Campaign Life Coalition, presented a clear message January 31 to the special Parliamentary Committee studying the government’s abortion Bill C-43.
“Compromise on abortion means legalizing the deaths of some unborn children. We would not legalize the rape of some women; or legalize the abuse of some children already born. The theft of some money is not legal; nor is the murder of some victims,” the brief stated.
This contrasted sharply with the position of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), which, in my opinion, gave Catholic MPs the green light to vote for a bill which gives no protection at all to the unborn child.
Five women veterans of the pro-life movement in Canada made up the CLC delegation. They were Dr. Coleen Duggan, a family practitioner on the staff of the Yarmouth, N.S. Regional Hospital, who presented medical evidence. Patricia Hansard, Lutherans for life, Chairman and National Executive Director of Abortion Recovery Canada, a group that deals with the psychological casualties of abortion; Therese Ferri, an Ottawa barrister and solicitor, presented the legal position. She was the Christian Heritage Party candidate who helped to defeat Maureen McTeer in the last federal election; Cynthia Haughn, a full time worker with the Pentecostal Church, Karen Murawsky, a Public Affairs Officer with Campaign Life Coalition in Ottawa, also presented parts of the brief. Mrs. Murawsky has an intense personal interest in the mentally and physically disabled, as one of her own children is so affected.
CLC started that Bill C-43 has been roundly condemned by pro-life leaders across Canada as it would make the killing of an unborn child simply “a matter between a woman and her abortionist.” The specific reasons for the CLC’s opposition to the bill were presented in point form in the brief as follows:
– Abortion could be done for the vaguest reasons.
– Only one doctor would need to approve the abortion. That doctor could be one who performs abortions for a living.
– Abortion would be legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy.
– Private abortion clinics could be set up across the country.
– A 13-year-old could seek and obtain an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge.
– Nurses and technicians could perform abortions if directed by a doctor, since the proposed law merely provides that abortions be done “under the direction” of a “medical practitioner.”
– Provinces may not be able to restrict abortions nor refuse to pay for them. According to the brief, putting abortion back in the Criminal Code would keep it under federal control and prevent provinces from bringing in their own regulations.
– There is a substantial risk that the proposed legislation will be found unconstitutional under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the Morgentaler case, the Supreme Court of Canada judged that Parliament could legislate to protect the rights of the unborn person. Justice Minister Doug Lewis stated that C-43 provides a balance between the rights of the mother and the unborn child. At some future date the Supreme Court might be inclined to strike down the definition of “health” as being too broad, thereby imperiling the entire statute.
Immediately after the CLC presentation, Bishop Robert Lebel and Bishop J.H. MacDonald, representing the Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), presented a brief that declared that Catholics can support legislation “which attempts, if only imperfectly, to restore protection or strengthen existing protection.” The bishops qualified this by stating that Catholics “must continue to work for complete protection and to express publicly their opposition to abortion.”
The CCCB position was similar to editorials in the Western Catholic Reporter (Nov. 13, 1989), the Catholic Register (Dec. 2, 1989) and the Catholic New Times (Jan. 21/90), all of which took the position of better this law than no law at all. (For analysis of these editorials, see Churches: Updated, page 14).
The bishops did not take the CLC view that the bill is a one-sided surrender that will ensure legalized abortion on demand in Canada. Rather, they saw the legislation as a basis to start from. Bishop Lebel compared the law to a boat that might be full of holes, but nevertheless, is capable of saving some lives.
That no doubt was the reason why neither of the two Bishops nor Mr. Bernard Daly, Mrs. Jennifer Leddy or theologian Marcel Lefebvre who accompanied them, made reference to the Declaration On Procured Abortion issued with the approval of Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1974. Section 22 of the Declaration includes the statement: “It must in any case be clearly understood that a Christian can never conform to a law which in itself is immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion. Nor can a Christian take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it. Moreover, he may not collaborate in its application.”
The reaction of MPs on the Parliamentary Committee (and non-Committee members also) was predictable for both the CLC and Catholic Bishop’s presentations, said a pro-life source.
Committee member and admitted homosexual MP Svend Robinson (NDP Burnaby-Kingsway) attacked Campaign Life Coalition on the grounds that they, had not given due consideration in their brief to the social conditions that lead many women to seek abortions. In their brief, the bishops had stated that more than an abortion law is needed, calling for such things as assistance for stay-at-home parents, affirmative action and pay equity. Robinson ignored Coalition’s reply that the issue at hand was Bill C-43, not a new economic and social policy. The MP appeared visibly angry and at one point had to be cut off by the chairman.
Committee member Barbara Greene (PC Don Valley North) stated that in her riding there are large numbers of Jewish families with children born with Tay-Sachs condition, clearly implying that abortion is a solution to such medical problems.
Clancy and Langan
After declaring themselves Catholics, Committee members Mary Clancy (Lib Halifax) and Joy Langan (NDP Mission – Coquitlam), not on the Committee, asked Bishop Lebel questions regarding the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion. Langan, aggressive and angry, claimed the Church had a “checkered past in opposing abortion.” The CCCB delegation refused to respond to this charge.
Clancy and Langan asked whether abortion was to be considered an infallible Church teaching. This was a loaded question.
Bishop Lebel replied that the Catholic Church’s position on abortion was not an ex cathedra teaching and was not on the same level as a confession of faith such as found in the Creed. He played down the idea of Church authority further by stating that Pope John XXIII had once declared himself not to be infallible. Clearly, he wanted to keep the profile of the Catholic teaching on abortion as low as possible.
And the Bishop succeeded in doing so. At the conclusion of the meeting a very pleased Mary Clancy came over, shook his hand vigorously and said, “Thank you very much.” MP Clancy has publicly declared that abortion is a woman’s right.
The presentation left everyone wondering.
The newspaper, too, could pick and choose. The Toronto Star headlined its story: “Law wouldn’t protect unborn, bishops say”; while the Ottawa Citizen stated, “Abortion: Catholics can back new bill.”
Summarized the Canadian Press: “The Catholic bishops said they could accept abortions for threats to life, serious threats to physical health, and serious mental problems. But abortion on ill-defined psychological grounds, or for social and economic reasons, should be outlawed, said the brief.” (The summary appeared on Feb. 1 in the Montreal Gazette; Kitchener-Waterloo Record; Regina Leader Post; St. John’s Evening Telegram.) Globe and Mail reporter Rheal Sequin made similar observations.
Earlier in the day, other briefs were also heard. Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, a long-time Morgentaler supporter, stated that “compulsory” sharing of a woman’s organs with those of a “fetus” was repugnant. He decided C-43 to be unfair to women. The YWCA claimed the same, saying that abortion is already a “highly regulated procedure.” Both the CCLU and the YWCA came out strongly in favour of a woman’s “right” to kill her unborn child.