In our July-August issue The Interim covered the June 29 Toronto protest march of 1900 people against the Morgentaler injunction organized by the Ontario Pro-Life Clergy Council and led by Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Pearse Lacey, representing the Ontario R.C. bishops (front page). We regretfully noted that the latest task force of the Anglican Church of Canada had opted once more to defend abortions and its legalization through new legislation (page 13). We observed that Vancouver Religious Studies professor Terry Anderson and a spokesman for the United Church in Vancouver were doing the same thing as the Anglican Task Force (page 12).
The September 1989 Interim reported that the Catholic Bishops of Canada had rejected the proposed “gestational” law of the Law Reform Commission (page 2). (Gestation refers to the growth of the baby in the mother’s womb. So-called gestational laws propose to allow the killing of such babies up to a specific number – 12, 18, 24 weeks – of “gestation.”)
Another report mentioned the Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Paul Gregoire, and his denial of an “alleged right to abortion,” a right, he said, “which has never existed” (page 2). On pages 25 and 26 we presented relevant text of Pope John Paul II speaking on “life” to Italian and Mexican bishops, and to a 1989 Italian pro-life Congress. There was a further note on the American Jewish Congress. Its section in Los Angeles had objected to the statement of Archbishop Roger Mahoney that Catholic politicians “have a positive moral obligation to oppose liberal abortion laws” (p. 26).
In October The Interim covered the involvement of Catholic and Protestant laity and clergy in resisting injunctions issued on behalf of abortuaries in Toronto and Vancouver (p. 1-3). We reported the one-line objection of Canadian Catholic Bishops to Prime Minister Mulroney’s rumored “gestational” legislation (p. 3). We also printed the statement of the Ontario pro-life Clergy Council seeking full protection for the unborn (p.5).
In this issue we b ring, first of all, some more public statements. The first one is dated September 23. What is to be noted especially about this statement are the signatures of the Anglican and Presbyterian leaders who hereby join the opposition to the demand for so-called reproductive choice:
“Dear Mr. Mulroney:
“As you and your caucus explore options for a new abortion law, we want you to know that, as church leaders, we unequivocally oppose a gestational approach. We have legal advice that constitutionally the unborn child can be given legal protection at all stages of development. We urge you to take a holistic approach that respects the rights and needs of both women and unborn children. Your government must not do less than this.” “Respectfully submitted.”
The letter was signed by Archbishop James M. Hayes, president, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rev. Dr. Harold Morris, moderator, Presbyterian church in Canada; Commissioner Will Pratt, territorial commander, Salvation Army, Canada; Rev. Brian Stiller, executive-director, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, on behalf of the 23 groups, mostly Evangelical, Pentecostal and Mennonite groups, but also including Christian Reformed Churches.
On the same date the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada sent a separate letter to the Prime Minister. The text is as follows:
“Dear Prime Minister:
“The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is an association of 25 Christian denominations and many more affiliated church organizations and individuals with an estimated membership of 2.5 million Canadians.
“Out of our conviction that society has a duty to uphold and affirm the sanctity of human life at all times, we strongly urge you and your government to introduce legislation that would genuinely seek to balance the rights and needs of pregnant women and their unborn children throughout all stages of development, while providing effective support to women in need.
“We are unequivocally opposed to the introduction of any law based on the “gestational-age” approach which would differentiate levels of protection for the unborn child according to the child’s fetal development and the stage of pregnancy.
“Our deep concern for the women who may turn to abortion out of a feeling of helplessness or unawareness of alternatives in the face of unwanted pregnancies, brings us to suggest that the sanctions for doctors who perform unlawful abortions should be greater than any sanctions which may be imposed on pregnant women.
“Because each Member of Parliament will be asked to vote on legislation that has profound moral implications, we urge you to allow all government members and cabinet ministers to vote freely according to their consciences, just as they were allowed to do during the capital punishment debate.
“We trust you will sense our genuine concern for the rights and needs of everyone in any way involved in this difficult, heart-wrenching issue and that we can count on your leadership at this very critical time.
“Now is the time, Mr. Prime Minister, for you to exercise your moral leadership, and show Canadians that theirs is a nation which protects unborn human life and ensures that all persons, including mothers and their unborn children, are made welcome within it.
“You may be sure of our prayers, and our best efforts to create wide support for strong protection and support of unborn children and their families, as you endeavor to act on principles which demonstrate the sanctity of human life.”
Most cordially, signed “Brian C. Stiller” Executive Director c.c.
