On May 12, Michele Landsberg’s column in the Toronto Star was headed Lunatic Spectacle in Regina. The lunatic spectacle was that of the ” self-appointed spokesman” for all the fertilized ova in Canada, Holy Joe Borowski, appearing at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan. Ms.Landsberg’s referneces to him were abusive in the extreme- this man who worships a painted shrine in his backyard, who decks his body with special amulets to save him from the fires of  hell, who has the rare distinction of being ejected from both the Supreme Court and Manitoba cabinet for making a nuisance of himself, who thinks he has a direct pipeline into every woman’s womb. Her tone was that of a women outraged, not just at the fact that a mere man should appoint himself a spokesman in feminine concern, but at the fact that anyone should dare to put the so-called rights of a fertilized ovum ahead of the right of a women to exercise free choice in the matter of abortion.

Personal devil

Her personal devil, then is Joe Borowski. Her personal hero is Dr,Henry Morgentaler; her view of the infant in the womb is very close to his. At the Regina trial, Drs.Lilley and Lejeune, the one the discoverer of amniocentesis, the other  an expert in Down’s Syndrome, said that life clealy begins at conception; her response was to sneer at them too, in a later column. For them, as for Borowski, all life is holy, or no life is holy; all life matters, or no life matters in any special way, Dr.Morgentaler, however, on no clinical evidence whatsoever, has decided that human life begins at five months. Drs. Lilley and Lejuene are at the forefront of research in fetology; Dr.Morgentaler is not. He may in fact still need the further training which, as Daniel Motherstill has reminded us ( Morgentaler’s record far from impressive, Register, May 14), was recommended for him by the Corporation of Physicians of Quebec in 1976.

Brick comparison

One of his favorite comparisons is that of human cells to bricks. A pile of bricks is not a house similarly a collection of the cells in the womb is not a baby. I t is a marvelously effective comparison-in some ways. He speaks as though each brick were stamped,” Property of John Brown. Not to be used for anyone else’s house.” Each cell is stamped with the genetic code of the particular person for whom it is designed; it is not transferable, as a brick is, but it is part of something organic, something which will develop on its own- as a pile of bricks does not. A recent pamphlet issued by the Ontario Ministry of Health on the dangers of women smoking during pregnancy does not refer to possible damage to a collection of cells; it refers to damage to a baby. Similarly a women who had unfortunately had a miscarriage is not going to be consoled by the Morgentaler-Landsberg view that it was only brick dust anyway, or something no more important that brick dust.

Ms.Landberg’s column is bound to produce two main reflections. One concerns the educative effect of the law. From the very first, critics of the 1969 amendment to the Criminal Code, the amendment which made abortion legal under certain circumstances, said that the effect of the legislation would  be to debase our view of human life. In the Jewish tradition out of which Ms.Landsberg comes, as in the Christian tradition, children have always been regarded a gifts from God. For a women to sneer at ” this whole cult of worship of fertilized eggs” reads like something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As in that novel, in which promiscuity is normal and procreation regarded as disgusting, values are being turned upside down. And as in the novel, it is because our reasoning is becoming childish.

The second reflection is that attacks on the Church are mounting in fury and frenzy. Imagine the outcry which would occur if a Catholic columnist made a slighting reference to Jewish skullcaps or Sikh turbans. Somehow or other, however, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Canada feels that it can allow one of its columnists to ridicule a Catholic for wearing a scapular and accuse him of idolatry for erecting a shrine in his backyard. Our standards of decency are declining along with our standards of intellectual discussion, and the daily papers are helping in the decline of both.