canadian electorate at federal, provincial, and civic levels tends to elect more "duds" than "the brightest" from among the choices. How else to explain the large doses of silliness that masquerade as intelligent discourse in provincial parliaments, city halls, and in Ottawa. The few bright ones are overshadowed by the duds who seem to make more noise and attract more attention. I base my comments on 35 years of participating in politics, seven years as a ministerial assistant (National Post, Nov. 6, 2010, p. A21).

This "silliness" has come to the fore again with Rod Bruinooge's private member's bill called Roxanne's Law. To give you the gist of the bill, here is an excerpt from a fact sheet put together by my colleague Andrea Mrozek of ProWomanProLife

1. What is Bill C-510?
Bill C-510 is a private member’s bill that aims to add coercing or attempting to coerce to have an abortion as an offense to the criminal code.

2. Why is it also called Roxanne’s Law?
Bill C-510 is named after Roxanne Fernando, a Manitoba woman whose boyfriend viciously beat her and left her in a snow bank to die because she would not have an abortion. She died in 2007 at age 24.

3. Why do we need this bill?
This bill offers support for women who want to keep a pregnancy to term in face of intimidation and violence. The bill also identifies  threatening a pregnant woman as a unique form of intimidation, one we should expressly identify is wrong. Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada explains in one media interview: “You could compare, for example, to the crime of assault. In the criminal code it’s broad; it includes all forms of assault. So one could easily ask why do we have a section dealing with assault with a weapon, or sexual assault or aggravated assault? It’s because the legislator and Canadians want to single out some crimes as being specifically worthy of condemnation. So for this case we want to make it clear that it is wrong to try and force a woman into aborting a child she wants to keep.”

4. Who brought it forward?
This bill was brought forward by Conservative Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South, Rod Bruinooge. He is also chair of the parliamentary pro-life caucus. Mr. Bruinooge does not have the support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Bill C-510.

5. What is a private member’s bill?

A private member’s bill is a piece of draft legislation brought forward by a Member of Parliament who is not a Minister of the Crown or a parliamentary secretary. The order in which they are debated is subject to a random lottery. Following introduction in the House of Commons, there are two hours of debate on two separate occasions and then a vote. If the vote passes, the bill progresses to the committee stage where it is studied and changes are suggested. Once through the committee stage, the bill returns to the House of Commons for a final vote. It is then introduced in the Senate.

6. What stage is Bill C-510 at?
It has just had its first hour of debate in the House of Commons on November 1, 2010. The second hour of debate will likely be December 6 or 7, followed by the Second Reading vote on December 8. If it passed on December 8, it would go to committee.

7. Is there precedence for Bill C-510?
Germany, Italy, France and 13 U.S. states have similar laws; e.g., in Texas, a 16-year-old pregnant girl obtained a restraining order against her parents, who were trying to force her into aborting her child. The girl’s mother had taken her to local abortion facilities, but the daughter refused to comply with the mother's wishes.

The Prime Minister of Canada, who deals fearlessly with all issues save one (abortion) has recommended that the Conservative caucus vote against this bill--a bill that does not address the appropriateness of abortion or threaten a woman's right to choose in any respect. It simply attempts to allow for real, uncoerced choice for pregnant women who have considered their options, made their choice, and now want to follow through on that choice without fear of reprisal.

Daniel Petit, Bruinooge's Conservative caucus colleague and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, chimed up from the government benches. Clearly his lips brushes are not far from the Prime Minister's butt shoes:

Bill C-510 proposes making an offence out of certain conduct that is already prohibited under the Criminal Code and other acts—again, already prohibited under the Criminal Code and other acts—by way of offences such as assault (section 265 of the Criminal Code), uttering threats (section 264.1 of the Criminal Code) and intimidation (section 423 of the Criminal Code). It also proposes prohibiting interpersonal conduct, which is generally outside the traditional domain of criminal law—again, outside criminal law—such as non-violent disputes between spouses or between parents and their children where one of the parties is opposed to the continuation of the pregnancy and favours abortion. I am talking about non-violent conduct and discussions between various parties.

The usual suspects from the opposition, Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP), Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.) and Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ), among others, immediately pounced on the bill as a way of weakening a woman's right to choose rather than an honouring of choice. Here's a typical remark:

They can try to dress this bill up and manipulate people in all kinds of ways, but the fact is that it would restrict access to freedom of choice. (Demers). That this is utter nonsense does not stop these intrepid representatives of the people (except for the coerced pregnant women, of course) from ranting on like morons.

In contrast, consider the speech given by Ujjal Dosanjh, former NDP premier of British Columbia and federal Liberal Minister of Health, who mused that South Asian and other woman should not be allowed to practice gender-specific abortion of female fetuses because of a cultural preference for male babies. Not a word of objection emanated from the opposition benches. Bruinooge wants to buttress choice--he's savaged. Dosanjh suggests limiting choice--no problem. c'est la meme chose.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

One kind of death culture is much like another

Last week I attended the International Pro-Life Conference 2010 in Ottawa. Like all such gatherings, it seemed to this Protestant a little bit like Pope Benedict Bible Camp. All that was missing were Gregorian chants around the campfire.

I do wonder about the strategy of Campaign Life Canada to not only make the conference primarily a religious event, but to root it in one of the Christian denominations. One got a little weary of hearing about the twin evils of abortion and contraception.

But what really got up my nose (to use that old but still emotionally stirring analogy) was a speaker named Bill Saunders of Americans United for Life. He identified himself as a former Democrat who was driven from the party, I gather, because of its pro-choice ethos. He gave us his take on today's American elections and was elated because the move to the Republicans was great news from the pro-life perspective. His enthusiasm was matched by the audience, which applauded vigorously.

I didn't.

Every time I hear a Republican or a Tea Party member talk about the twin virtues of being pro-life and pro-gun I want to scream. I consider the NRA to be a truly evil organization. If somebody wants to own a .22 for target practice, or a gun for hunting (animals that is), my response is "It's not for me, but fill your boots." But the NRA moves to protect the most heinous of behaviours through their insistence that virtually any kind and number of guns is acceptable. In my view, they aid and abet widespread death in the United States.

Voting in the Republicans, who genuflect by and large before the NRA altar, means trading one culture of death for another.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Times change--so do the heroes

Back in the mists of time--the latter half of the 1960s--the U.S. of A. was involved in a rather unpopular war (the Afghanistan of its time). The war in Vietnam led not only to many war dead, a major slump in the popularity of the Democratic president (Lyndon Baines Johnson), and the arrival in Canada of many draft dodgers (including one brother-in-law in my case), but also the breakout of protests on university campuses all over the U.S., Canada, and around the world. A popular chant of the students was "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

Many members of society despised what these students stood for. "My Country Right or Wrong" signs appeared as a counter protest. But unless things got really out of hand (e.g., somebody started burning down buildings or shooting guns), the protests were permitted.

I thought of these bygone days as I read about those Carleton University students having the police sicced on them by the university, and then charged with trespassing on their own campus. Their crime?--exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression in a well-traveled part of the campus instead of in a room where mushrooms grew on the walls.

I'll admit that I don't support the approach these pro-life students are taking, putting up graphic images of aborted fetuses. Abortion isn't wrong because it's ugly, and by now only the willfully ignorant (or certifiably idiotic) deny that unborn babies are human beings (personhood is the issue). I know that similar graphic images of bludgeoned blacks were used to fight for civil rights. But different times call for different measures.

But all of that is beside the point. Aside from the constitutional issues, these students were simply doing what we did back in the sixties--only we were heroes then, and the establishment was the enemy. Now we have the opposite. Bob Dylan will definitely have to re-write "The Times They are A'Changin'."

What has happened to our universities? They used to protect academic and personal freedom. Now they protect every special interest that might be offended. Are we the better for it?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I've looked at life from both sides now.....

Doubtless Canadian songwriter/singer Joni Mitchell (yes, my American reader, Canadian) was not thinking of the abortion issue when she wrote and recorded her sad but lovely little song Both Sides Now.

