From the editor’s desk
Writing in the Ottawa Sun April 9, Carleton University political science grad Jordan Michael Smith jammed many leaps of logic, cherry-picking of polls and fallacious arguments to make the case that abortion is a settled issue in Canada. Here is an enumerated list of problematic arguments and a rebuttal of them.
1. Smith stated, “Politically, at a national level, the debate is dead. The pro-choicers won.” Many people would argue that it was not a political win, but a judicial win. In the 1980s, the pro-abortion side could not win the argument for unlimited abortion on demand – abortion at any time up until the moment of birth, for any reason, almost always at taxpayers’ expense, without any limitation or regulation (which is the situation today) – with the general public and their elected representatives, so they challenged the constitutionality of (problematic and weak) anti-abortion laws before the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled the abortion law was an ill-conceived inconvenience to pregnant women seeking abortions, but only one justice (Bertha Wilson) found there to be any constitutional right to abortion. The court invited Parliament to write a new abortion law, there has been one attempt since then that failed and there has been what Jean Chretien has called “social peace” (read: silence on the part of politicians and the media) on abortion ever since. The pro-choicers never won the argument that abortion is a good thing or even that it should be legal; they won by judicial fiat, a parliamentary technicality and, since then, an enforced silence. Canada is pro-abortion by default.
2. As proof that the pro-abortion side has won, Smith says: “The most recent poll on the subject, a June 2006 Angus Reid survey, found that just one-third of Canadians felt abortion was immoral, numbering behind blasphemy, pornography and alcohol abuse. And that’s just the number who think it is immoral – some of these can be presumed to favour the decriminalization of abortion, even if they personally find it distasteful.” It is not true that the last poll on the subject was last June’s Angus Reid survey – Environics had a poll last October – but his point that some who think abortion is immoral, but should not be illegal, could be true. On the other hand, it could also be true that some people who do not find abortion immoral might still want it recriminalized or at least regulated. More about polls and this point in a moment.
3. Smith wonders, “How did we reach something approaching a national consensus on abortion?” Have we? According to a LifeCanada-commissioned Environics poll in 2006, a majority oppose the abortion status quo of abortion on demand (64 per cent) and various degrees of majority support exist for regulations that limit abortion. Only 30 per cent support an unlimited right to abortion – the same number who oppose abortion from the moment of conception. The remaining third supports restricting abortion after the first or second trimester. Furthermore, the polling trends show that pro-life sentiment is increasing slightly. Reflecting on a similar poll in 2005, Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein, who is not a social conservative, said: “As for the so-called ‘mainstream’ view that there should be no protection until birth? That view was held by a mere 28 per cent. Some ‘mainstream.’” There is simply no consensus of the issue of abortion.
4. Looking for reasons for this fictional consensus, Smith says: “The decline of organized religion has to be foremost on this list. It is no accident that the U.S., Ireland, Spain and Poland have the most restrictive abortion laws; these are the countries with the most religious citizenry and the strongest religious traditions.” About the U.S.: it is more “religious,” but it permits abortion on demand in most jurisdictions. Some states have restrictions such as parental notification or approval, informed consent and limits on state-funding of abortion, as well as effectively pro-life laws such as justice for unborn victims of violence. It should be noted that the Environics poll mentioned earlier found Canadians support all of these limits on abortion. There are restrictions on abortion in the U.S., but there are still about one million (surgical) abortions each year.
5. More nonsense from Smith about religion:“It is not the case, as the religious might like to think, that they have a regard for human life beyond that of the secular. Rather, it is that religious doctrine is clear that life begins at conception, while most of those who do not bow to scripture find this hard to concede.” What Smith fails to notice is that the point that life begins at conception is not a religious belief, but a scientific fact. As medical doctor and novelist Walker Percy said in the 1970s, we no longer live in the Dark Ages and it is no longer possible to say we don’t know when life begins. More than 30 years ago, we were aware that when the 23 chromosomes of the sperm and the 23 chromosomes of the ovum are combined, a new (and unique) living human being with 46 chromosomes is created.
6. More cherry-picking from Smith: “As church-going and liturgy (if not spirituality) have declined in this country, so has opposition to abortion.” But as noted above, the polls indicate a slight uptick in pro-life sentiment.
7. He gets something partly right: “Finally, we have the women’s movement. The sexual revolution did more than free up dirty hippies to engage in orgies. It also left women with the idea that they would decide what was right and wrong for them – and only they would decide. After the pill, it was only a matter of time.” Yes, both feminism and the contraception mentality lead to abortion. But it is worth noting that according to those Environics and Leger Marketing polls sponsored by LifeCanada in recent years, the percentage of women who oppose abortion is often slightly higher than the percentage of men. Yes, the sexual revolution permitted women to gain “control” over their own bodies – and many realize that abortion isn’t such a great deal.
8. Intellectual debates don’t matter, or so Smith implies: “The intellectual debate may never end and individuals will always wrestle with their consciences. But as a political movement, as something that can move the masses out into the streets, abortion is done. And choice won.” It is possible that there will be something that shifts public opinion to a critical mass that requires politicians to not ignore the issue anymore – perhaps the intellectual debate will convince enough people to care about abortion or perhaps something else: the testimony of women who have been ravaged by abortion, the widespread repugnance of the philosophical argument of when life begins (versus the scientific argument) that states unborn life is meaningless, the quickening demographic shift that threatens our way of life, a religious revival. My guess is that if any incremental legislation is ever passed, it will begin a more serious discussion and political examination of the issue. National Post columnist Andrew Coyne has argued that there are ways of addressing abortion-related issues (fetal rights in a legal and medical context) without addressing abortion head-on.
It may be convenient for abortion supporters to misrepresent the facts about the abortion debate, but the public shouldn’t be duped into an artificial silence (the social peace Jean Chretien talked about) because politically, the issue is supposedly settled. It is yet another example of the ruling classes and status quo being unrepresentative of the majority view that abortion on demand is not the right policy for Canada.
And one last thought: if there is social peace on abortion – that is, that some sort of consensus exists on the issue – why are abortion supporters constantly writing columns claiming the issue is settled? If it were, there would be no need for such columns.