An earlier letter from Mr. Brian Stiller to the Prime Minister (August 4) contained the following paragraph:
“We recognize your task is not an easy one. You will be faced with conflicting demands regarding the content of abortion legislation. Nevertheless, we want you to know that in our opinion the only legislation that would be morally acceptable would be legislation that protects the unborn at all stages of gestation.”
Cardinal Carter of Toronto, too, sent a separate statement to the Prime Minister. Earlier, in May, the Cardinal had sent a letter to all the parishes of his archdiocese. Catholics, he had said, must press politicians for a new law that will “protect the right to life of the unborn child from conception to birth.”
On September 19 the Cardinal wrote the Prime Minister once more. The letter contained the following paragraphs:
“The myth has gone forth that in some way the Supreme Court of our country has decreed that a law regarding abortion would be unconstitutional. You and your legal advisors know how false is this statement. We, on our side, have consulted some of the outstanding legal minds of our country and we are assured that a law regarding abortion could well be constitutional provided it is also even handed and universal. You and your Justice Department are well equipped to frame such a law and avoid the inconsistencies that brought down its predecessor. It is not my place to tell you how to achieve this objective.
“What is my duty is to point out to you that the gestational approach is unacceptable to us…
“We are convinced that a large number of elected legislators will not support you in the gestational approach and we hope that their consciences will prove even more important than their desire for election. We would be very disappointed in your leadership if you pressured the members of your cabinet to vote for a law of this nature…”
Very devotedly yours, (signed) “G. Emmett Cardinal Carter Archbishop of Toronto.
Statement from women
A fourth statement comes from a group called “Women for a Just Life.” It is also addressed to the Prime Minister. The text follows:
“Dear Prime Minister:
“A new chapter in the history of the world is being written by today’s women. We are proud of the justice and equality that women have achieved as part of a broader social movement for human justice. We have tried to improve the quality of the economic and social welcome offered, in Canada, to women in all circumstances: Native women, immigrants and other refugees, women at home, in school, and in the workplace.
“However, the justice women have achieved will be undermined if it is bought at the price of injustice to persons conceived but not yet born. Half of those persons are unborn women. For at least this reason, abortion can never be hailed as a victory for women’s rights.
“The Parliament of Canada is laboring to bring forth a law regarding abortion. As Canadian women, we want a law that does not abandon hope, at any point, in the possibility of justice for women and men.
“Pregnancy concerns the whole person, the family, the community and society. It requires, above all, communities that care. Like poverty or racial inequality, institutionalized abortion means that the community is ‘opting out’ of caring – socially, economically, judicially and personally.
“Abortion has been common in Canada for the past twenty years. It has failed to give birth to a new and just society. Abortion has become a way of ‘restructuring women’ rather than restructuring society.
“To believe in justice is to have hope in the future.
“We are committed to a non-violent society in which the rights of all are strengthened by guaranteeing the rights of those who are most vulnerable – including those who are as yet voiceless.
“We rely on your courage and the courage of the women and men of Parliament to institute inclusive legal recognition of unborn persons and protection of their right to life.”
The letter was signed by Madame Pauline Vanier, Patron of the Vanier Institute of the Family; Jean B. Forest, D.C., Leddy, Ph.D., Catholic New Times, Toronto; Heather S. Morris, M.D., Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto; Mary Matthews, Founding President, Canadian Conference of Catholic Lay Associations, Toronto; Janet Ajzenstat, Ph.D., Sancta Maria Senior Citizens’ Home, Regina; Dr. Naomi Rosalie Bertell, GNSH, Biophysicist, Toronto; Bernadette Russel, Labor Union Executive Officer, Winnipeg; Rosemarie Wertschek Partner, McCarthy and McCarthy, Vancouver; Audrey Dorsch, Editor Faith Today, Toronto; Kathy Martha Crean, Adult Educator, Socalists/Feminists Against Nihilist Ethics, Toronto; Janet Somerville, Adult Educator/Columnist, Toronto; Kathleen M. Gow, Ph.D., Sociologist and Author; Suzanne R. Scorsone, Ph.D., Director, Office of Catholic Family Life, Archdiocese of Toronto, Toronto; Gabrielle Lachance, Sociologist, Montreal; Barbara Klich, Journalist, Toronto.
In order to better understand the significance of the statements, it is useful to make a quick comparison between the general climate of opinion today, 1989, and that of 1969, twenty years ago, abortion was legalized in Canada. The first fact which becomes clear is that among the general population secularism has grown strong and the permissive society has firmly established itself. In other words, there has been a deterioration of personal and communal morals.