I've looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose and still somehow,
It's life's illusions I recall.
I really don't know life, at all.

But it kept running through my mind as I read articles from the past few weeks regarding that poor, vulnerable little human we call the embryo or unborn baby.

First, the not so lofty as it once was but still significant Nobel Prize:

Father of in-vitro fertilization wins Nobel Prize
By Thomas H. Maugh II
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — British biologist Robert G. Edwards, whose contributions to the technology of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) have made more than 4 million couples parents, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Working with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, Edwards, now 85, developed techniques for removing mature eggs from a woman's ovaries, fertilizing them in test tubes and inducing them to begin dividing before implanting them back in the mother.

Their efforts yielded the July 25, 1978, birth of Louise Brown, the first "test-tube baby," demonstrating both the success and the safety of the technique and bringing hope to infertile people around the world. An estimated 10 percent of couples are unable to conceive naturally.

The Vatican's top bioethics official said Monday that Edwards opened "a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction" but also is responsible for the destruction of embryos and the creation of a "market" in donor eggs.

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the newly appointed head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Edwards' research didn't treat the underlying problem of infertility but skirted it.

"Without Edwards, there wouldn't be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred in utero or, more likely, be used for research or to die, abandoned and forgotten by all," said Carrasco, saying that was his opinion, not a Vatican statement.

Second, the tussle between a surrogate mother and her employing couple over the child being carried (or not) to term:

Couple urged surrogate mother to abort fetus because of defect

National Post Staff October 6, 2010
By Tom Blackwell

When a B.C. couple discovered that the fetus their surrogate mother was carrying was likely to be born with Down syndrome, they wanted an abortion. The surrogate, however, was determined to take the pregnancy to term, sparking a disagreement that has raised thorny questions about the increasingly common arrangements.

Under the agreement the trio signed, the surrogate’s choice would mean absolving the couple of any responsibility for raising the child, the treating doctor told a recent fertility-medicine conference.

Dr. Ken Seethram, revealing the unusual situation for the first time, said it raises questions about whether government oversight of contracts between mothers and “commissioning” parents is needed.

A bioethicist who has studied the issue extensively argues that contract law should not apply to the transaction, unless human life is to be treated like widgets in a factory.

“Should the rules of commerce apply to the creation of children? No, because children get hurt,” said Juliet Guichon of the University of Calgary. “It’s kind of like stopping the production line: ‘Oh, oh, there’s a flaw.’ It makes sense in a production scenario, but in reproduction it’s a lot more problematic.”

Dr. Seethram’s presentation to the Canadian Society of Fertility and Andrology conference suggested the accord signed by the three in B.C. may have undermined the surrogate’s right to make decisions in a “non-coercive” environment.

The surrogate, a mother of two children of her own, eventually chose to have the abortion, partly because of her own family obligations.

Third, I want to note stories associated with a private member's bill presently before the Canadian House of Commons. Bill C-510 was introduced by MP Rod Bruinooge of Winnipeg as a result of the murder of a pregnant Winnipeg woman after she refused to have an abortion. Mr. Bruinooge became aware of cases in which women were pressured into having abortions, and decided that something should be done about it.

Bill C-510 would make it a crime to coerce a woman to have an abortion by assaulting her or someone else, by committing or threatening to commit an offence against a federal or provincial statute, by denying or threatening to deny her financial support, or "by pressure or intimidation including argumentative and rancorous badgering or importunity."

Consider the response of Mr. Bruinooge's boss, the Prime Minister of Canada:

Harper to 'recommend' defeat of Tory MP’s abortion bill
David Akin, Canwest News Service
Jana Chytilova, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will vote against a private member's bill promoted by one of his own MPs that would add new Criminal Code penalties for those who coerce women to have an abortion.

A senior government official also says that while the prime minister will not "whip" or demand Conservative MPs vote as he votes, it will be "very strongly recommended" that Conservatives vote to defeat the bill.

Next we have the response of a writer in Catholic Insight:

Why, as a Catholic, I cannot support Bill C-510
By Geoffrey F. Cauchi, LL.B.
Issue: October 2010

“[A] well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.”

Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, DOCTRINAL NOTE on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life (2002), II, 4. (the “Doctrinal Note 2002”)

On April 14, 2010, Member of Paliament Rod Bruinooge (MP-Winnipeg-South) introduced in the Canadian federal House of Commons a bill that would make it a criminal offence for anyone to coerce a woman to abort her unborn child.

Bill C-510, also known as 'Roxanne's Law,' is named in memory of a pregnant Winnipeg woman who was murdered by her boyfriend after she refused to have an abortion. Working as the chair of the multi-party Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus (the “PPLC”), Bruinooge said he became aware of several cases where young pregnant women had been coerced into having abortions, and hoped making it a crime would curb such instances.

There is no question that the goal of the Bill is laudable. However, the Catholic Church has always taught that “a good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbour) does not make behaviour that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just.” “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object....One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (Catechism, #1753 - #1756).

According to Catholic teaching, if a proposed Bill is an intrinsically unjust law, it cannot, in good conscience, be publicly supported by Catholics who are faithful to the Magisterium.

It is arguable that the text of the Bill satisfies ALL of the Church’s criteria for an “intrinsically unjust” law, but there can be no doubt that its qualifications and exemptions:

(a) “contradict the fundamental contents of faith and morals;”
(b) admit in principle the liceity of a person’s formal cooperation in the performance of an abortion, and therefore the liceity of abortion itself;
(c) purport to assign to an unborn child’s mother the right to decide whether or not to terminate the life of her child; and
(d) deny to a category of unborn children (the unborn children of women who have not been coerced into an abortion, but rather merely “persuaded” to have an abortion) the protections of the civil law extended to other human beings.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have bloggers such as Sister Sage's Musings saying this:

Does anyone remember this Supreme Court case from 1989: Tremblay v Daigle? This was a landmark decision that basically says that a fetus is not legally a person in either Canadian Common law or Quebec Civil laws. I also believe that if Bill 510 were to pass, the decision of Tremblay v Daigle could end up being moot in the long run and certainly a prelude to a dangerous precedent.

Or this from the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada:

Pro-Choice Group Calls for Law Banning Coerced Childbirth

NATIONAL – A bill recently introduced by a Conservative MP to criminalize “coercing” a woman into abortion should be scuttled in favour of a bill prohibiting the much more common practice of coercing a woman into childbirth, says the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), a national pro-choice group.

“It’s wrong to pressure women into an abortion, but this does not occur on the grand scale often claimed by anti-choice propagandists. It mostly stems from situations of domestic abuse,” said Joyce Arthur, Coordinator of ARCC. Arthur pointed to a recent U.S. study that examined reproductive control of women by abusive male partners.

“Some were pressured to have an abortion, but women also reported that their partners prevented them from obtaining or using birth control, threatened them with pregnancy, or forced unprotected sex on them. If they became pregnant and wanted an abortion, some partners threatened or pressured them to carry to term.”

OK, what to make of all this? In the first case, involving in-vitro fertilization, we have the Vatican in high dudgeon over the awarding of the Nobel prize because while the process honours the desire of couples to have babies (a typical pro-life perspective) it does so at the cost of unused embryos being discarded.

This same issue of embryo as commodity comes up in the surrogate mother case. But here the concern for the misuse of embryos is coming not from the Vatican but rather from a bioethicist, a person one might expect to be lodged in the pro-choice camp.

[In a live discussion regarding surrogate mothers, abortion, etc., the ethicist in question, Dr. Juliet Guichon said, "A carrying woman is like any other woman. She can decide what happens to her body", the legal reality in our pro-choice country.]

Talk about strange bedfellows! But it gets more complex. In the Bruinooge controversy, we have Catholics divided on whether his bill should be supported, with one spokesperson saying that it should not be because the bill does not go far enough (whereas Priests for Life supports it).

