My first editor used to tell me never to put my trust in special groups. He said a good journalist should ask tough questions and go beyond the press releases and the sound bites. Maybe the rules are different when the subject is abortion. Consider the latest call by the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League for a “multi-site injunction” to curtail pro-life activity across the province.
The abortion “rights” group made the demand at a jammed news conference in Toronto, March 24. Dozens of reporters listened in rapt attention to tales of murder, arson, intimidation and harassment, supposedly undertaken by pro-life supporters. No one made an attempt to get to the bottom of the appalling allegations.
No one asked a single question about the validity of any of the major links in CARAL’s chain of argument.
Is there any evidence linking the fire-bombing of the Morgentaler Abortion Clinic with any group or individual within the pro-life movement, for instance? In fact there is none. The police investigation is on hold and the only shred of evidence, a photo of a man carrying a gas can, is being kept under wraps. This, in spite of repeated calls by pro-life leaders to release the picture. And yet the arson was invoked over and over again as CARAL called for a province-wide injunction: another example of religious bigotry gone wild, they say.
Or how about the shooting of an abortionist in Pensacola Florida? Did anyone make any effort to find out that Campaign Life Coalition, the object of all CARAL’s fears, immediately decried the murder as saying it “deplores and condemns (the shooting) unequivocally.” Instead, the reporters allowed CARAL to tie the Canadian pro-life movement to a lone maniac in the southern United States.
Imagine any other movement losing all credibility because of one unstable man with a prior history of violence. Imagine the right being taken away from a group of people because of an incident in another country. No one in the pro-life movement in this country has ever been connected with any kind of terrorism whatsoever and the media have an obligation to say this when they report unsubstantiated allegations.
Or consider finally the contentious issue of “harassment.” Did any of the reporters ask what abortion “rights” activists mean when they use the word? What exactly is harassment? If any of them spent any time with counsellors on the sidewalks outside the abortion clinics they would know it is the only counselling most women will get before they go in for the abortion. If they had been at Dr. Manoli Buruiana’s Cabbagetown Clinic March 23, for instance, they would have seen these “fanatics” on the sidewalks calmly convince a woman more than five months pregnant to keep her child. It’s a decision counsellors will tell you not one woman has regretted. Buruiana, who took part in the CARAL press conference, stood to lose upward of $1 000 because of the woman’s decision to keep her child. He is calling for a law against this kind of counselling and yet no one of the cast army of media present thought to question his motive. The reporters were putty in abortion activists’ hands. Only one, The Interim’s Queen’s Park reporter Frank Kennedy, had the temerity to challenge one of the abortionists. His question was no different that it made the news. The rest of his colleagues listened respectfully as Dr. Fraser Fellows, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who also performs abortions in London, Ont., announced solemnly, “I could be shot today.” No one challenged him on such an astounding statement.
At one point a reporter asked – almost timidly—if she could play the devil advocate. Is CARAL calling for a gag on pro-life activity across the province? She should not have had to ask permission: it is her job to play the devil’s advocate. Among the dozens of journalists who crowded into the old Toronto Press Club it was tough question. And she apologized for asking it.
Attorney-General Marion Boyd is caught between a rock and a hard place. The provincial New Democrats probably don’t want to be remembered as imposing the greatest challenge to free speech and assembly in the history of the province. With a province-wide blanket injunction blocking one form of picketing, could not big business do the same with the unions? Which special-interest group will next find themselves politically incorrect? These are questions which have to be asked and were not. No matter where one stands on the subject of abortion, we should demand answers when these kind of statements are made and such drastic measures are called for. It’s the least we can expect of a free and independent press.