Top 10 Things Not to Say about Abortion

“There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who insist on dividing the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” That old joke rings with fresh relevance now that our American cousins, and a few on this side of the border as well, have put abortion back into public consciousness.

While scholars continue to debate just what drove, and drives, so many white evangelicals to support Donald Trump, the prospect of his appointing prolife judges to the Supreme Court continues to loom large among their motives. Such right-wing voters have been excoriated for being narrow-minded single-issue voters, even by some of us who share their prolife views but see being “prolife” as embracing a much larger agenda than anti-abortion.

Now, however, my Facebook feed is lighting up with friends who are so afraid of Canada moving in a prolife direction (yes, they’re looking at you, Sam Oosterhoff) that they’re announcing already that they will not support any candidate who does not share their prochoice conviction.

But is “prolife versus prochoice” so very simple? Here’s a checklist of common fatuities to be avoided in the months of controversy ahead. (This column is a little longer than usual, but the underlying point is that the issues involved here are not resolvable at bumper-sticker length.)

#1: “The issue is already decided.” Federal cabinet minister Maryam Monsef said so recently in a public letterto Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer. But this is a very odd thing to say, especially by a politician, and even more especially by a female politician whose portfolio is, indeed, “Women and Gender Equality.”

Not long ago, women were not persons in the eyes of Canadian law. Remember the Famous Five? The status of women was once decided. But then it was decided again. And then it was decided once more. One would like to think that Minister Monsef would be glad that her political predecessors did not think that once something is decided in a democracy, no one can evermore revisit the issue.

The issue of abortion is not, furthermore, decided. Again, it’s embarrassing for a federal cabinet minister to say otherwise, but Canada in fact has no abortion law, not since Henry Morgentaler pressed the Supreme Court into invalidating what law there was in 1988, and Kim Campbell’s government failed to pass a new law in 1991.

So when Minister Monsef says “it’s decided,” all she means is what so many people seem to mean by such phrases—namely, “We, and everyone like us and who likes us, have agreed.” But that’s not quite the same as actual law.

#2. “A woman has sole rights over her own body.” This feminist slogan seems to have come down from Sinai. But as a feminist myself, I confess to being ashamed of it because no one really thinks that. No one really thinks a woman can do whatever she likes with her body when another body is involved.

You know the old adage: Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. (We may need such adages in the arguments to come.) So, yes, a woman can act as she pleases so long as she doesn’t use her body in a way that harms others. And when it comes to terminating a pregnancy, there are harms-to-others involved.

Here’s where the dark logic of bioethicists such as Michael Tooleyand Peter Singercuts both ways. If a woman is entitled to terminate her offspring when within her body, why not later once emerged?

Her body is implicated in both circumstances. In fact, any mother who enjoyed a healthy pregnancy and who is now chasing a young one all day and facing ever-mounting expenses will say how much easier it was on her body to be pregnant. If one is not, however, prepared to countenance infanticide, then why tolerate abortion?  As Tooley and Singer argue, the rationale for both actions is the same.

There is also a point to be made here about men. How nice for (certain kinds of) men if women insist that the outcomes of sex are entirely the woman’s responsibility—or how terrible, if men instead want to share responsibility and indeed share in the new life resulting from their union. It takes two to tango, and while the ability to get pregnant falls on the woman, why should she be (alone) responsible for that new life ever after?

#3. “It’s just a clump of cells.” Well, so are you.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Another Adolescent Decision in a Time of Grown-Up Challenges

The Baby Boomers strike again.

This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal—the highest-level court in the country to consider a case of physicians’ freedom of religion—endorseda lower court’s ruling that all physicians must enable their patients to engage in abortion, assisted-death, or several other ethically questionable procedures. Physicians must either provide such procedures or give a direct referral to a physician or agency who will.

The Ontario Court recognized that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms acknowledges physicians’ right to refuse to serve as an accessory to what they view as a moral crime. But the three justices ruled that other principles took precedence over those rights.

What principles?

Equal access to legal medical procedures—which sounds fair enough, but more about that below. And also patients’ avoidance of “shame and stigma,” which sounds, well, oddly disproportionate when measured against physicians’ sincere concern not to assist in the killing of people under their care.

The legal experts have offered their arguments, and I found useful material here, provided by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, an intervener in the case. Let’s look at the decision here in the broad terms of cultural history.

Since the 1960s, Baby Boomers have enjoyed a kind of perpetual adolescence, and particularly a quest for maximal personal freedom and the extension of justice to those the Boomers deemed worthy of it. Genuine good has come from the resulting half-century’s campaign. In many respects, Canadian society cares for the poor, the disabled, the non-white, the female, the sexually different, and other marginalized groups better than we did before.

Along with that agenda, however, has come the adolescent tendency toward simple, even binary, views. That trait is perfectly understandable in young people just getting acquainted with the adult world. But so many Boomers, well into their senior years now, seem never to have jettisoned such an outlook.

Thus the Ontario Court’s decision is phrased in terms of the most pitiable cases: patients who don’t speak English, who have little education, who lack mental health, or who otherwise cannot easily navigate the complexities of our current medical systems. This all sounds commendably compassionate—except when one pauses to consider that it isn’t the physicians’ fault that health care is being delivered in such a complicated fashion.

It isn’t the physicians’ fault that people who want a single, clear thing done—terminate the life of one’s fetus, terminate one’s own life—apparently need the help of a person with years of university education just to find someone who will do it.

Indeed, in the internet age, how hard can it be to locate a list of people to do a particular thing—particularly if, as the Court heard from those who want to coerce physicians into compliance, it is so very important that people get what they want as quickly as possible? Why can’t there be a single website and phone number?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Scaring kids—about the right things

“Attention, everyone. Code red. Code red. The school is now in lockdown. The school is now in lockdown. Students, follow the directions of your teachers.”

All over the United States, schools, colleges, and universities are instituting and practicing procedures to deal with the threat of an armed marauder. They’ll likely proliferate in Canada soon, too. As school shootings now seem to occur every month or so, the danger seems to be real and imminent.

But it mostly isn’t.

A few months ago The Washington Post reported that fewer than 150 people (children and adults) have been shot to death in America’s elementary and secondary schools since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. That’s not 150 people per year, but 150 people over two decades.

Fewer than 8 people, nationwide, per year.

An American is ten times more likely to be struck and killedby lightningthan to be killed in a school shooting. One is four thousand times more likely to be killed in a car accident—at a time when traffic fatalities are less frequent than at any time since the late 1950s.

A recent story in The Atlantic points to a previous wave of child-focused hysteria in America, the pointless “duck-and-cover” drills in the 1950s. (There’s nothing like a cheap wood-and-tubular-steel school desk to keep you safe against megatons of thermonuclear blast.)

The 1980s saw the rise of parental fear over strangers snatching kids off the street as they went to and from school, only to see the worry rise to a fever pitch over Satanic ritual abuse—which started in the United States and spread rapidly around the world.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]