But this Catholic pro-life purist finds support for his opposition, as it were, from some of the Canada's foremost pro-choice advocates such as Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition. She and other pro-abortionists see the Prime Minister's invisible hand in this, while that self-same first minister is urging his Conservative colleagues to vote against the bill.

But Dr. Seethram, a person I'm guessing would be in the pro-choice camp (I've never heard him say that he is, I hasten to add), does believe that the abortion decision should be made in a non-coercive environment.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Monday, 4 October 2010

In case anyone had doubt about the significance of personhood

Remember when we used to debate when life began. That debate is over. All the "it's only a bunch of cells" silliness to the contrary, virtually everyone agrees that life--heck, even human life--begins at conception. The issue is not life, not humanity, but personhood.

If there was any doubt, consider the article that follows, written by a philosophy professor at formerly Roman Catholic St. Mary's University in Halifax, and published in the Ottawa Citizen. Emphasized portions are not those of the author, but simply my way of drawing your attention to major points of Prof. Mercer's argument.

"The overall point is that abortion is not in any degree a morally fraught option. A woman considering whether to have an abortion or, instead, to raise a child is making a practical decision, not a moral one. This is what we who are pro-choice have to make more widely known....from an ethical perspective, there is nothing at all to say against ending an unwanted pregnancy."
A fetus is not a person
By Mark Mercer, Citizen Special
May 3, 2010

Those of us concerned that abortion should be legal, safe, and easy to obtain, both in Canada and around the world, need to set aside talk of a woman's right to choose, at least for a moment. Women's reproductive freedom is today under threat, and that's partially because talk of choice seems irrelevant in face of the fact abortion involves killing human fetuses.

Opponents of abortion insist that an individual's right to do with her body what she wants doesn't include or imply a right to do to other people's bodies what she wants. And they are right, it doesn't.

For that reason, if we are going to show that abortion should remain a private matter, of no interest to the law, we have to address directly the question of killing human fetuses. The point we must make is that killing a human fetus is not killing a person. The reasons a woman might have for seeking an abortion cannot be outweighed by the fetus's right to life, for, not being a person, the fetus has no such right.

Debates about abortion are often misconceived as debates about when human life begins or whether the fetus is human. Let's remove these misconceptions right away.

The question when human life begins gains no purchase because nowhere in the process of reproduction does anything non-living come to life. The egg is alive, the sperm is alive, and, should the sperm fertilize the egg, the zygote is alive. At conception comes a new human being.

Abortion, then, involves the killing of a human being. But that abortion involves the deliberate killing of a human being is no reason for abortion to be illegal. Nor should one be morally troubled by it.

To kill a reader of this newspaper would be to kill a creature richly aware of its environment and full of beliefs and desires, including the desire to continue living. To kill him or her would be to kill a self-conscious creature. Thus, to kill a reader of this paper would be to destroy a self-aware locus of experience, one, moreover, that prefers not to die.

That is why only extremely strong, ethically sound reasons could justify killing a reader of this paper. Absent such reasons, we're enjoined to let her live.

A human fetus, on the other hand, though human, has only a rudimentary awareness of its environment and lacks self consciousness entirely. It has no interest in living, for it can have no interests at all.

Because a fetus is not a person, killing a fetus is not killing a person.
That established, now comes the time to speak of a woman's right to choose. A pregnant woman is a person, and because easy access to abortion helps her to live her life as she wishes, we as a society should make sure abortion is easily available to women generally.

Now it is true that each human fetus is potentially a person, in that, most likely, in the fullness of time, any particular fetus will become a person. But this is an argument against abortion only if it is better to have that particular future person walking around than it is to respect a here-and-now person's autonomy.

The overall point is that abortion is not in any degree a morally fraught option. A woman considering whether to have an abortion or, instead, to raise a child is making a practical decision, not a moral one. This is what we who are pro-choice have to make more widely known.

Certainly, people who don't want to raise a child should practice contraception, but that's because abortion is a surgical procedure and surgical procedures are risky and consume time, money, and emotion. But from an ethical perspective, there is nothing at all to say against ending an unwanted pregnancy.

Mark Mercer is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Saint Mary's University.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Middle ground or sinking sand

Some months back a gentleman named Jonathan Merritt wrote a column in The Huffington Post entitled "Common Ground on Abortion, Finally." I had not heard of Merritt, but in looking up his background found him to be a fairly impressive spokesperson in the Excited States to the south of us here in the Great White North.

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. He has published over 100 articles in respected national outlets such as USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Newsweek’s “On Faith” and Relevant magazine. As a respected voice for people of faith, he has been interviewed by ABC World News, NPR, PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, UK Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He's also a graduate of a Baptist seminary, in case you were wondering.

A brief selection of excerpts should give you the gist of his article:

1. Perhaps no social or political issue produces more anger, more animosity and more anguish [than abortion]. Just utter the word "abortion" in mixed company and see if it doesn't ignite fiery arguments without warning. Today, about 42 percent of Americans call themselves "pro-choice" and 51 percent call themselves "pro-life." It is an ideological stalemate.

2. Surprisingly, there are many commonalities on abortion among Americans. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, even though most Americans soundly reject the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, a whopping 71 percent of Americans support some form of limits on abortion. And according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 66 percent of Americans support finding "a middle ground on abortion laws."

3. [P]ro-life Christians and pro-choice political progressives have struck a partnership. Their goal is to reduce the need for and occurrences of abortions in America, and their strategy includes providing additional aid for expectant mothers, increased access to contraception for low-income women and greater incentives for adoption.

4. Some all-or-nothing advocates from both the right and left have responded with disdain. The founder of the Pro-Life Action League called abortion reduction a "sell out" and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee called it the "burial ground" for the pro-life movement. Progressive writer Frank Clarkston claimed that the movement is rooted in "anti-abortion tactics" while Sarah Posner wrote in The American Prospect that it's "incrementalism masquerading as progressivism."

5. [M]ost Americans support an abortion reduction agenda. According to a recent poll by Public Religion Research, 83 percent of all voters agreed that "elected leaders on both sides of the abortion debate should work together to find ways to reduce the number of abortions by enacting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption and increase economic support for women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term." The poll found similar percentages among "pro-life" voters, white evangelicals and Catholics.

Merritt is not alone in such thinking. A group I tremendously admire, the Feminists for Life, take a similar stance. Consider this excerpt from The American Feminist, Summer/Fall 2004, p. 32:

For too long we have screamed at one another. “What about the
women?” “What about the baby?” That gets us nowhere. We need
progressive solutions that challenge the status quo. We need to listen
to the needs of women. Where are the family housing, the childcare,
and the maternity coverage? Why can’t a woman telecommute
to school or work? Why can’t she job share? Why doesn’t she make a
living wage?

The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s own research
arm, has given us our task list—the long list of reasons that women
have abortions. These can be divided into two basic categories: lack
of financial resources and lack of emotional support. We can redirect
the abortion debate and work together addressing the root causes of
abortion with women-centered solutions.

Since 1996, Feminists for Life has been focused on serving pregnant
and parenting collegians.

Pro-lifers and pro-choicers come together and work to address the
unmet needs of women through Pregnancy Resource Forums.

Many people I know in the pro-life movement here in Canada would decry this view. They would see the need to condemn the decision to abort at all on moral grounds and view any other thrust, such as abortion reduction, as irrelevant at best and a complete abandonment of the cause at worst.

I'll be frank with these brothers and sisters of mine--your moralizing approach is allowing more unborn babies to die than you save. The majority of women who consider abortions--and I get this from all sides--do it for someone else or out of a sense that there is no option. Work on this and the abortion rate will plunge like an anchor.

