For four days Halifax newspapers carried Morgentaler’s portrait and story on their front pages: his anticipated coming, the events in Winnipeg, his arrival, his message.
On Friday, March 22, the Mail-Star staff reported that pro-life groups in the area were “threatening” large demonstrations to protest the abortionist’s presence. Jim Christian of the group, Christians for Life, expressed the hope that “such opposition will be silent, will be prayerful.”
Rusty James, vice-president of Dalhousie Student Union, was quoted by the paper as saying that “the decision to allow the lecture in no way indicates the union has taken a pro-abortion stance.” But Terry Hare, immediate past president of Nova Scotians United for Life, said she was appalled by the decision, just because he is a “hot topic.” He won’t have anything new to say, she stated and pro-life groups weren’t “going to let the visit go unnoticed.”
The premier of Nova Scotia, John Buchanan, also had something to say: “The minute he tries to open a clinic here we’re going to prosecute – there’s no question about it. The minute he breaks the law… he’ll be prosecuted.” Health Minister Gerald Sheehy, too. Declared that his department would not approve a clinic.
On Monday, March 25, Saturday’s police raid of Morgentaler’s abortuary in Winnipeg and his (temporary) arrest was the main feature of the front page. On an inside page the Halifax Chronicle-Herald brought news from the pro-life side under the title “Archbishop Hayes issues pro-life letter.” Ahead of the full text of the letter was the announcement that Catholic Archbishop James Hayes and Anglican Bishop Arthur Peters would speak at a Rally for Life at St. Mary’s Basilica at the same time as Morgentaler’s lecture at Dalhousie University. Said Anglican deacon, Austin Munroe, in reference to hid church’s rejection of abortion on demand: “I question whether abortion on demand improves the quality of life in a society, not to say of the unborn, who are simply being rejected.”
In his pastoral letter Archbishop Hayes observed that “while there has always been strong support for life, the constant pro-abortion rhetoric has gradually affected a change in attitude from strong support for life to doubt or indifference.” “The most fundamental right, even for the unborn,” he stated, “is the right to live. That is why abortion id morally wrong…”
The Archbishop also noted that “persons who do not share our view are telling us to be silent on the matter. Yet, these same persons expect us to speak out clearly on the moral and social issues raised by pornography and to condemn the violation of basic human rights by violence, rape and genocide.” (For opinions within the Anglican Church, see last month’s Interim article “Anglican controversy.”)
Tuesday, March 26, was the day of Morgentaler’s visit. This time the front page story concerned the fears of local psychiatrist, Dr. Wilke Kushner, chairman of the abortion committee at Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Dr. Kushner was “most upset” with Henry Morgentaler’s visit.
Victoria General Hospital does most of the abortions in Halifax (some 1400), indeed abortion on demand, of course, just like other big city hospitals, with abortion committees. Lamented Kushner: “Wherever he (Morgentaler) has tried to set up a clinic, there’s been a tremendous reaction against it…who knows what the people who hold fixed positions are going to do? … are they going to also turn against the Victoria General Hospital? Are they going to start picketing anywhere abortions are performed? Can they differentiate between an abortion performed outside the law, by Morgentaler, or inside the law, in the Victoria General?” “The problem,” he added, “is that when people start protesting Morgentaler’s abortions, then they might start protesting the legal abortions as well.”
The reporter did not record whether Nova Scotians were ready to entertain the idea of doing just that, especially perhaps after Morgentaler himself acknowledged that the policies of Victoria General were “very enlightened.” This “enlightened” policy was confirmed by Dr. Kushner who while first saying that he didn’t think “we’re providing abortion on demand,” acknowledged that the abortion committee at the Victoria General “invariably acts on the advice of the physician (recommending the abortion).”
The Tuesday newspaper carried two other features. An article by Peter Eldridge headed “Abortion: Two views on the issue.” It discussed the history and views of Bernard Nathanson. This, therefore, provided somewhat of a counterpoint to the views of Morgentaler. In addition, an editorial entitled “The most difficult issue” expressed hope that the “statements of the conflicting views” would “strengthen the resolve of those whose arguments centre on the sanctity of life – of both mother and fetus.”
Tuesday evening, Morgentaler, addressing 900 students in a sold-out lecture, re-affirmed his intention of opening an abortuary, as announced at a press conference earlier that afternoon. Outside the Student Union building an estimated 1,000 people gathered to protest both Morgentaler’s speaking engagement and the ease with which abortions may now be attained in the province. “It is pretty well abortion on demand now,” said Monica Flinn, president of Nova Scotia United for Life.
In addition to this silent demonstration of over 1,000 people at Dalhousie, a capacity crowd of 1,500 crowded into St. Mary’s Basilica for a Rally for Life, an ecumenical service sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax and local university students. Archbishop Hayes called it the largest crowd he’d ever seen in the basilica, as people turned out in unprecedented numbers for an hour long celebration of prayer, song and faith. Anglican Bishop Peters denounced the practice of abortion on demand and stressed his belief in the dignity and sacredness of human life.
The two-day Morgentaler visit led to charges by Opposition leader Vince MacLean (Liberal) that abortion practices in Nova Scotia were “too open” already. He criticized the government for condemning a free-standing abortion clinic while allowing abortion on demand at hospitals in the province. He called for a judicial investigation into abortion practices, especially the Victoria General, to see if laws are being circumvented.
NDP leader Alexa McDonough supported the party’s position in favour of abortuaries and abortion on demand. She thought the backlash from the Morgentaler visit regrettable, “but until the law is changed in such a way that a true pro-choice position can be accommodated, then there are bound to be such developments.”
A day later, March 28, Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan (PC), repeated his opposition to abortion clinics in the legislature. The province, he said, will not issue a licence and will take legal action if Morgentaler attempts to set one up. He also spoke in favour of changing the Criminal Code in order to decrease the number of legal abortions. Added the Premier: “Any member of this government who disagrees with what I just said will not be a member of this government as soon as that statement is made public.”