The media will give pro-lifers a fair shake if they just produce better press releases, try to understand the difficulties, under which the average reporter works, don’t lie, and assume that news people are honest and reasonable unless proven otherwise.
So runs an article in the August/September 1989 issue of About Issues, the American Life League’s excellent magazine as reported by Arthur Brew in the American weekly The Wanderer (October 4, 1989).
Brew points out that the situation isn’t quite that simple. For one, media decision-makers differ radically from the religious norm of the general public: Over 90 per cent of them have no church ties at all and are ideological deeply committed to secularism.
Almost all pro-lifers, on the other hand, are practicing Christians.
During most of the year The Interim has regularly analyzed media prejudice. In the September Interim (pages 22-23) in the article “Media blankets the country with pro-abortion bias,” pages 22 and 23, I mentioned in passing as one source for such prejudice the more than 40 columnists from coast to coast who write for the larger dailies. Sensitive pro-lifers with weak hearts do well never to read them. Their antagonistic and sometimes hateful comments easily makes one’s blood boil.
Yet, there is some value in submitting these columns to closer inspection, if for no other reason than that the known is less frightening than the unknown. The following article summarizes the position of the 16 columnists drawn in alphabetical order from a stock of columns the months of July and August, 1989. The reader should realize that he summaries make these columns look much less infuriating than they usually are. There is a brief evaluation at the end.
Doris Anderson, is a weekly columnist for the Toronto Star. She returned to Canada in August from a summer sojourn in Europe only to explode with anger, as would one of Canada’s foremost feminist pro-abortionists. (In 1959 she was the first Canadian to propose the legalization of abortion when she was the editor of Chatelaine magazine.) “Reading about the Chantal Daigle and Barbara Dodd cases after spending three months in Europe,” she wrote on September 2, “is like dropping back into a nightmare.” “What is almost entirely missing in Europe is the fanatical frenzy that fuels the North American anti-choice forces to picket and harass, burn and bomb.”
The abortion issue is almost dead in Europe, she declared, except where the Catholic Church continues to spin her intrigues. “Are North American anti-choice marchers more humane than Europeans and the rest of us?” she asked. But surely this can’t be true when we witness all the daily violence. What, she concluded, can possibly motivate the “anti-choice forces?” Answer: “What really drives them into spasms of rage is not love of life at all, but control over independent, able to make their own decisions women who don’t happen to share their particular religion or opinions.”
Barbara Amiel writes for Maclean’s, and the Toronto Sun of which she used to be editor before moving to England. Amiel now regrets that pursuing a career made her marry to late to have children.
Unlike Anderson she “doesn’t much” like the idea of abortion. Nevertheless she “wouldn’t recommend abolishing it,” she writes on July 9, because she is afraid of sending women off to back room doctors. However, she says, “We should stop the fiction that the fetus is simply an extension of the mother, like a kidney or a tooth.”
Amiel also believes that serious counseling should be a requirement before a decision is made and that the woman’s control over her body theory has gone too far to the point of excluding the father altogether. The “spirit of liberalism and regard for the individual should be on the side of life,” she concludes.
Lise Bissonnette comments on Quebec affairs in the Globe every Saturday. On August 5th she offered the opinion that “pro-choice” was sure of a moral victory, because the public has ruled for Chantal: “having lost in provincial courts, Ms. Daigle is winning overwhelmingly in the court of public opinion.”
Bissonette recalled with pride the great “victories” won by the “Quebec feminists movements,” especially by “the powerful Coalition for Free Abortion—an umbrella organization for feminist groups and a large part of the union movement-(which) gained the right for public community clinics to perform abortions.” But the recent Quebec Court of Appeal ruling, she noted, is a reminder that “they cannot so easily dismiss the authoritative (authoritarian?) trends that remain from Quebec’s recent past.”
Christie Blatchford writes for the Toronto Sun, often on sexual trivia. She used to refer to her live-in companion, as “the other significant self,” but now that they are married she calls him “the boy.” Her column on July 9 was headed: “U.S. caves in to zealots on abortion.” After the July 3 Supreme Court decision, she said, “America the Beautiful didn’t seem so appealing anymore.” If Canada is to follow suit, she warns “this country will also lose a lot of its appeal to me.”