Am I oblivious to the moral issue? Of course not. I believe in the sacredness and dignity of life from conception. That is why I am committed to social justice. But even the sage who wrote the book of Proverbs recognized that morality came much easier when temptation was removed:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

Perhaps that is why even our Lord prayed, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Monday, 27 September 2010


As my regular reader knows, I am a public school board trustee (and have been since 1983 which is either admirable or obsessive, I'm not sure which). In that time I have visited many schools and classrooms, evaluated numerous programmes for students, and listened to countless delegations from parents and advocacy groups. I've read peer-reviewed and popular articles, interpreted the results of surveys, attended professional development sessions, and been advised by top-flight professional educators.

What all of this boils down to is simple. No matter how difficult the challenge or the expense of meeting it, or the disruption it causes to others, every child deserves full and equal opportunity to be all that they were meant to be.

Is there anyone reading this who disagrees? Hands up? That's what I thought. No matter how big or small, whether "red or yellow or black or white" (to quote the politically incorrect old song), male or female (or both or neither for that matter), verbal or non-verbal, at whichever end of the bell curve, possessing however many of the seven intelligences from zero to eight (allowing for the unrecognized ones), regardless of the social station of the family, a child is a deserving child by definition.

It wasn't always this way, of course. There was a time when society considered only some children to be deserving of the best education, with others not really needing any at all. Think of the opening scene of the marvellous movie The Miracle Worker where non-verbal, deaf and blind Helen Keller (played by academy award winner Patty Duke) goes from person to person at the dinner table, taking food from their plates to eat with her hands. No one could imagine that she should be educated save for her parents and Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft).

As a society we place a high value on personhood, and in our egalitarian way of thinking, would not rob any person of the fullness that life has to offer them. Personhood is a treasure above all others. Nothing compares in significance to it. It is the terminus a quo (starting point) and terminus ad quem (end point) of every discussion of human worth.

Think of the individuals and groups who have been denied full personhood, not just in horrific societies created by people like Hitler (Jews, gypsies and homosexuals), but even here in North America (Indians as we called them, women and girls, blacks, Chinese, and so on). It seems incredible that only in 1971 did women receive the right to vote in Switzerland. Further afield, women in Bhutan were so empowered only in 2008. While Canadian women were allowed to vote in 1917, Chinese Canadians, even those who had fought for Canada in World War II, did not receive this right until 1947. First Nations people had to wait until 1960.

We shake our heads in wonder at such bias, such hatred, such injustice. Why? Because we feel that these persons already had such rights by definition. The government's job was not to deem them worthy, but rather to recognize what they already deserved morally, and stop blocking them from their rightful place in society.

The question for me is this: does the government confer personhood or recognize it? In other words, is a person only a person when a legislative body deems them so, or is every living being a person on moral merit, whether society and the government have yet recognized it or not?

The future of abortion and euthanasia hang on the answer to this question. We give Henry Morgentaler the Order of Canada because government deems the unborn baby to be a non-person (and therefore unprotected by the human right to security of the person), and we put Robert Latimer in jail because he is seen to have killed a helpless person.

Needless to say, I recognize the personhood of the unborn baby (and the comatose dying senior for that matter) on the moral principle of the sanctity of life from conception. This is not simply an academic exercise for me. My wife and I have experienced a problem pregnancy. And I have had to deal (along with my siblings) with what to do about my dying father as the doctor asked us to consider "pulling the plug," as it were.

What difference would it make if the government (this won't happen under the leadership of the feckless Prime Minister Harper) were to accept my moral principle and to extent personhood and the rights that go with it to unborn children?

Before someone throws out the red herring of the reappearance of (mostly mythical) back-alley butcherings, the obvious things would be the birth of many more native-born Canadians (right now there are 30 abortions for every 100 live births in Canada), some women re-arranging their plans (and some men as well), many more females born in cultures where male babies are preferred, as well as more babies with physical and mental challenges (e.g. 80-90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted presently). Other examples readily come to mind.

What impact would this have on Canadian society? I think that the modern classroom contains most of the answers. As we have integrated into regular classrooms more and more children with challenges to being educated in the typical fashion, we have had to pass more educational policies, increase educational funding, provide help to the classroom teacher, and generally balance the rights of all members of the class so that all persons present benefit but with no one, perhaps, benefiting as much as they could if everyone in the class were "mainstream" students (as was the case during my boyhood).

Would anyone say that this is too much bother? Too expensive? Indefensible? Well, to be truthful some do, but most don't. They feel that the moral principle of personhood trumps the other concerns, and accept the necessity of cost, and the frustration of balancing rights.

We have not yet extended this same way of thinking to the abortion issue. I find this unacceptable because my principles are moral, not economic or political. My understanding of my faith (and as a Protestant I'm not obliged to hold this as are people from other faith arenas) is that life is sacred. That is why I hold to neither abortion nor capital punishment. That is why I don't think of the abortion question as primarily a political one, any more than did those thousands of church leaders in the nineteenth century who waged holy war with the government over the slavery issue.

I'm with Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. As he put it, "Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living."

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Women's rights vs. women's power

My blog-friend and sparring partner Suzanne (Big Blue Wave) made the following comment in response to my post on woman as life-giver (


No matter how you square it, men have power, and women have less because of their childbearing function. That doesn't mean it's wrong. It's just the way it is. Men and women will never have equal power. But God was never really big on insisting on equal power. God tends to love those who are less powerful
(emphasis added).

That got me thinking. I don't disagree that in our current cultural climate that childbearing and child-rearing can have an impact on a person's ability to influence certain kinds of events. But I hadn't equated rights and power. While they are related, the measure of one isn't necessarily dependent upon the exercise of the other.

What do I mean? First of all, some definitions. Here's a common one for human rights: "The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law" (West's Encyclopedia of American Law).

Another from "Fundamental rights which humans have by the fact of being human, and which are neither created nor can be abrogated by any government....[They] were defined first by the UK philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) as absolute moral claims or entitlements to life, liberty, and property..."

Finally, from that magnificent document the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, this excerpt pertaining to motherhood:
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Whether based on religious convictions or some other moral basis, such rights are seen as ours simply on the basis that we are humans (Jews and Christians might add "...humans made in the image of God").

These rights are ours. Morally, nothing can take them away from us. In liberal democracies it would politically unthinkable (and political suicide) to consider any significant diminution of them. Those among our neighbours to the south who want to deny the erection of the mosque near Ground Zero (however ill-advised such a building project would be from a human relations point of view) don't understand what they are demanding--an arbitrary limitation placed upon the fundamental human right of freedom of religion. It would be no different morally than taking away their right to vote, slapping them in irons, and sending them out to the fields to break rocks.

Obviously, having such inalienable rights should carry with it access to certain kinds of power. But first of all, let me define power.

Power takes several forms. First is position power, which has nothing to do with competence and everything to do with an office or position one holds. One has access to position power by virtue of being, as it were, the boss. Whether this person can actually wield any meaningful influence in the long run, however, depends upon other kinds of power.

The first of these is the power of competence. I am more likely to be motivated to readily obey a person who has proven expertise. I can be confident that I will not get into any personal trouble, and in fact will be part of a successful venture, by working with a person who knows what they're doing. In fact, someone with competence power may have considerable influence without a formal position.

Another high form of influence is personality power. People are attracted to others with certain traits or behaviours. People of character often have influence far beyond any formal position they might hold.

Thirdly, and this is a long-time management professor and consultant talking here, one's influence (or ability to wield power effectively) is greatly enhanced if one learns to delegate appropriate amounts of authority and responsibility to people closest to the situation with which the organization is dealing. Empowering others increases one's own power in terms of the results gained by the unit, department, team, etc. that one is in charge of.

One can't ignore three final sources of power: brute strength, the willingness to flout the law and hope to get away with it, and societal sanction.

Now, how would I relate human rights and power as challenged by Suzanne?

First of all, one can decide to forgo the power associated with a human right by not exercising it. I have been a municipal politician since 1983 and have seldom seen the participation of eligible voters in city elections rise above 30%. As another example, I have spoken to more than one young woman who quit their jobs, rather than lodge a complaint, because of sexual harassment. They just didn't want to go through the ordeal of appearing before a human rights tribunal to prove their case.