Take abortion as one example. Around 1968 only one Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, pushed for abortion. Today, editorials from coast to coast are asking for the “right” to abortion.
Again, if there were two or three newspaper columnists arguing in favor of abortion in 1969, today in 1989 there are only two or three columnists who take the pro-life position. In other words, in the world of the media the pro-life position has worsened radically.
But what about the Churches?
At the beginning of September the religion editor of the Toronto Star, Michael McAteer, devoted a full page to the churches and abortion. The article was headed “Abortion: Church numbers as divided as general society is.”
One difficulty with the article is the author’s failure to distinguish church “members” from “secularized” Christians or former Christians. McAteer used polls to “show,” for example, that in Ontario “almost 60 per cent of Roman Catholics disagreed strongly or somewhat with the Church’s position that abortion is wrong under all circumstances.” This is altogether too vague to be of much use.
Perhaps more important is the false view of the situation of the article left with its reader. Its presented a static view of Christians, a group supposedly divided among themselves in the same way the news media claims the population at large is.
Static vs. Dynamic
If one has to grant that pro-abortion sentiments have grown in strength over the last 20 years, an examination will show that a similar dynamic has been at work among those opposed to abortion.
For example, at the time of Mr. McAteer’s article, that is the beginning of September 1989, there were 30 pro-lifers in prison: 18 in British Columbia and 12 in Ontario. In 1969, the notion that 20 years later pro-lifers would be in jail for testifying to the truth of their religion had not occurred to anyone, as far as I know. No doubt in 1969 there was a general apprehension among those who had opposed the new legislation, but the thought of jail for you or me, no, that was not part of it. Pro-lifers in jail are as vivid a symbol of the present state of affairs as one might wish.
It is a symbol of defeat; yet it is a symbol of strength. That’s the mystery. The image of pro-lifers in jail carries the double symbolism of the Cross of Jesus Christ Himself. The Cross is an instrument of torture and death; it is also a sign of victory. Jesus on the Cross indicates the power of sin; yet the Cross also forecasts the greater power of love which will overcome sin.
When a comparison is made between 1969 and 1989 in the position of Protestant Christians, two things stand out. There has been a shift towards clarity of thought and there has been a shit in the respective strength of the Churches.
In 1967 three Churches took a stand in favor of legalized abortion which they presented to the combined Senate-House of Commons Standing Committee hearings on abortion: the United Church, the Anglicans and the Presbyterian. All other Protestant communities were silent.
The same three communities which approved abortion in 1966 and 1967 still do so today. But their influence in English-speaking society relative to the other faith communities has changed greatly. Along with abortion, these churches also embraced much of the other permissiveness prevalent in society. As a consequence, their position of influence has shrunk in various ways, through a steady attrition of members, through internal divisions and through loss of respect in the eyes of society at large, even though that society is itself marked by sexual and marital permissiveness.
On the other hand, those churches which, after an initial confusion, avoided the pitfalls of all-out accommodation to society and continued to look to traditional moral standards, have gained members of influence. In other words there has been a shift in strength.
There has also been a shift in clarity of thought. A number of Protestant denominations which had been silent in the sixties because they were unsure of themselves have come to oppose abortion and other elements of the permissive society with increasing vigor. The statement of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is proof of such a development.
Meanwhile, other Protestant groups, too, have come to share the fight against abortion with increasing vigor, especially the smaller denominations, in 1988 the Canadian Baptist Federation (1150 congregations and 130,000 members) expressed major concerns about the absence of abortion legislation in Canada. In 1988 its Atlantic Convention (65,000 members) declared that no abortions should be done in Canada except to save the life of the expectant mother. (Times Transcript, February 25, 1988). The Ontario and Quebec conventions took a similar stand.
The Lutheran Church of Canada, which follows the leadership of the Missouri Synod in the United States, rejects abortion outright. On the other hand, the more “liberal” newly formed (1986) Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada still accepts abortion in principle. An “interim” statement on abortion arrives at in Saskatoon in July of this year is much like statements of Anglican taskforces, which speak about “the sanctity of life” but condone abortions nevertheless. Still the trend here, as elsewhere, is definitely away from previous public pro-abortion stands.
The same development can be noted among Anglicans and Presbyterians – more and more members and congregations bucking what many see as “left of centre” bureaucracies which have dominated policy making for years. One hopes that the above Anglican signature to the statement sent to the Prime Minister betokens a further awareness of the unacceptability of abortion.