The whole debate seemed scary to Blatchford, because it death with absolutes. What did she think of the pro-lifers? “No group I have ever met in my lifetime have members as smug, as self-righteous as sure they have a direct pipeline to God and to absolute morality than the hard line anti-abortionists.” The columnist did express some qualms about describing abortion as a “right” or as “simply another surgical procedure.” But stated Blatchford: I am “a damn sight more offended” at the thought of being denied access to abortion because the fetus’ rights supersede mine.”
As for the anti-abortionists, seeing that they won’t go away, it is to be wished that Canadian courts and governments will stand more firm against their “shrill tactics” than the U.S. Supreme Court did.
June Callwood is a long time supporter of Henry Morgentaler. At present Callwood is a weekly columnist for the Globe. She devoted her column of July 26 to various observations. Canada she thought has a tradition of compromise. The wonders of neonatalogy made it possible for “scraps of humanity” to survive after 20 weeks or so, but as for “fanatical fringe of the right to life movement, clearly there was no use talking to them because no halfway position was acceptable to them.”
But, Callwood thought, healers on both sides could find common ground. Begin by urging mutual respect and acknowledging one another’s decency of purpose. That done, do the following: “Start a massive birth control program with condom dispensing machines in high schools and public washrooms as a first step; oblige men to wear condoms unless both partners wish to have babies; despite good intentions, reject adoption as a solution (it is too painful for women); institute new measures for subsidized day care, family support and housing. And then, with all these measures in place, acknowledge that the option of abortion is still needed.”
Gerald Caplan is a former national secretary of the NDP. Today he is public affairs commentator in Toronto. His column of July 16 (Toronto Star) was devoted to venting his rage at those who had “victimized” Barbara Dodd. Writing just after Dodd had been given the green light to have her abortion, but before she announced her regrets at having one through with it, Caplan blamed the “spurned boyfriend” and a judge for having the power to conspire to violate her.” He attacked “the anti-choice zealots who cared more for an unseen, unknown, three month old fetus than for the plight of a living, breathing vulnerable woman.” These people, he noted have now “already begun to torment, intimidate and harass new victims.”
According to Caplan, there is no vacuum in the laws of this land. After all, in January 1988 Chief Justice Dickson wrote that “forcing a woman—to carry a fetus to term…is a profound interference with a woman’s body.” And just a week before the date of his column, Mr. Justice Hirschfield of Winnipeg had ruled that a woman has “absolute control over her body and the right to have an abortion.”
Compared to these authorities, Caplan stated (quoting from CARAL supporters) what was Judge O’Driscoll’s injunction but “judicial terrorism,” and “the warped judgement” of “his avowed anti-choice prejudice of two decades ago.”
Joan Cohen, is Ottawa editor for the Winnipeg Free Press. In her July 23 column she regretted that the calm of the previous 18 months had been shattered because, just like Quebec sine 1976, Canada had come to regard abortion as a private matter between a woman and her doctor. Now that injunctions and the question of fetus’ rights have shattered the idea that the country can do without any law, she observed, Mulroney must get a law on the books as quickly as possible.
The best way is to follow the wise advice of Mr. Justice Bertha Wilson to have no restrictions on early abortions and some restrictions later on, he wrote. Unfortunately, the votes of July 1988 have shown that Parliament is not representative of the majority view in this case. Hence the government “needs to assert leadership over its own backbenchers” because to leave MPs to vote according to their consciences means that they will choose to impose their own (moral) codes on others.”
Ron Collister of the Edmonton Sun shared Joan Cohen’s views. “Let’s forget a free vote,” he stated on August 1. An all-party committee should be put to work to produce a compromise. Extremist views should not be accepted. If that fails, the PC’s should go it alone and find a consensus. After all, two of every three MPs favour some restrictions.
What should the consensus be? Easy abortions in the early months; a prohibition later in pregnancy.
One week later, on August 9, Collister chided the feminists for claiming that men are to blame. This is not an issue of men forcing their dominance on women, he declared, nor just a question of women’s rights alone. Meanwhile “laws are rapidly evolving.” And “we may finally end up with laws that make sense” (presumably those described in his earlier article).