Secondly, one can can have the power that adheres to a right taken away illegally. People face all kinds of discrimination that are illegal but often very difficult to prove; e.g. discrimination based on age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and motherhood. When such are uncovered, the ramifications can be significant. Just ask Denny's and Shoney's, two restaurant chains that paid heavily for racial discrimination in the 1990s.

Thirdly, one can be denied access to position power for a number of good reasons (e.g., not willing to move, track record, lack of necessary education or expertise) or bad reasons (e.g., assumptions about women--too emotional; race--too lazy; age--too old or too young). The first are quite legal and defensible; the latter are not.

Then there is the interpretation of the extent or scope of the right. For instance, I noted the statement on motherhood and childhood in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some would argue (I among them) that this would include the provision of generous maternity leaves and so-called "mommy tracks" (Wikipedia: Women are discriminated against for choosing to have children and society should force private enterprises to make allowances for childbearing. These typically include job protection, wage protection, child care, time off for birthing and pregnancy, and increased medical coverage). Life-giving should be honoured and protected, not treated like a disease.

But society allows for another (highly regrettable in my view) understanding of this issue that up till now has been deemed acceptable in law: Having children is a lifestyle choice as birth control and family planning are fully controllable by individuals. Nor should businesses be forced to pay wages and salaries to those that haven't earned them by putting forth the time and effort that others have done. Also, such desired benefits are an undue burden on companies with insufficient revenue to fully implement them, nor is it prudent for gender politics to be legislated to benefit the whims of a small, but vocal, lobbying group (Wikipedia).

Alright, to summarize, women (pregnant, child-rearing or otherwise), can have every bit as much power of competence and power of personality as anyone else. And as we know, these are highly effective forms of influence. Their access to position power continues to improve, although social sanction does permit pregnancies and child-rearing to be a major stumbling block to moving ahead in one's career. See this excerpt from The Washington Post as an example:

Why unpaid maternity leave isn't enough

By Sharon Lerner
Sunday, June 13, 2010

When it comes to paid maternity leave, the United States is in the postpartum dark ages.

One hundred and seventy-seven nations -- including Djibouti, Haiti and Afghanistan -- have laws on the books requiring that all women, and in some cases men, receive both income and job-protected time off after the birth of a child. But here, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides only unpaid leave, and most working mothers don't get to stay home with their newborns for the 12 weeks allowed by the law. Many aren't covered by the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act); others can't afford to take unpaid time off. Some go back to work a few weeks after giving birth, and some go back after mere days.
So social sanction still limits women, and many women's groups are taking full aim at this, as they should. Illegal activities still play a role as well.

Suzanne is right in one sense when she says that men have more power than women. Is this a comment on their rights, however, or on the perverseness of some men, and some societies, to engage in unsavoury and illegal means of taking the power inherent in their rights from them? I say the latter. There is nothing in the theory of moral rights that suggests that women have fewer rights, even when they are bearing or raising children. It is the barriers to women's full exercise of their equal rights that we should be eliminating, not the unborn babies. Until the feminists get this, women will not progress as they should.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Women, equality rights, and life-giving

I like to do my postings in multiples of five; i.e., every five weeks or even five months. My goodness, one does get distracted. I know that I promised to say something about Ann Coulter, but that dubious character's many charms (logical and balanced reasoning, unfortunately, not being among them) were no match for selling our condo, purchasing and extensively renovating our new townhome, and entertaining company nonstop all summer.

But here I am, back at the old stand after once again taking a hiatus of considerable length. I really must get back to a schedule of frequent postings. Otherwise, I'm risking the loss of my reader.

I have much on my mind, but I'll start with this. I have been thinking for some time about the view of most modern secular feminists that women's rights are somehow subordinate to men's rights if women do not have full and convenient access to abortion services (often disguised with such ironic phrases as "maternal health"). I have emailed large numbers of Christian women in leadership capacities in the church and educational institutions about this matter, and have heard back from nary a one. Either I am too off-putting to correspond with, or else they consider the subject either too obvious or too baffling to address.

What is a poor oblivious male to do?

Well here's one sorry effort on my behalf. I preached at our church recently and shameless inserted into the sermon a reference to childbearing, which had little to do with the topic at hand. I went even further and suggested that the ability to give birth to children gave women more rights than men could ever have. I followed up with a question and answer session about the sermon, and no one in that sanctuary full of females brought it up.

So I'll try it here. I'm going to reproduce the first half of the sermon with the reference to having children, and ask you to comment.

Don't let me down.

Okay, here goes.

The Gospel as Simply as I Can Preach It (first half only)

I was a guest last month at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. In the men's washroom, of all places, I found a familiar booklet printed by Chick Publications. I say familiar because these dubious little booklets have circulated for decades, although it had been many years since I had last seen one.

This particular issue is entitled “This Was Your Life.” Someone had hand-written 'Free' on it,
although given that it was situated on the toilet tank, I was pretty sure it wasn't for sale. It depicts a middle-aged man, successful and wealthy, a pipe-smoker with drink in hand, stricken by a heart attack and now dead and buried. His spirit is bidden to rise from the grave by the angel of death who shows him what a sinful life of self-indulgence, carnality, and indifference to spiritual realities he had led. He is then handed over to a demon to enjoy the Devil's gentle ministrations for eternity.

Having now hopefully scared the you-know-what out of the reader, the tract goes on to offer a similar man the chance to make a better choice. This gentleman confesses his sins, receives Christ as Saviour, asks God to reveal his will, prays before meals, reads bible stories to his children, visits the sick, puts money in the offering, shares from the Bible with others, and becomes a champion employee. He too has a heart attack and dies, but is received directly into heaven.

The booklet ends with a prayer for you to recite to become a Christian yourself, and encourages you to, among other things, read the Bible in the KJV every day.

And that, in three short paragraphs, is the Gospel according to St. Chick.

It was Einstein who said that "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." I have entitled this meditation The Gospel as Simply as I Can Preach It.” As that will take me the twenty or so minutes that remain, I will never be asked to become a writer for Chick Publications, a lost opportunity that I will endure stoically.

Now to be completely candid, I was raised in a church whose depiction of God's good news was little different from what I quoted above from Chick. Perhaps your experience was the same. And I did, in God's grace, decide that I wanted to be a follower of Christ and a child of God at a relatively young age, although a broader understanding of what all of that actually meant did not follow for many years. I do not mean to disparage, in any way, the small slice of the Gospel that the booklet represents.

But it is narrow and disproportionate. Its depiction of the Christian life, the Christian mind, the nature and will of God, life's purpose and priorities, and the joy and challenge, and sometimes heartache—even heartbreak—of Christian experience is badly deficient. It's a gospel of bones with little meat. And a good number of the bones are missing as well. Not to mention much of the brain and heart.

Well, where do we start? As the Apostle Paul and the other early disciples set Asia and Europe ablaze with the good news, they had only the Old Testament as their Scripture. So for me, it's back to the beginning, the Garden of Eden.

I understand this story, and many of the others in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, as theological parable or metaphor, not history. Whether you agree or disagree with me on historical matters, the theology is the same. So let's skip the arguing over minor details and get to what God wanted us to learn from the story.

Humankind is depicted in an idyllic state where she and he (Eve and Adam) are to steward the perfect creation handed to them by God. Work was to be as normal for our ancestors as it was for God. God is depicted throughout the Scriptures as a working Deity, and humankind was to be no different.

'Idyllic' didn't mean that there was little or nothing to do. It meant that humanity could realize all that we were created to be in an environment of full equality, peace, justice, love, joy, mutuality, respect and self-respect, challenge and creativity in full partnership with the Triune God, Him and Herself. This, I believe, is what heaven will be like.

It was only after the fall from grace, when Adam and Eve gave up their idyllic experience through trying to improve upon God's will, that economic scarcity entered the scene, and that work became a monotonous drudgery, with notions of equality and respect for others set aside in favour of exploitation, prejudice, greed and self-indulgence, murder, and so on.

