Pro-life leaders on both sides of the border are lukewarm to the use of referenda to determine moral questions, including constitutional protection for unborn children.

The question arose late last fall when Reform party leader Preston Manning spoke in favour of a law allowing a national referendum on issues such as abortion and euthanasia. Manning’s stand generated wide debate in pro-life circles. Many expressed qualified support for Manning’s position, but argued that life and death issues should not be subjected to a vote of 50 per cent plus one.

Politicians, meanwhile including some in the Reform party, distanced themselves from Manning’s statements and said their leader was expressing a personal view and not official Reform policy. Manning himself later appeared to back away from the referendum call, admitting the issue would not likely win widespread support in Canada.

The Interim sought to have Manning update his position on the referendum, but officials from the Reform leader’s Parliamentary office failed to return telephone calls.

The use of referenda appeals to populists and grassroots democrats who believe the traditional party system is out of touch with the will of the majority. At the same time, referenda have been criticized for promoting “value-neutral” politics.

Campaign Life Coalition officials initially supported Manning’s call for legal recognition of unborn children, but questioned the use of a referendum to settle the matter.

Meanwhile, Judie Brown, executive director of the Virginia- based American Life League, said the use of a referendum to settle the abortion question is misguided.

“Whether or not a human being is killed in the womb is not something that should be subject to a vote,” Brown told The Interim. “Abortion is more than a moral question. It’s a matter of who lives and who does.” Her view was echoed by Ron Gray of Canada’s Christian Heritage Party, who endorses a constitutional change to protect unborn children, but rejects the referendum plan.

“The fact before us right now that killing children before they’re born is wrong,” Gray said. “No referendum will ever change that chilling reality.”

Meanwhile Joe Scheildler, director of Pro-life Action League in Chicago, said the use of referendum unless it’s nonbonding,” Scheildler told The Interim.

“People shouldn’t have to vote on moral issues. If a referendum were held in the U.S. today, we would probably get a majority supporting assisted suicide and same-sex marriages.”

Scheildler said the North American public has been bombarded with anti-life messages for decades. That reality, coupled with what he termed hostile media and a weak Church, would make a referendum even more difficult to win.

Scheildler praised Manning for taking a stand on the right to life issues, but suggested that North Americans look beyond politicians to bring the pro-life message before the public.

“We’ve got to keep doing the front-line work and not worry about winning the popularity contests,” he said.