The only one of our major political parties which has no qualms about supporting abortion on demand is the NDP. In his regular column, which is syndicated across Canada, Gerald Caplan sticks religiously to the party line. Since he is the former national secretary of the NDP, he surely reveals what passes for considered reflection on abortion within the party’s ranks.
On March 20, he described the guidelines he would favour for a new abortion policy. A week later, he mounted a vicious attack on the pro-life movement – “a small yet influential minority” which continues to work tenaciously to impose its dogmas on the nation.”
A good attack, it seems, is the best defense. Caplan simply assumes that abortion is normal and acceptable in any civilized society, and that the only people opposed to it are fanatical extremists. The limited, tiresome, repetitious vocabulary of abuse which pro-abortionists have already at all times, he seems to feel, will be perfectly satisfactory; there is no need for reasoned arguments.
Naturally he describes right-to-life as right-wing zealots and religious fundamentalists – in fact, “consumed by religion” – who lack compassion for women and deny them free choice. Naturally they are living in the past. Naturally they cannot cope with a world in which women are treated as equals.
One faction he writes, adds a paranoia, anti-communism to its pantheon of right-wing causes, another is “freaked out” by homosexuality. Anyone who has reservations about some of the planks in the NDP platform, it quickly becomes apparent, lacks good sense, lacks concern for the disadvantaged, and is cut off from the mainstream of Canadian life.
One of the familiar charges which he makes is that pro-life people are more worried about the child in the womb than about the mother; they are “apparently pro-life mainly for the unborn.”
“They seem remarkably indifferent,” Caplan says, “to the needs of women bearing those fetuses and of the mother and her child after birth.”
Can he find any evidence to support such a sweeping generalization? He hardly needs any; it is simply an accusation which the pro-abortion side repeats again and again, in a mindless way. Somehow or other none of them seem to have heard about Birthright or Pregnancy Distress Centres, organizations dedicated to helping women, or of the many family organizations organized by pro-life supporters in the last few years.
For another stereotype, the so-called violent behaviour of picketers at abortion clinics, he relies on the caricatures produced by Morgentaler supporter June Callwood. Some of the anti-choice people, he says, play tough. In the United States their extremism has led them to firebomb clinics. In Canada, their ferocity is mostly rhetorical: “They rejoice in bellicose language; baby murderer, killer, Nazi – although June Callwood, he adds, has revealed that the handyman at the Morgentaler clinic has for three years ‘suffered beatings, threats to his life, and other atrocities.” Because of his own prejudices, he ignores the obvious slanting of the Callwood article and treats it as the Gospel truth.
His recommendations for a new abortion policy are spoiled from the outset by his misunderstanding of what the Supreme Court actually said. Here is his interpretation:
“The essence of the court’s decision is that abortion is a matter of private conscience in the earlier months of pregnancy but a more complex question as the fetus matures. Canadians who favour some constraints on abortion must now recognize the court’s unequivocal view on unrestricted early abortions.”
This is a common misreading of the majority judgments. Morgentaler himself called the decision “an unequivocal declaration by the Supreme Court that women have a right to abortion.” Allan Hutchinson (himself a supporter of abortion), corrected him in a Globe and Mail column; what the decision says in fact, he wrote, is that “the present arrangements do not meet the standards laid down under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – although similar arrangements might well achieve constitutional acceptability.”
The court was equivocal. Mme. Justice Wilson argued that abortion is a woman’s right under the Charter, but however close the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Beetz came to implying this they did not say it.
Objections could be made to most of the points Caplan raises in his discussion but one deserves special attention. “The decision to abort,” he writes, “is invariably agonizing. That’s why no more than one-half of the one per cent of abortions over the past 20 years were ever performed after 20 weeks, and almost all were due to the unavailability of earlier access, to life-threatening pregnancies or to grave fetal problems.”
How does he know? He cannot know, for example, that the decision is invariably agonizing. It was not agonizing enough for the tennis star who had an abortion so that she could enter still one more tennis tournament, or for the woman who went into the Morgentaler clinic because continuation of her pregnancy would interfere with some modeling assignments.
How about his “life threatening pregnancies?” Dr. Carmelo Scime, Past President of Physicians for Life, has stated unequivocally that there are no medical indications for abortion in 1988. Dr. Dennis Xuereb added that in 15 years practice as an obstetrician he had never encountered a situation in which abortion was necessary. The pro-abortion movement keeps on emphasizing the mother-versus-the-child dilemma as though the advance of medical science had not rendered it obsolete.
Caplan speaks about “grave fetal problems.” When does a problem justify an abortion? Either you accept the principle that all human life is worthy of protection or you do not; if you do, you are unwilling to terminate the life of an unborn baby, even if deformity is suspected. Does the NDP regard the handicapped as society’s outcasts? Does it want to argue that only the perfect designer baby for the perfectly modern and upwardly mobile couple should be allowed to be born?
When we turn back to Caplan’s reference to the pro-life movement working “to impose its dogmas on the nation,” we begin to wonder at his lack of self-awareness. He makes one strongly affirmative statement after another:
“Abortion must never again be part of the Criminal Code. The proper response to later abortions is neither criminalization nor further restrictions. Unequal access remains one of Canada’s great moral scandals.
All of these statements are dogmatic. Who ever heard of an un-dogmatic socialist anyway? Caplan is doing precisely what he accuses the pro-life movement of doing. He is arguing for the acceptance of his own dogmatic principles by the whole of Canadian society.
Is he imposing? As much and as little as the pro-life movement. He is simply using the term incorrectly. Neither he nor the pro-life side has the power of authority to impose anything. Again, he is simply employing the word as a commonplace expression of abuse, used thoughtlessly by people like himself. If the pro-lifers are trying to “impose” respect for all life, he himself is trying to “impose” abortion, easy divorce, universal day care, and special privileges for homosexuals – the whole package of absolutist positions recommended by the NDP.
One further common error deserves special comment. Caplan is staggered by the fact that many anti-abortionists oppose contraception; REAL Women “cruelly lobbies against funding for Planned Parenthood.” Like many other people, he assumes that the way to cut down the number of abortions is to increase sex education and the availability of contraceptives. Against the facts, such arguments are of little account. Sweden, which pioneered in sex education, has as high an abortion rate as Canada.
In a recent Human Life International bulletin, Father Paul Marx writes that “the more you sow contraception, the more you reap sexual sins, family and social disorders, venereal diseases and deadly AIDS – and the more you must make available ‘abortion services’ to take care of the ‘contraceptive failures.’” Is this only another right-wing zealot and religious fundamentalist speaking? He finds support form unexpected sources.
Those promoting the use of prophylactics, Father Marx continues, “should listen to the world’s foremost abortion proponent, Dr. Malcolm Potts of PP (Planned Parenthood): ‘as people turn to contraception, there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rates.’” He also quotes Dr. Judith Bury, a British abortionists, who admits that “There is overwhelming evidence that contrary to what you might expect, the provision of contraception leads to an increase in the abortion rate.”
The main question which these columns raise is why such heavily –slanted material appears in so many newspapers. When an editor reads statements like “Their twisted propaganda dishonestly insinuates an epidemic of abortion of fully formed babies,” is he not tempted to say, “Sounds like twisted propaganda itself. Do you have the evidence to back it up?
Everyone expects Gerald Caplan to act as a propagandist for the NDP view on many issues, including abortion. Surely it is the responsibility of the newspaper, however, to ensure that what it prints remains on the level of civilized argument about a controversial topic, instead of reflecting personal venom and the bitterness coming from disappointed hopes.