There are many reasons why the content of Bill 163, the so-called “Safe Access to Abortion Services Act” and its passage through the Ontario legislature are lamentable. I could go on and on, as many have about the restriction of free speech, the absolute and intentional mischaracterization of pro-lifers, the harms that will result to both women and their unborn children, the Progressive Conservative Party’s insistence on fast-tracking the bill. Most gut-wrenching of all, in my opinion, were the vote counts.
Trillium MPP Jack MacLaren was the sole MPP to oppose the bill. He alone stood against this assault on our fundamental freedoms and thank God that at least somebody had the guts to look in the face of evil and say “nay.” Where were the other supposedly social conservative MPPs? Where was Monte McNaughton? Sam Oosterhoff? Off making themselves look busy. Some, like Rick Nicholls and Jeff Yurek, even voted for the bill on its second reading.
I am not naïve. I know that these politicians did not simultaneously come to the belief that, “Hey, maybe Linda Gibbons and company really do pose a threat to women, and we best allow this bill to pass without much protest.” I know that their decisions to be absent for the final vote were made because of party pressure, and relatedly, media pressure.
But when I think of having to potentially move our protest 50 to 150 metres away from the abortion facility, when I think of the father who once thanked us for saving his son’s life, and wonder about the families who won’t get that last chance to make a different decision, when I think about the creeping censorship and the subtle sense of suffocation, I also know that that the usual political excuses are not good enough.
I am not naïve. I know that there are not enough pro-life or pro-free speech MPPs to prevent the bill from passing. But perhaps instead of one MPP standing up, there could have been two. And the physical statement of standing up — communicating “this is wrong” — would have been twice as loud. Or perhaps there would be three MPPs. Or four. And if more people got kicked out of the PC party, even better. Because at least then, something would have happened. Bill 163 would not have passed lazily, with hardly the bat of an eye, like a bill designating heritage months or improving road safety. At least then, some people would have fought. At least then, a personal cost would have, in some way, been paid in acknowledgement of the cost this bill will have. Many will suffer, but at least, in our small way, we will suffer too.
The pragmatist might respond that this suffering would be useless. In their perspective, it may be far better for the pro-lifers in the PC party to bear out Patrick Brown’s heavy-handed discipline and not risk their seats. After all, we don’t want Kathleen Wynne as premier for another four years, do we? Or a PC party in power, but devoid of any pro-life influence?
I think it is apparent that I prefer principles over pragmatism. That said, I recognize that we principled pro-lifers and pragmatic pro-lifers have a common goal that we should work towards together. But in this case, I am at loss at how a pro-lifer could think that these politicians’ silence on Bill 163 could be justifiable, even on pragmatic grounds.
If the PC party will not allow a free vote on what is ultimately more of a free speech issue than anything, then there is nothing left in the party worth saving. It might as well be the Liberal Party. Furthermore, the maintenance of a pro-life foothold in the party carries a price too heavy. This bill does not merely promote abortion; it significantly curbs efforts of pro-lifers to minimize the casualties. It undermines our democratic rights on the basis of a fabrication that pro-lifers harass women.
This was the hill to die on. I am sorry, guys, but you missed it. By all means, die on the next one, or the one after that, but each one is only going to be the “next best one.”
My message to the pragmatists among the readers: If your hopes for tomorrow lead you to condone the harms done today, even just through your silence, your hopes will never be realized, and further, you will have failed both this generation and subsequent ones. We are called to do the right thing. The rest of it is in God’s hands. So nobody, especially not Patrick Brown, should stop us from doing so.