Media and Courts React to Vancouver Rescue
By David Dooley
Media response to the February rescues at Vancouver’s, Everywoman’s Health Clinic gave the B.C. newspapers lots of opportunity or sensational headlines. The Vancouver Province for February 8 ran a headline right across its front page in very large type, saying, “Behind bars,” and beneath it, “105 anti-abortionists held overnight.”
The paper made its position very clear. When MP Bob Wenham appeared at a hearing called to decide whether the Supreme Court injunction against obstruction at the clinic should stand, the paper rebuked him editorially:
“Bob Wenham go home,” it ordered.
You shouldn’t be in Ottawa representing the people of Fraser Valley West.
“You shouldn’t be in a position of authority and responsibility, holding the public trust.”
“Your shouldn’t be governing; you shouldn’t be making laws.
Because, like so many anti-abortionists, you don’t seem to respect the laws, unless they happen to agree with what you think.”
That was February 8. The next day, The Province carried a column by Bruce McLean, “Strangers intruding in lives,” telling the emotional story of Martin Klein of Mineola, N.Y., trying to secure an abortion for his young wife Nancy, in a coma after a car accident, over the protests of two anti-abortion activists who had asked a court to prevent it.
“It’s much the same in Vancouver,” McLean said. Families of women seeking abortion are under attack “from Bob Wenham, a few priests, and the John and Jane Doe strangers who keep on intruding in their private lives.
The Province’s February 12 issue featured an editorial entitled “Law and disorder on western front.” It set the action of the courts concerning the anti-abortion protestors against the inaction of the provincial government. “The courts, we must all be thankful, are exercising their duties and responsibilities” towards people who are breaking the law, whereas the attorney general of the province is sitting back and not getting involved. “Have we really got the point in this province” the paper asked, “where the government will not stand behind us if we are doing something perfectly legal but contrary to its own preferences?”
The same issue carried a letter highly critical of Bob Wenham – for appearing in court “on behalf of people who wish to subvert the courts of Canada,” and concluded, “I can only express contempt for Parliament until Wenham resigns his seat.”
On February 26, The Province carried articles criticizing the Law Reform Commission’s proposals concerning abortion from two different perspectives. One regular columnist, Claire Hoy, ridiculed the proposals for perpetuating the status quo – allowing the killing of more than 60,000 unborn babies every year. The other, Jeani Read, was outraged at the Commission’s attempt to impose limits on ‘reproductive rights.’
The paper, in an editorial “No compromise on touchy issue,” sided with Read. It called the title of the report “Crimes against the fetus,” a mistake, and objected to bringing such matters within the scope of criminal law: “If most abortions are to be allowed, why dump the issue into criminal law at all? There is not a tittle of evidence to suggest pregnant women and doctors are behaving like criminals.”
The Vancouver Sun has made its pro-abortion clear in the past. When Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association visited Vancouver to promote his book When Freedoms Collide, the paper gave him a favourable interview headed “Coercion by abortion foes rejected,” and allowed him to state his pro-abortion position at length.
The Sun continued its attack on the rescuers in other ways. On February 11, it quoted two university professors as criticizing the link the abortion protestors made to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Eike Kluge of the University of Victoria said that the two movements are fundamentally different: the civil rights movement was clearly an attempt to protect the rights of persons. “But in the case of abortion the very issue is whether the fetus has status as a person. This is an attempt by one side to force the argument that a fetus is a person.”
Like the Vancouver Province, the Sun condemned the report of the Law Reform Commission, and for similar reasons: “What is insulting is the concept that abortion can be a criminal offence.” On February 25, the paper’s religion reporter began his column by saying, “Christian make up the frontline, middle and rear of protests against abortions – including recent civil disobedience that led to almost 200 arrests outside Vancouver’s abortion clinic. But that doesn’t mean all Christians oppose all abortions.”
