Of the many forms of pro-life action, there is one which we think it is prudent to raise questions about – the picketing of the homes of abortionists.
There is no doubt home picketing has an impact. Many doctors have either ceased doing abortions altogether, or moved their practices to another location where they resume this deadly activity. Nevertheless, is home picketing counter-productive in the long run? In the current climate of opinion, could it generate professional and public sympathy for the abortionists to the extent that the government will be applauded for coercive abortion legislation?
The media today views demonstrations outside the homes of abortionists as a calculated form of harassment to the doctor, the spouse, children, neighbours and friends. Daily one-hour vigils in front of Dr. Fraser Fellows’ home in London, Ontario, have not changed his position on abortion. But home picketing could make this abortionist, some politicians, and many of his confreres or students, appear reasonable, tolerant and caring before the mass media.
If home picketing continues, sympathy for pro-life physicians could also evaporate. This was apparent in recent articles submitted to and published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The first claimed an Ontario doctor was victimized by home picketing. The second article suggested the bombing of the Morgentaler Clinic has raised the stakes to the point where a public injunction against picketing is justified.
The many lifegiving services offered by pro-lifers – health care, counseling, housing, employment, financial assistance, day-care, education, or even adoption – can help to persuade there is a better option than abortion in the event of an unexpected pregnancy. But if public opinion continues to be poisoned against us, as it is by the media’s reaction to home picketing, it becomes very difficult for us to make this case. Even pro-life physicians could have difficulty in presenting life-affirming options to their fellow medical practitioners.
The extreme Ontario Task Group recommendations clash with the current policy of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which is certainly not supportive of the preborn. The 1988 CMA Policy on Induced Abortion allows a physician, whose moral or religious beliefs prevent him or her from recommending or performing an abortion, to inform the patient of those convictions. The CMA upholds a physician’s right not to participate in the termination of a pregnancy, and it indicates no discrimination should be directed against doctors who do not perform or assist at induced abortions. Respect for the right of personal decision in this realm was stressed, particularly for doctors training in obstetrics and gynaecology.
We need to preserve that which we still have, namely, the essential character of the doctor-patient relationship. We need to retain the conscience exclusion for pro-life workers and programmes, in order to continue offering those office, hospital and community alternatives which favour the protection of the unborn.
To decide not to picket, or to cease picketing abortionists’ homes, is not a scandal. It is not a violation of conscience for some expedient purpose. It does not imply a formal co-operation with the evil of abortion, nor is it moral insincerity on the part of the pro-life movement. As law-abiding citizens, we can continue to expect that all governments exercise their moral duty to uphold and defend the basic human rights of all age groups, the unborn, and the disadvantaged. In return, we have an obligation to act prudently.
We think the pro-life movement should seriously debate whether picketing of abortionists’ homes is prudent at this time.