Gwynne Dyer writes mostly on military and foreign affairs. His columns appear on and off in various papers. In mid August he jumped in on abortion controversy, apparently feeling the need to restate the case for secularism.
He summed up his theme, in the very first paragraph namely that “the sanctity of human life is a very good idea, but it is only our own self-serving invention. Human life is no more sacred than we collectively agree it should be, whether at the beginning, in the middle or at the end: abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia are all, in practice, negotiable subjects.”
In passing, Dyer slammed the Catholic Church in Poland which, he said, had “almost which, he said had “almost sabotaged” the recent unseating of the communist government “ by demanding that abortion be banned in Poland.” Religious people have no right to impose their views, he asserted, and concluded that the “rights of the unborn” will never command a broad consensus because “such ‘rights’ are far too hypothetical, too loosely defined, and above too remote from the rights of the living.” (Toronto Star, Moncton Transcript-Times, August 17).
Douglas Fisher’s column appears in a variety of papers. He is one of Canada’s senior political Ottawa commentators feels he is a sensible, pragmatic, moderate person. As a long-time observer of political affairs he is confident he has the pulse of the nation, knows what’s going on and understands that most MPs feeling are like his own, namely that of “a moderate, pro-choice advocate.”
Looking back 30 years, he concludes that it is unlikely there will be a new abortion law, that “antiabortion zealots” like Scarborough West MP Tom Wappel will go the way of “anachromisms” such as the “Joe Borowskis,” and that in ten years time or so “pro-choice” will be the reality of the day. (Toronto Sun, July 21).
Allen Fotheringham, like Fisher, is another dean of Canadian journalists. He writes a weekly column for MacLean’s while doling pearls of wisdom elsewhere whenever the occasion presents itself.
In the Financial Post of July 31 explains what the abortion controversy is all about: “Men control the political system and men control the courts.” These men “don’t know how to make decisions.” But “the legal system is ruled by men, and men, who have traditionally regarded women as property, feel that the state in effect “owns Chantal Daigle’s body…” Explains Fotheringham: “The whole thrust of the feminist movement when it burst upon surprised men 20 years was a rebellion against the concept of women as “property.” The “growing rage of women in the streets is quite justified and will grow.”
The same Financial Post of July 31 carried John Godfrey’s column, “Nation’s Business.”
Until the recent uproar about Chantal Daigle, Godfrey thought, “the abortion system was probably functioning more fairly without a law than it had formerly with one.” The Quebec Appeal Court’s decision to deny Daigle’s right to have an abortion, he continued, has “outraged” and “radicalized” women “who had previously considered themselves political and social moderates.”
The country, he felt, is in danger of “falling into a state of anarchy” and that’s “where the argument for a free vote on abortion breaks down.” Governments exist to govern and introduce a “compromise law…allowing a woman free choice on abortion for the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy.” Yet, unfortunately both Conservatives and Liberals are divided in this “whole sad and messy debate.”
William Gold, whose column for the Calgary Herald (July 20) also appeared in the Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Citizen, is another political pragmatist. He thought the Prime Minister’s delays and obfuscations were just what Canada needed. “Mulroney is smart, not stupid, to keep on ducking. He is wise, not cowardly, to let the pro-and anti-abortion passions roil on the street.” He “knows that neither view will prevail. He knows that eventually there will have to be a compromise.”
Like almost every one of his colleagues, Mr. Gold believed that the “compromise” will consist of “free abortion access up to 22 weeks and much more limited access thereafter.” Those who do accept this, represent “moral totalitarianism to be rejected complete with ugly fascism of the soul.”
Ellen Goodman, is an American whose columns appear regularly in the Canadian Jewish News and irregularly in the Edmonton Journal, as on August 19. She is ardently pro-abortion and deeply concerned to keep feminists on the right track.
This, she told her readers, was achieved at the National Women’s Political Caucus in St. Paul, Minn., in early August, when the women decided not to go for a third party consisting of themselves. Instead “leaders devised a strategy targeted to recruit and support pro-choice women to defeat anti-abortion legislators in 10 key states.”
