A chasm lies between Roman Catholic teaching on abortion and its acceptance in the Ontario Separate Schools.

The presentation of Roman Catholic teaching on abortion at the convention of the Ontario Separate School Trustees, held on April 13, 14 and 15 in Toronto was thoughtful and accurate.  Father Michael Prieur, a professor of moral theology at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ontario, was the guest speaker at a workshop entitled “Abortion: Some Roman Catholic Perspectives.”

It was held in the light of the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on January 28, 1988 that declared the abortion provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code to be unconstitutional – a decision that left the life of the unborn child without any legal protection.

The workshop was originally conceived and promoted by John Devlin, a trustee with the Huron-Perth Roman Catholic School Board.  It was to be an intense, all-day discussion of political, spiritual, biological and sociological dimensions of abortion.

However, senior OSSTA (Ontario Separate School Teachers’ Association) staff reduced it to an hour-and-a-half session and arranged for the trustees to be arbitrarily divided up into four groups with four different workshops running simultaneously.  This meant that only one-quarter of the trustees – about 60 – were able to attend the abortion workshop.  The other trustees attended workshops on AIDS, Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Family Violence.

The workshop touched on the concern the Church has for both mother and child.  Neither the mother’s nor the child’s life is preferred, and, in the event of a medical emergency, attempts must be made to save both.  Modern puzzles regarding abortion were discussed.  For example, why do 50 per cent of all zygotes perish at an early stage of pregnancy?  Humanae Vitae – Pope Paul VI’s great encyclical on the dignity of human life – was reaffirmed.

Workshop participants discussed the complex issue of the time a human being becomes a person and when the soul is infused.  There was some disagreement on this, but the workshop leaders asserted that a human being is a person from conception, prepared to receive the soul, and we always give the benefit of the doubt to human life and protect it accordingly.

The negative after-effects of abortion were discussed in detail, and the feminist arguments for controlling “one’s own body” were debunked.

Mary Hendriks, the secretary for the workshop, noted that the delegates were urged to adopt two aims.  First, they should love the pregnant girls and women, regardless of how they came to be that way.  Second, they must educate the boys and girls in the schools about sexual responsibilities.  If they are old enough to have sex, she said, they are old enough to know all the facts.  She urged teachers and school boards to use the films that are available.

Sister Patricia Hogan, religious consultant with the OSSTA recommended an excellent booklet, Abortion Information for Classroom Teachers.  It is published by and available from the Alliance for Life, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Canadian Bishops are introducing a new program called “Fully Alive” into grades 1-3 to go along with the current Family Life Education Program now being taught in most Ontario Separate schools, Sr. Patricia stated.  It discusses the sacredness of human life in all its stages.

Sister Pat also said that sanctity of human life is taught indirectly through all elementary and high schools.  Students discuss pre-marital sex and responsible sexual decisions as early as grade 10, but nothing is taught about the horror of abortion until grade 12.  Grade 13 is reserved for the moral issues of AIDS, homosexuality, alcoholism and drugs, among others.

I explained to Sr. Patricia that my son is among a minority of pro-lifers in grade 11 in his Catholic high school.  It was his pro-life group, not the teachers, which, with parents and school permission, showed Dr. Bernard Nathanson’s film, Eclipse of Reason.  Yet, for many of the students it was too late.  They had already formed a pro-abortion bias from the secular media and the influence of their peers.

Boards do ask Right to Life groups into the schools, countered Sister Patricia, but she could not say how frequently.  “Abortion Information for Classroom Teachers” is a list of excellent audio visuals, ranging from slides and films to eight life-sized fetal models that illustrate the wonder of developing human life.  Why aren’t these easy-to-use teaching materials in all Ontario separate schools?  In the battle foe students’ hearts, catholic schools will have to do better.