In June, 1991, Mike Farnan, former Ontario Solicitor General, MPP for Cambridge, and a Catholic, handed a statement on abortion to a member of the Galt Council, Knights of Columbus. (see sidebar)
It is another exhibit in the continuing saga of Catholic politicians taking wrong stands on the abortion issue. It is a good example of the kind of self-deception which pro-life people encounter so frequently.
Farnan begins with a ritual word of praise to his own party for not being hypocritical like the Tories and the Liberals: these others brought in legislation supporting abortion, but they were not honest enough to take official positions on it as the NDP has done.
He goes on to ask and answer what it means to be pro-life. He raises two questions concerning this topic, and has one affirmation:
• “Does it mean turning desperate women and their doctors into criminals?”
One is tempted to reply, “Come off it, Mike.”
Surely he knows, as everyone else does, and as the Badgley Report (a pro-abortion document) pointed out years ago, that few women who have abortions are desperate; they have abortions for vague and unsubstantiated reasons of mental stress.
Those in the pro-life movement consider them nevertheless as victims of abortion; many of them do deserve our sympathy. At the same time, they are responsible for their own actions. Mother Teresa, the most compassionate woman on earth, says that they should go to jail – because they have committed almost the most unnatural act a woman can commit, the killing of her own child.
As to doctors, all through the centuries abortion was regarded as a despicable procedure for them to perform.
The law did not criminalize them; they criminalized themselves.
• “Does it mean returning to back-alley abortions of a more repressive era?”
It means creating a climate of opinion in which abortion is once more regarded as the taking of innocent life, and therefore a heinous act.
This back-alley business, like the coathanger, is fraudulent. The 1977 Badgley Report gives statistics concerning the number of women who died following illegal abortions before the 1969 legalization – not thousands, not hundreds, but twelve or thirteen a year. Even the deaths of twelve or thirteen are tragic, but what is that number in comparison to what has been justly called a holocaust – a hundred thousand infant deaths a year in Canada through abortion?
• “I do not believe that laws against abortion would be effective. They would not stop abortions, and they would not be truly pro-life.”
Farnan is twisting the meaning of ‘pro-life’:
The first step towards eliminating abortion is a law declaring that the unborn child is a human being – which is simply a fact of nature, so obvious a fact that it hardly needs to be set down in legislation, except that our present legislation denies it.
Even so straightforward a measure will be controversial; nevertheless, it is badly needed, and it will be the beginning of a movement to re-establish what is most fundamental in a democratic society – the idea that human life has an intrinsic value.
It is an idea which the NDP has done its utmost to combat.
“I have come to understand that being pro-life,” Farnan continues, “means trying to remove the conditions that cause people to choose death.” (We must provide support for women, he adds, improve housing, improve daycare, protect women from abusive husbands, and so on).
Many of these are desirable, but the fact that social ills exist does not relieve women from responsibility.
Billy Jean King had an abortion, and she is a millionaire: having a child was an inconvenience for her, since it would have prevented her from entering still another tennis tournament.
Others, as we know, have had abortions because they wanted a boy and were having a girl. Still others simply accept the advice of doctors or public health nurses, who put them on the abortion treadmill almost as a matter of course.
The major cause of abortions lies in the human will, not in material conditions.
“I am convinced that it is through concrete, practical assistance, in the context of a loving community that the true answer to the abortion dilemma will be found. I will work for that community from my end. I ask you to do the same.”
This is Mike Farnan’s final message. What has he forgotten?
• to admit that abortion is wrong, no matter what circumstances a woman finds herself in; concrete practical assistance will not right a moral wrong.
• to admit that the government of which he was a minister is adding to abortion’s injustice by funding existing abortion clinics and establishing new ones.
• to admit that the faith community to which he belongs considers abortion a very serious sin and forbids its members to advocate it, legislate in favor of it, or promote it in any way.
• to admit that he is betraying his Catholic constituents who voted for him on the assumption that he really opposes abortion, instead of shilly-shallying about it as he does in this statement.
Finally, Mike Farnan’s statement leads to two conclusions about his position:
• As Mother Teresa teaches us, compassion must go hand in hand with principle; Mike wants to show himself to be a compassionate man, but he abandons principle for sentimentality
• Instead of being thought of as a good man, we now have to think of him as a formerly good man fallen among New Democrats.
First of all, I want to reiterate my own belief in the sacredness of life from the moment of conception. Having said that, I want to make the observation that all the existing legislation on abortion was introduced, not by the NDP, but by the other parties. It is convenient for the opposing parties to refrain from taking an official position on abortion, while making it accessible, but it is also dishonest.
My dilemma, as a Catholic politician, is to ask what does it really mean to be pro-life? Does it mean turning desperate women and their doctors into criminals? Does it mean returning to the back-alley abortions of a more repressive era? I do not believe that laws against abortion would be effective. They would not stop abortions, and they would not be truly pro-life.
I have come to understand that being pro-life means trying to remove the conditions that cause people to choose death. When I look at what the NDP stands for, I believe that our party will do more to obviate the need for abortion through positive policies than all restrictions outlawing abortion will ever do. Women seek abortions not because they want them, but because in this culture pregnancy is a liability. Remove the liability that pregnancy represents, and abortions will decline. A society that supports women financially and legally, that eliminates poverty, provides child care and housing, protects women from abusive and delinquent husbands will go a long way toward reducing, if not eliminating, abortion.
I do not expect everyone to agree with me. I am aware of how strongly people in my faith community feel about this through the Church to provide support, acceptance, and love to the many women who find themselves trapped by an unplanned pregnancy. I am convinced that it is through concrete, practical assistance, in the context of a loving community that the true answer to the abortion dilemma can be found. I will work for that kind of community from my end. I ask you to do the same.
Mike Farnan, MPP, Cambridge, Ontario