When Dr. Bob Walley was in his final year of training in obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto, he attended a public debate on abortion at the nearby St. Lawrence Centre. On the panel, one speaker announced his intent to tear down the Canadian abortion law, and if necessary, go to jail to do so.
That evening, in 1970, Henry Morgentaler made his public debut.
Two decades later, the abortion controversy still rages and Morgentaler continues to promote his service to women by establishing aborturaries in major Canadian cities – one of the latest in St. John’s, Newfoundland where Dr. Walley lives and practices.
Shaking his head and pondering Mongentaler’s strategy, he says, “You know, Morgentaler did what doctors are supposed to do: provide a service. He didn’t go around explaining what an abortion was, but he promoted ‘a woman’s right to choose’ and became their darling. He did what he said he’d do. As a result, in Canada today, there is an urgent need, particularly to pro-life health care professionals, to provide clinical service to women and fill the vacuum produced by abortion services.
We should take a page out of Morgentaler’s book.
His keynote address, “Positive Directions for Pro-life Physicians in the 90’s,” given at the Canadian Physicians for Life annual dinner in Toronto, August 1991, illustrates his point. His talk described three pro-life initiatives: a pro-life hospital in England, a Caring Centre for Women in St. John’s, Newfoundland and a Safe Motherhood project in Nigeria.
He believes these represent optimism in the face of despair and he’s involved in all three.
The first is a pro-life hospital in England, where for almost two decades the abortion mentality has dominated the National Health Care Service and its hospitals. Dr. Walley described the effect on women of the 1967 Abortion Act in an article, “Medicine and Conscience” which he wrote for the 1973 British Medical Journal.
The freedom of one group of women was lost by another group of women unable to consult a physician whose method of practice is based on a profound respect for life, he stated.
That situation has worsened in England and today pro-life physicians are struggling to survive in their practices.
But they are fighting back. Dr. Walley and his colleague Dr. John Kelly are working with the English LIFE group to set up their own hospital which will be a training center for pro-life professionals excluded from the health care system. He says that the same abortion culture now exists in Canada and he knows its effects firsthand.
In 1964, he graduated from medicine at London University and went on to specialize in Ob-Gyn, qualifying as a specialist in 1970. He was told then that as a pro-life Roman Catholic gynecologist there was no place for him to practice in England because of his stand for life. He was in his late twenties with a wife and three small children to support – and unemployed.
In desperation he telephoned his obstetrician friend, Dr. Patrick Beirne in Toronto who suggested that Dr. Walley come to Canada and stay with the Beirne family until he got a job.
Four months later Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland advertised for an Assistant Ob-Gyn Professor. He got the job and a staff appointment at nearby St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital where he has been for eighteen years.
A second pro-life project comparable to the English idea is a Caring Centre for Women to be set up in St. John’s, as an outpatient clinic for women.
Sponsored by Dr. Walley and other Newfoundland pro-life professionals and volunteers, it will offer a broad range of health services to women (crisis pregnancy care and maintenance, infertility investigation, Natural Family Planning courses and gynaecological services), and will train pro-life professionals counselors and volunteers.
Its aim is to offer the practicalities of good health care to women. “If pro-life professionals offer care with a difference to women, then the service will appeal to MPs and receive government funding, Dr. Walley believes. It will be comprehensive and broad and attract the majority of women, offering them “a genuine right to choose,” and top health care that is life-giving and unavailable at pro-abortion health centers.
Dr. Walley hopes this initiative will be supported by churches, community agencies and pro-life groups. “We’ve always reacted to the abortion situation instead of introducing new and better ideas. Until now, pro-life volunteers have taken the initiative but that isn’t enough. It’s time pro-life professionals countered abortion with care and action,” he says with a feisty pound on the table.
He mourns the recent closure of the Obstetrics department at his own St. Clare’s Hospital, operated by the Sisters of Mercy for the last seventy years. According to the Sister-in-Charge, the service was closed because “we cannot provide the services to which the community is entitled.
