Abortion is definitely an issue in the Ontario election called for May 2. Ontario’s 8 ½ million people constitute one third of Canada’s population.
The April 11 issue of the Toronto Star carried a long article entitled “Morgentaler’s clinic fuels abortion issue.” “Clarifying statements by all three leaders,” the reporter noted, “have boosted the spirits of pro-choice contingent and greatly upset pro-life supporters.” What were these “clarifying statements? It should be noted first that the views of the party leaders were more or less known before the “clarifying statements.”
In the fall of 1984 Ontario Premier Frank Miller (before he won the party leadership and became Premier at the end of January 1985), declared that he personally supported the federal law. He also suggested that a review by health ministers should take place to see whether the law still “meets the times.”
On January 8, 1985, at an all-candidates meeting in Kitchener-Waterloo, Mr. Miller told his audience that he personally does not believe in abortion.(“I don’t like, nor believe in, abortion”), but added: “I have to say there has to be a right of choice.”
After his election as Premier, and the formation of a new Cabinet on February 8, Mr. Miller declared on February 22 that he intended to uphold the present federal law (forbidding Morgentaler-type abortuaries). However, he added that he would “challenge hospitals to meet some of the legitimate problems women tell me about.” Another account of the same meeting reported him as saying that some Ontario hospitals should speed up the process involved in getting an abortion. At the same time the Premier did not think abortions should be done in more hospitals. He added: “I have never been an advocate of abortions in clinics. I would prefer to see clinics in general not functioning.”
Meanwhile, getting ready to call an election, the new Premier appointed an interim Attorney-General, Robert Welch, who was known to be preparing for retirement from politics. This temporary political appointment allowed the Premier to postpone a decision on what to do about the continued operation of the illegal Morgentaler clinic. Moreover, any arguments within Cabinet or, for that matter, outside in the public forum, in favour of closing the abortion clinic, could be and were countered with the stand that the Crown (i.e. the Attorney-General) was continuing its appeal of the jury acquittal of Morgentaler and his two associates – an appeal scheduled to be heard on April 29. Until such time, tackling this politically difficult question could be delayed.
Eventually the election was called for May 2. Following a statement on abortion by the Liberal party leader, Premier Frank Miller felt called upon, once again, to explain his position. This explanation appeared in the Easter Sunday papers. Speaking in Bracebridge, Ontario, Miller pointed out that the present law was a reasonable compromise, that he wanted “freedom of choice” for both women and hospitals, that medical facilities are not always available in small towns and that hospitals will be encouraged to do abortions to provide greater “access” for women who want them. Said Miller:
“We’re lucky in Ontario in that there are a fair number of hospitals to do them; that’s the key thing. You encourage them to do them.”
Finally, Mr. Miller added that he remains personally opposed to abortion.
On April 3, speaking to some125 students at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Liberal party leader David Peterson told them that he does not want to change the current abortion law but is “concerned that there is not enough access.” The Liberal party already supports Medicare coverage for hospital abortions, he told them. If the Liberals were to form the government, it would also pay for travel costs, if there were no hospital within 300 kilometres (186 miles) of their home.
If elected, Peterson said, he would ensure at least one hospital in their area with a therapeutic abortion committee. He also said he opposed free-standing abortion clinics such as the Morgentaler clinic and he would not require any Roman Catholic hospital to perform abortions. The Toronto Star, April 4, headed the report: “Improve equal access to legal abortions, Peterson says” and the Globe “Grits pledge equality in access to abortions.”
The stand of NDP leader Bob Rae is straight-forward, as he confirmed once more in Timmins on April 3. Restating a policy re-confirmed by the Ontario NDP last summer – and which is also policy for the federal party – Rae declared that an NDP government would license abortion clinics (he called them “health centres”), that the federal government should remove abortion from the Criminal Code and that abortions themselves are “private moral”decisions which government “has to respect.” If the Criminal Code is not changed, he said in response to a question from Campaign Life member John Lemaire, 15, the province could still license community clinics and let them set up committees, if necessary.
None of these stands, the Toronto Star April 11 article reported, is acceptable to pro-life. For support it quoted Paul Dodds, co-ordinator of Campaign Life’s election strategy. Of particular concern id the NDP stand on de-criminalizing abortion and establishing medical clinics, he said.
“If you remove it from the Criminal Code, there are no restrictions and anyone can do it as long as they use medical procedures. This is abortion on demand.”
“The provincial government can’t correct the basic problem. It’s a federal law,” said Dodds, but Ontario has “failed to follow through with what powers if does have.” Instead, it had “tolerated an abortion clinic in Toronto.”
Dodds said the government should not have sat back and waited after appealing Morgentaler’s acquittal, instead, it should have moved forcefully by charging him again and seeking an injunction to stop the clinic’s work while the appeal was underway.
“Many people don’t realize Morgentaler’s abortuary is still operating Ontarians wantto see the law obeyed. Our feeling is that the provincial government has failed to take effective action.”
“None of the leaders is committed to the kind of effective action we’d like to see,” he declared in the interview.
Dodds rejected Miller’s claim that he personally opposes abortion but will support the law, saying, “A politician’s personal views do not matter one whit. The important thing is what they will do publicly. It’s the oldest con game to say ‘Personally, I’m against something but the present law is okay or not in my jurisdiction.’”
Peterson’s backing of improved access to therapeutic abortion committees was also criticized by the pro-life advocate: “All of those proposals for expanding facilities are based on the fallacious notion that there are medical reasons for these abortions.”
On the weekend of April 15, however, Peterson took a stronger stand against the continued operation of the Morgentaler abortuary. In an interview with the Toronto Sun he declared that as premier he would immediately seek a civil injunction to close the abortion clinics.