Goodman quoted feminist Bella Abzug, a founding mother of the Caucus as saying that abortion is the Vietnam of this generation.” It’s “an issue that has the power to create a new cohort of activists.” With new infusions of money, energy and commitment of everyone at the meeting agreed that the battle for the right to abortion was “revitalizing” the feminist movement.
Laurence Graftstein is a Trudeau-appointed Senator and columnist for the Toronto Sun. Like Anderson, Callwood and Caplan, he doesn’t hesitate to malign pro-lifers. In discussing the Dodd and Daigle cases in his August 3 column he stated the following:
“If pro-lifers were true to their principles (of considering any woman who has had an abortion a criminal), they’d be condemning Dodd as a repeat offender. Instead they hail her as a hero because of her PR value, happily ignoring her conduct.”
Again, “few pro-lifers even start to address the connection between single women and poverty in this country. Quoting a phrase from U.S. congressman Barney Frank, (Editor: Frank was recently found to be involved in a shocking homosexual scandal) he added, “many conservatives believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.”
Just for good measure Grafstein added: “many (pro-lifers) have a lot to say about society’s right to salvage fetuses but little to say about society’s duty to salvage children.” This column, like Dyer’s also included what was supposed to be scoffing denunciation of Catholicism but which, in fact does the Church honor. Stated Grafstein: “It’s not far-fetched to imagine abortion being illegal in Quebec everywhere else. A future Quebec government might argue that the province’s Catholicism and the need to encourage a high francophone birthrate are key features of a “distinct society.”
“Wish it were true,” one might say, knowing something more about the “state of Catholicism” in Quebec than the senator.
Michael Gratton, writes for the Sun papers, mostly the Ottawa Sun. He is a former Mulroney public relations person.
On July 9 he observed “it is just one of those moral issues that has two rabidly devoted extreme and irreconcilable sides to it that intends to fight it out until hell freezes over.”
How can you ever hope to bring together people who think abortion amounts to murdering children, and others who see it as a mere formality? The government was to blame for the chaos he thought for doing nothing. “The Pope would be pleased” was Gratton’s heading for his July 21 column which briefly discussed the career of Judge Jacques Viens. Viens Gratton told his readers rather breathlessly was “Church warden from 1978-1981,” and “only the best parishioners and staunchest of Roman Catholics become church wardens. And of course abortion goes against Catholic beliefs.”
Jeff Greenfield is another of the many Sun columnists. On August 9, he wrote from New York, commenting on the American scene where “the pro-abortion forces will move headlong into the political arena.”
Said Greenfield: “I find myself wondering whether the emergence of abortion as a major of abortion as a major issue will, in the long run, really help Democrats as much as the pro-abortion activists suggest it will.” (The sensitive reader will have picked up right away that Greenfield speaks of “pro-abortionists,” not of “pro-choice,” as most newspapers do.)
Greenfield takes the position that abortion “is a right usually exercised… in necessity and sorrow; a right to be acknowledged, protected but not celebrated.” “Almost everyone,” he states, “believes that a fetus is a potential human life.” Thus, “abortion is a right substantially different from other … rights.” In fact, opponents (who are in the minority) deny it to be a right at all and call it murder. “The intensity of that belief has thus made up for the greater numbers on the side of the troubled uncertain majority.”
Greenfield concludes that “as a general political proposition, people do not…organize for a cause that deep down inside troubles them.” Meanwhile, “I cannot help believing that the issue has the capacity to confound confuse politicians and movements on all sides of the question.”
- Although all sixteen journalists “accept” abortion the degrees of commitment range from total support to questioning specific features. With two writers in particular.
- Nobody mentions the extinguishing of 80 000- 90 000 human lives a year.
- Philosophical or religious truth is never explicitly mentioned or discussed, nor are the consequences of pursuing false solutions for law and politics. Most media people are now far removed from believing in objective moral standards.
- Despite their professed horror at seeing the private lives of women publicly exposed in court, abortion for these writers remains an abstract concept. Neither personal tragedies, nor future demographic effects on taxation, immigration and the economy nor abortion’s ever increasing family and sexual violence seems to have any impact on their thinking.
- Most of them believe themselves to be “moderates” and pro-lifers “fanatics.”
- The use of the term “compromise” for pro-abortion legislation is a deliberate cover up and deceit, yet used by these writers without a qualm of thought.