Sabina McLuhan deserves a symbolic Valentine from The Interim staff and its readers. She is leaving her position of the last four years as editor of the newspaper. She will remain a contributing editor, however, writing her monthly column and other articles from home.
Sabina’s first calling as a mother summons her. She is leaving her demanding and time-consuming post to spend more time with her three children who are now approaching adolescence. As the newspaper has grown, so has the time she has had to devote to its operation.
While reminiscing about the beginning of The Interim, launched in March 1983, Sabina stated that she was “part of the scheme to initiate a national pro-life newspaper in Canada that would be independently supported, editorially and financially.” She wrote a column in the first issue, and soon became a part-time contribution editor. In March 1985, she became editor – assuming full-time work at a very modest salary – a position she reluctantly accepted at the urging of her co-workers. Sabina recalled, “I knew nothing about publishing a newspaper, so I had to learn quickly and over the years I learned so much.” In fact, like so many other bright, resourceful and dedicated women in the pro-life movement, Sabina “learned on the job.” The challenges, demands, frustrations and risks were yet to come – there were many.
Early in her position, Mrs. McLuhan realized that The Interim would have to change its format from that of a “cozy newsletter to something people would pay attention to.” This change involved overseeing several major editorial board decisions: to publish more original articles instead of recycled reprints; to fill the gap in reporting Canadian pro-life news and events; to expand reporting, advertising and editorial staff; to cover family aspects of pro-life issues; and to implement word processor and computer technology in the operation of the paper.
A major expansion program became possible, Sabina believes, when knowledgeable advertising manager Jean Pakenham arrived in 1986 and introduced the newspaper to paid advertising (a move that eased constant financial stress and provided a new opportunity to expand coverage of family issues). Sabina believes that she influenced this new broader approach to reporting because of her personal concern over the prevailing feminist views, which constantly attacked and denigrated pro-life and pro-family attitudes.
Jim Hughes, President of Campaign Life Coalition and a founder of The Interim agrees. He says, “Sabina brought a woman’s perspective to the newspaper in the mid-eighties, at a time when feminist issues were pervasive and confusing to many pro-life people. She attempted to clarify and explain this confusion and to point out blatant fallacies.” As well, he observes that she was sensitive to the fears and needs of readers and attempted to respond to these by explaining the consequences of abortion, and the different problems faced by women who do not abort, such as those of the single, pregnant woman (their housing and day-care problems), or other difficulties such as post-abortion syndrome, a recently recognized psychological disorder.
Sabina, as editor, had the task of analyzing and reporting, clearly and simply, conflicting issues or situations to the reader without compromising the facts. For example, the series she did on “AIDS Education in Public and Separate Schools: in 1987, resulted in an enthusiastic reader response. A year later, mothers are still calling the office for information on the subject. Surprised and pleased, she had discovered that often readers collect copies of the newspaper to use as references on controversial subjects. She is also proud of The Interim’s growth in circulation from 3,000 copies in 1983 to 34,000 in 1988.
She attributed this growth to a team effort of the staff and says the newspaper is read now from coast to coast in Canada. For example, a few years ago, American pro-life activist Joan Andrews read it while imprisoned in an American jail. Recently, while in Toronto, Miss Andrews stated it was the best pro-life paper in North America.
Again, as editor Sabina McLuhan had to face another difficult challenge when The Interim decided to cover the condom crusade. This led to an article on the teen shelter, Covenant House, operated by the Archdiocese of Toronto. The story had originally received mention in a Toronto daily, yet when The Interim investigated the facts more fully; the roof seemed to cave in.
“Of the events,” she says, “a large number of people supported us. But also quite a few assumed we were liars. It was like shooting the messenger who brought the news. Instead of questioning what we reported, certain people questioned our motives. We’re still dealing with the fallout. “Sitting in the hot seat, Sabina courageously took the heat which still lingers today.
As editor, Sabina describes her personal standards by saying: “Past a point I will not go.” She explains that The Interim sticks to the facts. “Unfortunately, issues that are analyzed and criticized are often misconstrued by critics as personal vendettas.” For example, the government’s response to the Supreme Court decision of January 28, 1988, which struck down the existing abortion law, was to propose three possible amendments, of which Amendment “A” was most similar to the previous law. This choice would have resulted in a loose abortion law, unacceptable to most pro-lifers. The Interim joined Campaign Life Coalition in rejecting it, with the result that some readers were dismayed. They believed it to be the only possible choice. a no-win situation.
Father Alphonse de Valk, associate editor of the paper and a long-time co-worker and supporter of Sabina says: “Sabina’s contribution or legacy is that she built the paper through four crucial years, strengthening its content, making it a truly news worthy paper right across Canada. We’ve known for a long time that the pro-life movement counts many capable women among its members and Sabina exemplifies the sacrifices pro-lifers need to make in order to continue to make an impact on society. She came out of the ranks and very capably filled this demanding job for as long as she could.”
Mrs. McLuhan will be missed, too, by her fellow scribe Fr. Ted Colleton says, “I found Sabina not only a very intelligent young woman but also a very human and caring person. It will be difficult to replace her as the editor of a controversial newspaper because the job is so important. However, as The Interim is a pro-life and pro-family newspaper, we cannot fault her reason for leaving to spend more time with her three young children.”
And so to the first woman editor of The Interim, a courageous lady with a generous heart, a symbolic Valentine and heartfelt thanks.