While male and female were equal in Eden, and both were charged with stewarding the earth through pleasant and creative work, the woman was given an additional privilege that made her, in one glorious sense, even more like her Creator than man could ever be. She was made Life-giver!! Only the woman would participate in adding to God's perfect but incomplete Creation through the miracle of new birth. There is no better picture of this than the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, when apprised of her coming pregnancy by the angel Gabriel. You can read each thrilling word at your leisure in the Gospel according to Luke chapter one.

Do not underestimate the importance of this in God's eyes. St. Paul, the champion of female worth and equality in the New Testament, alludes to this special status for women in his rather obscure reference in 1 Timothy 2:15: “But women will be saved through childbearing.” I don't believe that this means that bearing children guarantees a spot in heaven. It is also obvious that it doesn't assure women that having babies will be a breeze or that every woman will make it through the event unscathed. So what does it mean?

In other of his writings, St. Paul tells us to “work out our salvation.” He means that salvation is both an experience of choosing to become a child of God, and then living for God by doing the kinds of things that God has empowered us to do in full partnership with himself and his people. Paul often describes women as having full equality with men in the reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and in the exercise of those gifts in even the most senior leadership positions. But as an additional act of the greatest honour, woman continues to partner with God as Life-giver.


This indescribable privilege was also marred as human imperfection and disobedience to God replaced the perfect state. God noted, with incredible regret I have no doubt, that the inevitable consequence of Eve’s choice would lead to this:

"I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master." There goes perfect equality with her husband as a spouse, and joyous partnership with God as a mother, in one fell swoop.

We have since seen a history of men suppressing and exploiting women while hogging all the top positions, whether in the family, the church, or in society generally. Most modern feminists have bought this nonsense that the man's life is somehow the superior one, and that life-giving is an unfortunate side effect of being female that must be controlled by having full access to abortion, in order to have full and equal rights with men. My goodness, in God’s perfect world they have more rights.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

How can so much nonsense happen in one month?

The proprietor of this space apologizes for his prolonged absence from The Blog. He has been lumbered with the Olympics (of blessed memory), trips to the far reaches of Ontario, numerous guests, reduction to one car as the normally reliable Camry remains in intensive care, wrestling with serious school district issues, and trying to maintain his new sylphlike figure after losing 25 pounds (I had to get that last item in somehow).

And look at what has happened during this five weeks of enforced silence! Canada, a country of which I feel privileged to be a citizen, seems to have plumbed new depths of nonsense. I'll go further. Nonsense is irritating but normally harmless. Some of these happenings to which I am alluding are downright harmful.

First the chattering baboons we sometimes call Members of Parliament, and even more ironically, Honourable. Here is an utterance from several female M.P.s (one of them a medical doctor if you can believe it) about a government plan to urge the G8 countries to combat maternal health issues:

While immunization, access to clean water, better nutrition and improved training for health-care workers are all important to the health and safety of women and girls, addressing the real issues underlying poor maternal and infant health requires that the full gamut of options be made available to promote educated family planning and gender equality. Anything less is a mere band-aid solution.

We have in our little city a marvelous fundraiser called Run for Water, begun by a former student of mine named Ken Baerg. Its purpose is to ensure access to clean water in Ethiopia. Their website includes this observation:

By competing in the Run For Water you are helping villages in Ethiopia acquire the clean drinking water they need. Roughly 80% of Ethiopians require improved drinking water facilities, and Run For Water is partnering with an experienced development agency to contribute to that need.

Lack of clean drinking water is an enormous problem in the less developed world. It is a major contributor to serious health problems and even death. As noted above, in Ethiopia alone, eight out of every ten citizens are affected by it. But to those honourable ideologues of ours in Ottawa, addressing the issue is a mere band-aid solution compared to that problem beyond every problem--the provision of abortions.

Are these women out of their minds? Probably not, but they are obsessed. Beyond this, they can't seem to think of women anywhere else in the world outside of a Canadian context.

Imagine approaching a pregnant African woman with three living children (the fourth, fifth and sixth having died in infancy), all with distended bellies, bad drinking water, poor nutrition, and no one trained to help them, and saying to them, "Look, we could deal with all of these illnesses and untimely deaths by addressing your water and nutrition needs, your various diseases, the absence of good medical care and so on. But heck, these are mere band-aids. What you really need to do is to abort that child (oops! fetal material) you are carrying. So here's a coupon to get you into the new abortion clinic we built in the nearest city. And by the way, we affirm you as a full and equal sister."

The fact that a) the woman probably wants the child, b) this coupon does nothing for her existing children's unhealthy state or her own, c) there is no one trained to look after her when she returns (probably on foot for many kilometers) to her village, and d) she won't even be able to safely slake her thirst after her many days' walk, is nothing compared to the inestimable privilege of a safe abortion.

These women give pro-choice a bad name.

Related to this is the strange leadership being given to this nonsense by the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, Dr. Ignatieff.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says he will not abandon his fight to include reproductive rights in any Canadian-inspired G8 initiative to improve the health of mothers and their babies in the world’s poorest countries (Globe and Mail, March 24/10).

The reason that he has to fight is that his motion to include, in the government's plan for maternal health, the provisions for abortion discussed above was defeated in the Canadian House of Commons, despite the fact the government is in a minority position and the rest of the parties in the House supported his motion. Regrettably for Ignatieff, sixteen of his own Liberal M.P.s either skipped the vote or supported the government, thus ensuring that the motion would fail.

The once dominant Liberal party has suffered under three consecutive flawed leaders--first Paul Martin, then the hapless Stephane Dion, and now Ignatieff. Their last successful prime minister, Jean Chretien, remained in power through a combination of a splintered and largely ineffective opposition, and by doing little except allowing an improved world economy to solve his budget deficit problems. It has been a long, long time since the Liberals have had genuinely inspired leadership.

Given the mixed performance by the robotic Prime Minister Harper and his band of merry sycophants, Canada needs a strong alternative to ensure that the government's feet will always be kept near the fire. This is becoming less and less likely. The Conservatives have done little to address the issues that lead Canadian women to choose to abort. They are really no improvement over the Liberals in this regard. Yet they may have open season for years to come if the Liberals do not get their act together.

But Ignatieff does not appear to be the person to accomplish this. Ironic, isn't it, that his leadership flaws should surface over a motion regarding abortion?

Finally, I want to address the supreme nonsense associated with the (odious to me) high-profile right-wing spokesperson Ann Coulter. The suppression of her vacuous views should be of concern to those who, like myself, want to be able to say things that are important to me but that fall outside the boundaries of acceptability drawn by the chattering baboon class.

More on this soon.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Relief is just an abortion away?

This is my third consecutive post on information vital to making an informed choice about a crisis pregnancy. I am posting these to suggest that Canada is a pro-choice country in name, but in fact insufficient information is available to women to make a fully-informed choice. And the withholding of this information has to be deliberate.

In this post, I want to illustrate how women are not warned of the psychological damage that many suffer from choosing to abort.

While in the short-run a majority of women feel relief from having had an abortion, for too many of them various kinds of post-abortion trauma set in over time. There is a North American group of women who have suffered physically and emotionally from abortion, called Silent No More, devoted to this very issue.

Nevertheless, the website of Planned Parenthood states:
Serious emotional problems after abortion are much less likely than they are after giving birth.

A different page on the website of Planned Parenthood states:
Serious, long-term emotional problems after abortion are about as common as they are after childbirth.

Another page on the website of Planned Parenthood states:
Beware of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that are anti-abortion. … [They] will lie to you about the medical and emotional effects of abortion.

But the country of Finland has socialized medicine and keeps detailed health records of its citizens. A search of these records over the years 1987-1994 found that 1,347 women of reproductive age (15-49 years old) committed suicide. A 1996 study of this data found that women who had an abortion were about 5.9 times more likely to commit suicide in the year following this event than women who delivered a child.

