James McGettigan

Dr. James (Jim) McGettigan, a long-time pro-life activist who served as president of the Saskatchewan Coalition for the Protection of Human Life in the 1970s and Campaign Life Coalition Saskatchewan in the 1980s, passed away Nov. 20.

As Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes recalls, McGettigan, who also served on the provincial and national boards of CLC, he was a man he knew for more than a quarter of a century as “a key member of the pro-life movement in Saskatchewan and a consummate pro-lifer.” Hughes told The Interim, “as a medical doctor he knew the scientific and medical facts of abortion and as a faithful Irish Catholic, he knew the moral arguments, too.” Hughes said McGettigan “did a lot of everything and knew everything” and was thus “critically important to developing and executing pro-life strategies in that province.”

McGettigan was impatient with pro-life politicians, demanding that they act on their convictions. In 1982, he told the Western Catholic Reporter that Progressive Conservative strategists told him that CLC Saskatchewan, of which he was then president, played an influential role in defeating the NDP government. Though most candidates were not “shouting it from the rooftops” the abortion issue had an effect “at the grassroots level.”

Yet, the next year he called upon the pro-life PC premier Grant Devine to put an end to about 1,500 abortions committed in Saskatchewan annually. After the government said the issue was “being studied” McGettigan said the government needed to act or CLC Saskatchewan would “be forced to the sorrowful conclusion that the unborn were merely political pawns in the hands of the Tories in order to gain political power.”

In 1988, after the Supreme Court ruled therapeutic abortion committees unconstitutional but said Parliament could come up with a new abortion law, McGettigan organized a protest in front of federal justice minister Ray Hnatyshyn’s Saskatoon riding office and told the crowd of 400 that they had to appeal to provincial and federal elected officials and “tell them that you, and the majority of people in this province and nation, will not stand for anything but equal rights for the unborn – the basic right: the right to life.”

In 1990, CLC Saskatchewan and Saskatoon Pro-Life Inc., called upon the provincial government to clarify restrictions on abortion funding. In 1991, though, he had concerns with the wording of the province’s non-binding plebiscite to determine whether voters wanted to continue funding abortion; it passed with 66 per cent of voters supporting it, but the NDP government, which replaced Devine’s PCs, ignored the result.

Also, in 1990, McGettigan, a general practitioner, said he hoped to bring civil charges against fellow doctors who committed abortions if the Mulroney abortion law, which the government claimed limited abortion, was passed. McGettigan said he doubted he would necessarily be successful but that doctors not wanting to be away from their medical practices would stop doing abortions in order to avoid spending time in the courtroom. “If I can save one child’s life,” he said, “it’s worth it.”

Yet, he opposed the Mulroney abortion bill, saying that it would not restrict abortion, stating, “We cannot support anything less than complete legal protection for the unborn child from the moment of conception.” In the end, the Mulroney government never passed an abortion bill.

McGettigan was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1931, married his wife Claire in 1961, and moved to Canada in 1965 after becoming a medical doctor.  He have two sons, John and Cormac, and a daughter, Kathryn.

Cecilia Forsyth, national president of REAL Women and former head of Saskatoon Pro-Life, said “Those Irish doctors were such strong supporters of pro-life. They were solid and they did not back away.”

Denise Hounjet-Roth, president of CLC Saskatchewan, said in a letter to supporters, “Dr. Jim McGettigan served the pro-life community for many years and we will miss him greatly.”

Hughes said Jim and Claire McGettigan were “solid in their support of pro-life,” and also great people to spend time with. He remembers a time in the 1980s he stayed overnight at their Saskatoon home during a speaking tour. Claire made a “an Irish breakfast so big a team of lumberjacks would be needed to finish it.” Hughes said, “they were a joy to work with and a joy to know.”