Predictably, the spokeswomen for Everywoman’s ‘Heath Clinic’ took an attitude of injured innocence. Hilda Thomas, outraged by the demonstration of February 7, declared that “This is such a flagrant violation, such an open show of contempt for the laws of the province and for the judge who issued the injunction,” she added that she would rather see stiff fines instead of jail sentences for anyone found guilty of contempt of court.” “We don’t want to make martyrs out of people, however, much they may want to make martyrs out of women by imposing compulsory pregnancy on them.”
Predictably, the NDP supported the ‘clinic’ its justice critic, Moe Sihota, declared that the attorney general ought to proceed with criminal charges against the rescuers, and that the latter should lobby the federal government for new abortion laws instead of interrupting the operations of a ‘health clinic.’
During the hearing which began on February 6, prosecuting attorney John Steeves said that the claim of the Operation Rescue members to say that they represented the unborn was “audacious.” It is a woman’s right to have an abortion, he declared, and it is “not for the defendants to change that woman’s decision in any way.” He also asked for an injunction against sidewalk counseling, which he called “sidewalk intimidation.”
Justice MacKenzie essentially agreed with him. It cannot be said that the operation of a freestanding abortion clinic is illegal in Canada, he held, and the contention that it is immoral is only a point of view.
Similar statements were made by the other judges. Mr. Justice Lance Finch called it “a classic case of criminal contempt.” Justice Josiah Wood claimed that the obstruction “strikes at the very heart and threatens the rule of law.
Others such as Allan Manson, professor of criminal law at Queen’s University, agreed. According to him, the Supreme Court’s January 1988 ruling rendered abortions lawful and subject only to the consent of the mother. The anti-abortionists had shown disrespect for the law and disregard for the rights of others who were pursuing an entirely legal activity. Disturbing!
What the comments in the press revealed about general attitudes was highly disturbing. Moe Sihota referred to the rescuers as interrupting the operations of a health clinic, but the name ‘Everywoman’s Health Clinic’ is a lie; it does not deal with health but with death.
The editor who told Bob Wenham, MP, to go home doesn’t know the distinction between a representative and an instructed delegate; a true representative of a constituency has the obligation of using his own mind and his own conscience to the best of his ability.
The Sun and the Province expressed outrage at abortion being regarded as a crime. Yet abortion in Canada was always regarded as a criminal matter, even by the bad 1969 law. And on January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court made it clear that Parliament could pass revisions to the code which would render abortion illegal again.
Respect for Law
Much of the response to Operation Rescue must turn on respect for the law.
But it is very difficult to have respect for a law which contradicts 2000 year’s of history, not to mention the law of God. But even within the Supreme Court itself, the three majority opinions were examined and found wanting by dissenting Justice MacIntyre. He gave his colleagues failing grades. They neglected legal precedents, including previous Supreme Court decision. They gave novel and untenable interpretations to sections of the Charter of Rights. They admitted to evidence, and took far too seriously, a report on abortion in Ontario by Marion Powell; since it was completed after their hearing on Morgentaler, the judges had no opportunity to raise questions concerning the report or cross-examine its author. They assumed that women were being unduly discriminated against by section 251, whereas no woman, and no doctor had come forward to testify that this was so.
And even if the Court said that the procedures under section 251 were unfair, it also said that other procedures might be devised which would be acceptable, and that the protection of the fetus was a viable legislative objective.
The notion that the protesters were behaving like anarchists, or contributing to anarchy, must be seen against this background.
Anarchists say, “Laws aren’t needed. Away with all laws!”
Operation rescuers say, “Give us a law to stop the killing of babies. Give us a law in keeping with Canadian traditions of humanity.”
As one of the protesters said, she feels intense frustration at the fact that she has spent twenty years writing letters, protesting, appealing to parliament, and so on, and the results have been negligible. She would certainly have a point when she says that she has been driven to active protest at a so-called clinic by the refusal of the federal government to live up to its responsibilities.