In 2008, the Los Angles Times reported:
Several studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals suggest that women who have had abortions are more prone to depression or drug abuse. “But the research does not prove cause and effect, [said Nada Stotland, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association]. It may be, she said, that women who have abortions are more emotionally unstable in the first place.”

The California study cited above controlled for mental disorders by eliminating those women who had been treated for a psychiatric problem in the year prior to their childbirth or abortion. When this was done, it was found that women who had an abortion were about 3.3 times more likely to commit suicide in the eight years following this event than women who delivered a child.

To conclude, in theory we are a pro-choice country. But abortion is easier to obtain than it is to really learn a lot about. When groups such as Abbotsford Right to Life bring up legitimate concerns about the safety of abortion, they are routinely attacked as being anti-woman and anti-choice, and are accused of lying and deceiving women.

Now our local regional hospital does not allow abortions, but nearby hospitals do. Women in Abbotsford could arrange for their pregnancies to be terminated for whatever reason and with reasonable dispatch on the public’s dime. And everything would be all right for them--right? Well, in the case of abortion, ignorance is not bliss. They are being deliberately kept in the dark. Canadian women deserve better than this. Don’t you agree?

I am not simply ignoring the crises that pregnancies can genuinely represent in some cases. Much needs to be done by way of public policy and other forms of support for women and their babies. Regrettably, abortion does not rid society of abusive husbands and boyfriends, bad employers, inflexible education systems, unsympathetic families, judgmental churches, and many of the other problems that women will continue to confront even after recourse to an abortion has been taken.

But for the purposes of this post, I am looking at the easy in-by-nine-and-out-by-five, no muss, no fuss, “Are you worried and distressed? Can't seem to get no rest? Put our product to the test. You'll feel just fine now” solution that is pushed on women without regard for the potential risks.

So I say, if Canada really is pro-choice, let’s have all the voices at the table, and all the facts on the table. A woman’s health, and a woman’s future, is too important to do otherwise.

Look at those cells go!

Most abortions take place in the first trimester; i.e., approximately up to 13 weeks. Women are typically told that the fetus is nothing but a clump of cells at this point.

To give just one example, the National Abortion Rights Action League nominated a pro-life organization called Personhood USA to its Abortion “Hall of Shame.” In announcing the nomination, NARAL claimed that Personhood USA "... exists solely to establish legal rights for fertilized eggs and trigger legal battles over abortion that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Not only could the strategy outlaw abortion, but it could even threaten birth control, stem-cell research, and in-vitro fertilization.”

Now in actual fact, every human being of whatever age and size is a clump of cells. But the impression that medical people and others who use this description want to give, as a way of easing the pregnant woman of any qualms, is that what is inside her at this point would be little more than those frog’s eggs we used to find in swamps when we were kids.

But what is the truth? Here is what those frog eggs are really like:
a. At fertilization
At fertilization, the genetic composition of a preborn human is formed. This genetic information determines gender, eye color, hair color, facial features, and influences characteristics such as intelligence and personality.

b. At 3 weeks
The eyes and spinal cord are visible and the developing brain has two lobes.

c. At 4 weeks
The heart is beating and a circulatory system is in place. The portion of the brain associated with consciousness (the cerebrum) and internal organs such as the lungs are beginning to develop and can be identified.

d. At 7 weeks
Muscles and nerves begin working together. When the upper lip is tickled, the arms move backwards. The portion of the brain associated with consciousness (the cerebrum) has divided into hemispheres.

e. At 9 weeks
More than 90% of the body structures found in a full-grown human are present. The medical classification changes from an embryo to a fetus. Embryologists chose this dividing line because from this point forward, most development involves growth in existing body structures instead of the formation of new ones. The preborn human moves body parts without any outside stimulation.

And at this point we are still four weeks short of completing the first trimester.

Many women who have learned about fetal development after having had an abortion feel like they were deliberately deceived and regretted their choice.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Abortion-Breast Cancer Link

My professional life has been spent mostly in the academic world. For much of my time, that world held without reservation to letting evidence take a researcher to whatever conclusion the data seemed to demand, and that the conclusion could be voiced without fear of discrimination. Regrettably, times have changed somewhat.

Certain conclusions are now seen as inappropriate rather than merely unsubstantiated. In some fields, a researcher who feels led by her or his research to take a position can fear being attacked for their motives rather than their research skills. Climate-gate is a stellar example.

An area that has puzzled me greatly along those lines is the alleged abortion-breast cancer (ABC) link. Dozens of studies have substantiated this risk, but none of the relevant authorities will admit to it. Breast cancer is not merely an academic discussion for me. It took my mother at age 59, as well as two of her sisters. A third sister is a survivor. In the past 18 months, three of my sisters-in-law have also contracted this potentially deadly disease.

If you were to look up the alleged abortion-breast cancer (or ABC) link in that well-known resource Wikipedia, you would read this:

The abortion-breast cancer hypothesis posits that induced abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer. This position contrasts with the scientific consensus that abortion does not cause breast cancer.

The Canadian Woman’s Health Network recommends an article published by the Childbirth by Choice Trust that outlines the medical debate concerning the possible link between abortion and the development of breast cancer later in life. It summarizes the results of recent studies showing no credible link between the two.

The Canadian Cancer Society says this:

At the present time, the body of scientific evidence does not support an association between abortion and increased breast cancer risk.

We base this perspective on the findings from a workshop of over 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. The workshop was organized by the US National Cancer Institute and it took place in 2003. The experts reviewed existing human and animal studies on the relationship between pregnancy and breast cancer risk. Among their conclusions were:
• Induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk
• Spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk

By the way, the American Cancer Society makes the identical claim, also referencing this 2003 study, among others.

You might conclude from this that there is no link between the procurement of an abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer. When Abbotsford Right to Life sponsored a public lecture on the abortion-breast cancer link a couple of years ago, our local university student newspaper had as a headline on the front page, “The Myth of the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link”.

But I want to explore a little further the reference by the Canadian and American Cancer Societies to the conclusive 2003 workshop that is the basis of their opinion. Here is a summary of that workshop:

In February 2003, Dr. Louise Brinton, the National Cancer Institute's chief of the Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, served as chairperson at an NCI workshop in Bethesda, MD, to assess whether abortion was implicated as a breast cancer risk.

In the opinion of "over 100 of the world's leading experts," said the subsequent NCI report, including Dr. Brinton, the answer was no....

At the time, 29 out of 38 studies conducted worldwide over 40 years showed an increased ABC risk, but NCI workshop experts nevertheless concluded it was "well established" that "induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk."

It should be pointed out that none of the authors of the 29 studies that did find a link of anywhere from 30% to 100% were invited to that workshop.

But then a funny thing happened. In April 2009 that same chairperson, Dr. Brinton, co-authored a research paper published in the prestigious journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, which concluded that the risk of a particularly deadly form of breast cancer that attacks women under 40 raises 40 percent if a woman has had an abortion.

Now a cancer society “insider” had found the missing link.

The Toronto Globe and Mail wrote to the NCI on Jan. 8/09 and reported the results of their correspondence as follows:

An e-mail to Dr. Brinton on Friday was returned by an Institute spokesman named Michael Miller who said: "NCI has no comment on this study. Our statement and other information on this issue can be found at" That link turns up [the] 2003 document that says a workshop of more than 100 leading experts concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.

Requests for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy between that position and the information contained in the study released last spring went unanswered by NCI…

The Globe concluded:
[T]rying to prevent abortions by scaring women with breast cancer would truly be wrong. But so too would be suppressing the risks of abortion or any medical procedure.

But if you go to the NCI website, you will see no reference to Dr. Brinton’s 2009 article, nor does she refer to it herself in the list of research interests on her personal page. NCI continues to hide the remarkable conclusions of the study of one of its own decorated scientists. She herself has never repudiated the results, but she doesn’t promote them either.

