On February 5, abortionist Henry Morgentaler gave a lecture in the distinguished annual Dunning Trust series at Queen’s University. This year’s theme for all lectures was the dignity of the individual. Not surprisingly, when an abortionist is invited to speak on the dignity of the individual, there is bound to be controversy. Indeed, this lecture proved to be the most controversial one in the Series’ 35 year history.
Protests against the choice of such a speaker began as soon as the Morgentaler lecture was announced. Some members of the university alumni attempted to persuade lecture-series officials to find a different speaker. A statement of protest was issued by leaders of five orders of Roman Catholic nuns in the Kingston area. The day before Morgentaler’s speech, a group of Protestant ministers and their wives purchased a quarter-page advertisement in the Kingston Whig-Standard.
Break the law
The advertisement stated that “We uphold the right of Dr. Morgentaler to hold and express his opinion. We do not uphold his right to break the law and we therefore oppose his selection by the Dunning Trust …As we see it, he is a lawbreaker, promoting a cause in which he believes but in a manner manifesting a disregard for the law of the land and thus giving a demonstration of lawlessness…”
The group said that the current destruction of unborn children is the greatest tragedy and injustice the world has seen since the Holocaust. Saying that the signers stand for the right to life of the unborn, for “material, emotional , and spiritual caring that supports mothers through their pregnancy and beyond,” and for “God-given values and a revival of righteousness. We believe that the abortion issue is another symptom of our society’s abuse and misuse of sexuality and the tendency to put self ahead of others and God.”
The 59 signers of the advertisement belong to a range of Protestant denominations including Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches and the Salvation Army. Rev. Donald Hanley of Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church, who helped draft the statement told the Whig-Standard that the protest arose from discussions during a ministerial fellowship meeting.
“What impressed me was the unanimity,” he said. “People were prepared to accept it. It is not always easy to get together a statement such as this.”
Rev. Hanley said that the public perception that the anti-abortion movement is associated only with the Roman Catholic Church is changing. “What happened (amongst protestants) in the past three or four years is there has been a realization of the gravity of the problem,” he said.
In his speech, Morgentaler called politicians “cowardly.” “Shall we find no elected politician who will have the courage to stand up against a small band of totalitarians who want to impose their brand of morality on all of us?” he asked. Addressing a crowd of 950 (while thousands more heard him on a live radio broadcast), he said the treatment of women seeking abortions is “nothing less than a national scandal.”
Morgentaler pledged to re0open his Winnipeg abortion clinic by mid-March and set up clinics across Canada wherever the need is greatest. He concluded his 40-minute address with an appeal for reproductive freedom, saying, “it is imperative to control human fertility…” thus reiterating his belief in abortion as birth control. Reproductive choice, he also said, is not only “potent preventive medicine and psychiatry,” but also the “most promising prevention of crime” in society. It provides conditions where only wanted children are born.
The Toronto Star reported that he drew sympathetic whispers when he noted that “40 years ago exactly today, I was in a concentration camp in Germany” but that there were loud hisses when he mockingly suggested – that “God is the greatest abortionist” (because many pregnancies end naturally in miscarriages). At the end the audience responded with a standing ovation.
When Morgentaler arrived at Grant Hall he was met by a peaceful crowd of about 800 pro-lifers waiting outside in the –12C degree cold. During the speech, the protestors marched to nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral for an inter-denominational prayer vigil where they were welcomed with applause by 1,100 people already in the Church. Sister Mary Gallagher, superior-general of the sisters of Providence, Kingston, addressed the standing-room-only crowd, some of whom had come from Belleville, Trenton, Napanee. Brockville, Ottawa and other smaller communities. After the service, 300 people returned to the University to sing hymns during Morgentaler’s question and answer period – occasionally almost drowning him out – and to demonstrate as the audience left.
Pro-life co-ordinators of this protest included Father Karl Clemens, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church, Father Tom Raby of the Church of the Good Thief and Mary Ellen Douglas, president of Campaign Life Kingston.