Of that action he says, “It would appear that the authorities view abortion and sterilization as the fundamentals on which the health of St. John’s women should be based.” He wonders where pro-life women will go now and who will they trust? With fewer religious sisters to run hospitals and stand for life, a more urgent need exists now to create new pro-life initiatives and institutions. He hopes that Caring Centres for Women will spring up in major Canadian cities and that the one in St. John’s will be a model.
In Nigeria, he’s heading a third pro-life initiative – A Safe Motherhood Program aimed at reducing one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates among Nigerian women between the ages of 12 and 20.
A major cause is a complication following obstructed childbirth called a fistula (an opening in the uterus) which causes infertility and a life-time leakage of urine and feces resulting in death, disease and social ostracism. The condition is corrected by simple surgery, so Dr. Walley and his team will set up a fistula hospital along with other health and educational programs for women, health care workers and midwives.
The project is being organized by the Canadian branch of The Knights of Malta and the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Nigeria. Both groups will fund half the project while the other half will be funded by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency).
He is convinced that if Nigerian women have babies who live and if their own health is improved, they will assume responsibility for their own fertility. The project will also set up Natural Family Planning programs and he hopes when his term is over that local health professionals will run it.
Dr. Walley, middle-aged, still maintains a boyish enthusiasm, dynamic energy and a generous spirit. He rarely refuses pro-life speaking engagements despite the time away form his practice and teaching; and he often absorbs their travel costs.
He loves a good story and tells many about his third world experiences.
In 1973, he was invited to join the board of Planned Parenthood, but declined, graciously, citing that his philosophy differed. In 1974, he attended a world-wide Natural Family Planning Conference in Los Angeles (given by the Drs. Billings) and was impressed by what he learned. Then in 1976, he went to Harvard and obtained a Master’s degree in Public Health, Population Sciences and International Maternal and Child Care. Returning home, he established a Family Life bureau at St. Clare’s and in 1981, was honoured by the R.C. Archdiocese for his initiative.
He’s been back and forth to third world countries (Guatemala, Haiti and Nigeria) for over a decade. He loves traveling and says his father, an officer in the Royal Navy often lived abroad, taking his wife and only child, Bob, with him.
He went to elementary school in India and at 12, his non-Catholic parents enrolled him in a Catholic high school in England wit the De LaSalle brothers who he greatly admires. He became a Catholic as a teenager.
After finishing his medical specialization in England, he became a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in both England and Canada.
He’s received several prestigious traveling scholarships (McLaughlin, Laidlaw Detweiller) for his work and research in third world countries and several national and international awards of recognition such as an appointment by Pope John Paul II in 1986 (renewed in 1991), to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance of Health Care Workers. (The letter of invitation arrived in Latin and had to be translated by a local scholarly priest).
He’s written a dozen articles which have been published in British Medical Journal, the Linacre Quarterly and the Newfoundland Journal of Medicine to name a few. He’s been on many radio and TV programs to discuss the pro-life view and NFP.
He’s been a guest speaker from St. John’s to Dublin, Rome, Belgium, Bombay and Manilla.
Still, at the end of a weary day his dearest and deepest consolation in his calm, capable wife, Susan (a former emergency room nurse), whom he credit “for allowing me to do all this,” and his seven children: Sarah, 23, Simon, 22, Stephanie, 21, Roisin (Little Rose) 17, David, 15, John Paul, 12, and Peter, 8. They give meaning to his life, work and pro-life activism and also “drive me crazy,” he says.
Of his work he reflects, “IF we have healthy women, they become healthy mothers and raise healthy children. Mothers hold families together and that’s why it’s so important to offer them and their babies good health care; to nurture those who nurture the young.
Morgentaler’s service to women is doomed.
Surely wherever dedicated pro-life physicians like Dr. Walley struggle to uphold life in their practices, to enable mothers and their babies to live – fathers and families will give thanks and rejoice.