The Liberal Party of Canada would prefer that they remain deep-sixed as well. When Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott referred to the issue and the Globe and Mail’s coverage recently, the Liberals' Status of Women critic Anita Neville was quick to call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to silence Vellacott for his supposedly "false and misleading" statements. In a media release, Neville claimed Vellacott had denigrated "women and their rights and freedoms, adding "enough is enough . . . women deserve better from their elected representatives."

By the way, a 40% increase in risk is not considered to be particularly high. But to put things into context, governments and cancer agencies have done everything they can to reduce our exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in order to protect us from contracting cancer. The increased risk of cancer from second-hand tobacco smoke is 20 - 30% according to that self-same NCI.

But consider the way second-hand smoke risk is dealt with compared to the higher-risk associated with abortion.

A report from the California Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 concluded that the evidence regarding secondhand smoke and breast cancer is "consistent with a causal association" in younger women. This means that the secondhand smoke acts as if it could be a cause of breast cancer in these women. The 2006 U.S. Surgeon General's report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, found that there is "suggestive but not sufficient" evidence of a link at this point. In any case, women should be told that this possible link to breast cancer is yet another reason to avoid being around secondhand smoke. My source for this information? --The American Cancer Society.

Susan Martinuk, writing about the Brinton article in the January 29, 2010 edition of the Calgary Herald, added this comment:

The topic of breast cancer has long been a media darling and, consequently, there's been no shortage of reports on the plethora of new medical discoveries that are constantly shifting the rules for preventing, diagnosing and treating this disease. We're told about coffee, chocolate and wine; and the usefulness (or not) of mammograms and the harms (or not) of hormone replacement therapy. But this urgent need to keep women informed and up-to-date on the latest research suddenly dissipates if it means turning a critical eye to the sacred cow of abortion.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Canada is NOT Pro Choice: Why I Wish it Were

I would like to invite readers who live in the Fraser Valley of beautiful British Columbia to attend a free public lecture that I am giving on Thursday, February 4 at the Clearbrook Public Library in Abbotsford at 7:15 p.m. It is entitled Canada is NOT Pro Choice: Why I Wish it Were. The library is located at 32320 George Ferguson Way, Abbotsford.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Women's rights--Where does this take us?

Hey, I'm no philosopher, nor a political scientist, nor a human rights specialist. I can't tell you with certainty what full and equal women's rights should look like here in Canada or anywhere else.

What can I tell you?

First of all, in terms of all the ways in which women endured discrimination in the past, western liberal democracies are more or less in the same place. They claim to abhor such discrimination and have brought in legislation to eliminate it. The same goes for violence against women. Some might claim that more could be done by way of, say, affirmative action programs or gay marriage. These things are debated but there appears to be no consensus among countries, or even within countries in many cases.

What appears to be a major difference between how many Canadian feminists understand equal rights for women as opposed to other countries is with respect to abortion and reproductive rights. Canadian female members of Parliament, various provincial legislatures, and many women's organizations link full women's rights with abortion on demand. In almost all other countries, abortion on demand does not exist, at least on paper.

So we either have to say that these Canadian feminist spokespeople are right, and all of the other countries are wrong, or that Canada is a "one off" in terms of what is construed as full and equal human rights.

There is one more complication. As poll after poll has indicated, the majority of Canadian women would accept restrictions on abortion. A very large percentage would even eliminate public funding for same. Therefore, the majority view of Canadian women appears to be consistent with our European, American and Australian colleagues, rather than with the Canadian feminists on this topic.

As a male, I am not going to tell the Canadian feminists that they are wrong. But it looks like Canadian women are doing so.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bite 2b - Laws regarding abortion in other countries

Since many Canadian pro-choice activists link full access to abortion at any stage of the pregnancy with full and equal human rights for women, I thought that it might be instructive to look at laws regulating abortion in other western liberal democracies with a commitment to full women's rights.

1. United Kingdom - In 1967 the Abortion Act legalized abortion under certain circumstances, and amendments were made in 1990. Currently the Act permits termination of pregnancy if two doctors are of the opinion in good faith:
a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or
b) that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or
c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or
d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

2. United States of America - The 1973 Supreme Court ruling gave American women the right to an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, and regulated the procedure during the second trimester "in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health." In the third trimester, a state can choose to prohibit abortion, except when necessary "for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."

This decision arose out of the famous Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court chose not to deal at length with the related controversy of the personhood of the fetus. Rather it took the following position:

A central issue in the Roe case (and in the wider abortion debate in general) is whether human life begins at conception, birth, or at some point in between. The Court declined to make an attempt at resolving this issue, noting: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer." Instead, it chose to point out that historically, under English and American common law and statutes, "the unborn have never been persons in the whole sense" and thus the fetal child are not legally entitled to the protection afforded by the right to life specifically enumerated in the Fourteenth Amendment. So rather than asserting that human life begins at any specific point, the court simply declared that the State has a "compelling interest" in protecting "potential life" at the point of viability (source: Wikipedia).

3. France - Abortion is legal on-request in France in the first trimester. Abortion has been decriminalized since the passage of the Veil Law in 1975. After the first trimester, two physicians must certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.

Since 1994, French law has required that multidisciplinary diagnostic centers decide which birth defects are severe enough to make abortion after the 12 week limit permissible.

4. Germany - Abortion in Germany is legal, but only when done before the 3rd month of pregnancy. Abortions are not covered by public health insurance except for women with low income.

5. Sweden - The current legislation is the Abortion Act of 1974. This states that up until the end of the eighteenth week of the pregnancy the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman, for any reason whatsoever. After the 18th and until the 22nd week a woman needs a permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare to have an abortion. Permission for these late abortions is usually granted for cases in which the fetus or mother are unhealthy.

6. Switzerland
- Abortion in Switzerland is legal during the first trimester, upon condition of counseling, for women who state that they are in distress. It is also legal with medical indications – threat of severe physical or psychological damage to the woman – at any later time.

Persons performing illegal abortions are subject to payment of a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to five years. A woman who procures an illegal abortion is subject to a payment of a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up until three years.

7. Denmark - Abortion in Denmark was fully legalized on October 1, 1973,[1] allowing the procedure to be done on-demand if a woman's pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week. The patient must be over the age of 18 to decide on an abortion alone; parental consent is required if she is a minor.

8. Finland - A 1985 bill allowed abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy for underage women and up to the 24th week if an amniocentesis or ultrasound found serious impairment in the fetus.

Abortions are provided free-of-charge in hospitals. It is illegal to perform abortions in clinics, though doctors are empowered to provide abortions outside of hospitals in dire circumstances. Illegal abortions are very rare because in practice a woman can get an abortion on demand.

9. The Netherlands - Under the act, termination of a pregnancy must be given careful consideration: a woman and her physician must agree that her circumstances are compelling. The doctor must inform her of other possible solutions. To give the woman time for reflection, there must be a lapse of at least five days between the woman's first consultation with her doctor and the actual termination of the pregnancy.

In the Netherlands, abortions are performed until approximately 24 weeks into pregnancy; however, as a result of the ongoing debate among physicians about the viability of the fetus, abortions are only rarely performed after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions after the first trimester must be performed in a hospital.

10. Australia - Abortion in Australia remains a subject of state law rather than national law. The grounds on which abortion is permitted in Australia vary from state to state. In every state, abortion is legal to protect the life and health of the woman, though each state has a different definition.

The only state with a law that is similar to Canada's abortion on demand regimen is the Australian Capital Territory. Abortion law in the Australian Capital Territory was for many years governed by case law and the criminal code of New South Wales. However, in 2002, it became the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalize abortion in full, when the Stanhope ALP government, with the assistance of Green and independent members, passed the Crimes (Abolition of Offense of Abortion) Act 2002, removing abortion from the criminal statute books altogether.

By way of contrast, in Queensland abortions are carried out as "therapeutic miscarriages", performed by specialists, upon request of the patient after an appointment with their local GP. An abortion is lawful in Queensland if carried out when there is serious danger to the woman's physical and mental health from the continuation of the pregnancy.