Commentary by William Gairdner
The Interim

If smart people are so stupid, what is there to hope for? In her recent article in the National Post on the Canadian Alliance leadership race (“Manning Looks Like a Leader,” July 6), Diane Francis wrote something appalling and disappointing that illustrates precisely why Canada needs an honest and open debate on social issues and a party and a leader unafraid to address them.

Rightly sensing that abortion is the sharpest moral issue dividing so-called “fiscal” from “social” conservatives, she sternly warns Stockwell Day to “totally disavow” his positions on these issues, because, she says, “abortion is nobody else’s business except the woman who decides she must undergo such a procedure,” and that any law that would “force someone to have a child she did not want … would be an act of state-sanctioned violence.”

Now just think about each word, and ask yourself, regardless of whether you are for or against abortion – what could be going on in such a mind?

How, and why, should anyone with a deep commitment to any clear moral principle be asked so blithely to disavow it, and what would we think of them if they did so? For that matter, what do we think of a journalist who is just short of publicly ordering a political candidate to do so? And whether for or against abortion, what can it mean to say that abortion is nobody’s business except for the woman making the decision?

After all, even Ms Francis knows with absolute certainty that almost every woman on earth who gets pregnant does so by consenting to a pleasurable sexual action that is still the only natural way to create a human life. So let’s try to take her to the next step. She also knows that what is stirring inside a pregnant woman, from the moment of conception, however microscopic, is living, and not dead. Surely all sides must admit to that.

Perhaps then she can also agree that these women are not living hosts to baby alligators or baby Canada geese; that by whatever euphemism we choose to call the form of life inside them, it is very likely something human at a very early stage of development. Indeed, biologists tell us that every distinctive genetic trait of a unique human being is already present at conception and that something that looks an awful lot like a human heart begins beating within a few weeks. Ms Francis may say, as the Supreme Court has said, that this life is not a human being or person until born, but neither she nor the court can say, without torturing language and logic beyond recognition, that it is not human life.

By now we ought to have agreement that a pregnant women is host to an early form of human life. That is just the honest thing to admit, and I don’t know how anyone can escape such a conclusion, though I used to try to escape it myself. However, once we admit there is human life inside the mother, the question turns to what rights that life ought to have, or not have.

I would respect Ms Francis and her libertarian colleagues a lot more if she would just say, “Okay Bill, I admit it’s something we can call human life in there, but unlike you, I don’t mind killing it in order to preserve a woman’s freedom of choice.” At least then she would have moved to a certain point of fact and truth. Then I would say, “Okay, you agree it’s a form of human life. Now what role do we think society ought to play? Can you really argue that killing human life at any stage of development ought to be the right of mere individuals? Shouldn’t society as a whole have some role in protecting the very weakest form of human life from … their own mothers and fathers? Can’t all sides at least agree that there ought to be rules governing the killing? Should any kind of killing of human life be allowed as an arbitrary private act?”

Finally, let’s clear up the most jaundiced argument of all, namely, that a woman can be “forced” to have a child, and that a law preventing a mother from killing the life inside her would be an act of state-sanctioned violence. To say a woman can be “forced” to have a baby is as ridiculous as saying she can be forced to breathe. Childbirth is an act of nature. When the child is ready to be born, it cannot be prevented by the mother except by force, not against the mother, but against the unborn child. For Heaven’s sake, if we are going to have a fresh national dialogue on such matters, thanks in large part to a leader like Stockwell Day, let’s try at least to use honest language, which, by the way, ought to be a journalist’s stock in trade.

Thousands of Canadian citizens – even those prepared to allow some well-defined form of early killing – are extremely uneasy about the absence of any law on abortion. Science, if not morality, is making it increasingly clear to them that there are at least two human lives involved in a pregnancy, not just one, and they worry that it is precisely state-sanctioned violence that is being used already against our most defenceless citizens.

Which brings me to the case of a feminist friend who, when pregnant with her daughter, and unsure she wanted go through with the pregnancy, relied on a kind of cheap democratic lingo. She insisted that any female ought to have what she so fashionably called “sovereignty over her own body.” I said I could accept that argument if she would agree to extend the right of sovereignty to the unborn female inside her, a female who shouldn’t be denied that right just because she couldn’t yet speak for herself yet.

William Gairdner is author of The Trouble With Canada, The War Against The Family, and On Higher Ground.