Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten, taking part in a press conference in her other role as Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, equated the pro-life position with hatred of women and said Catholic schools would not be able to teach abortion is wrong without violating Bill 13, the government’s anti-bullying legislation passed in June.
Reacting to a Campaign Life Coalition press conference sponsored by three Progressive Conservative MPPs calling for abortion to be defunded in Ontario, Broten insisted that the abortion issue is settled and reiterated several times that the Liberal government led by Dalton McGuinty affirms “a woman’s right to choose” and would not re-open the issue.
Journalists asked several questions about the appropriateness of funding Catholic schools considering the Church’s teaching that abortion is morally wrong or whether Catholic schools should be allowed to take students to pro-life rallies. Broten said that Bill 13 was “very clear” that “Catholic teachings cannot be taught in schools that violate human rights and which brings a lack of acceptance to participation in schools.”
She added “we must ensure that women … young girls can make the choices that they make.” She said “this is not about being pro-abortion, it is about being pro-choice.” Broten said she supports abortion and sends her children to Catholic school and she did not see any “contradiction” in that.
Pressed on the issue by a journalist (who was not identified in the Canadian Press transcript) who noted that Bill 13 does not mention abortion nor did the government make the connection between the Accepting Schools Act and church teaching about abortion, Broten replied: “Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny (and) taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.”
The Catholic Civil Rights League issued a statement saying that “The right to life, from conception to natural death, is a core teaching of Catholicism,” and that Broten “is clearly ill-informed about the fundamentals of Catholicism” if she does not realize there is a contradiction between supporting abortion and Catholic moral teaching.”
Teresa Pierre, president of Parents as First Educators, told the National Post, “parents concerned (Bill 13) would be used to silence Catholic teaching on homosexuality have now seen that in her mind, this bill concerns the life issues, too.”
Campaign Life Coalition called for Broten’s resignation and launched an online petition against the Education Minister. Within three days of posting the petition online, 4000 people signed it. Campaign Life Coalition Ontario president Mary Ellen Douglas called Broten’s view “totalitarian – there’s no other word for it” and urged supporters to write the premier urging him to sack Broten in her dual role of education minister and minister responsible for women’s issues. Dalton McGuinty himself resigned the following week under a cloud of controversy, but before his announcement he refused to back or repudiate the minister’s comments.
CLC national president Jim Hughes said in the organization’s national newsletter that while Broten was not articulating government policy, her words could have a chilling effect on pro-life activities consistent with Catholic education.
In reaction to Broten’s remarks, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto defended the rights of Catholic education at the annual Cardinal’s Dinner on Oct. 11. Cardinal Collins said the rights of Catholic schools are “protected and recognized” by section 93 of the Constitution and section 1 of the Education Act. He insisted, “when it comes to protecting the freedom of all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life in which the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected and honoured throughout their whole life on earth from the moment of conception to natural death.” He added: “defending the voiceless is our mission.”
The National Post reported that the Cardinal wrote a letter to the government expressing his “deep concern” at Broten’s comments.
Concerns about Broten’s comments extended beyond the Catholic community. Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said the idea that Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life is a form of bullying “would leave someone with even a rudimentary understanding of law reeling.” She noted that the law does not provide a “right-to-abortion” contrary to Broten’s press conference claims and that 60 per cent Canadians do not support the status quo of abortion-on-demand that Broten defends as necessary to avoid being misogynistic. She wondered if that made the majority of Canadians women-haters.
The National Post reported that constitutional lawyer Eugene Meehan said Broten’s position makes Bill 13 vulnerable to a constitutional challenge because it shifts teaching on morality in the Catholic school system from the church to the ministry of education, a breach of the Constitution Act of 1867.