The Annual General Meeting of Canadian Physicians for Life was held in Ottawa on August 20, and the guest speaker at the dinner was the Hon. James A. McGrath, M.P. Mr. McGrath’s major theme was that if the Pro-Life movement is to move ahead, there must be a change in tactics. This, of course, is not news. Dr. Bernard Nathanson said the same thing when he was in Toronto last spring. Indeed the film The Silent Scream was produced because Nathanson saw a new strategy was needed.
Mr. McGrath made it clear that he approached the question of abortion not as a doctor, or as a theologian, but as a politician. Politically, he said, the abortion issue is complex, and as a politician he himself had to remember he was the representative of many different people with a plurality of views. As for himself, he stated that he was tired of confrontation, and tired of bitterness. He complained that there was no communication between the pro- and anti-abortionists, each side talks only to itself. Politically too, he believes that concentration on one issue is wrong, for there are other issues such as unemployment and poverty. (Given the chance, one might have replied that it is possible to live through a period of poverty and unemployment. Such is not the case with abortion.)
However, despite this rather negative approach he made it abundantly clear that he will never compromise on the issue and that he is totally pro-life. In this connection he stressed that in his view to be pro-life one must also be anti-capital punishment, and anti-nuclear war.
He referred to the change in the Criminal Code in 1969 and said that those who altered the law were concerned with competing rights: the life of the unborn child versus the life or health of the mother. I justice to those who changed the law he felt it should be understood that they only intended to make legal a very few abortions a year, and not the thousands per week. He said the law is not applied properly and has not worked as it was intended to, but no one wants to talk about it. (Practically everyone in the audience would have given the speaker an argument at that point.)
Once again Mr. McGrath said pro-lifers are only talking to pro-lifers , and pro-abortionists to pro-abortionists. We do not show tolerance to the other side.
Continuing in this vein, he went on to say that change is needed, not so much in the letter of the law, but in the condition of the Canadian people. Pro-Lifers need scientific evidence of the humanity of the unborn child to reach new audiences. He quoted cases of babies who have undergone surgery in utero, and of a case where a baby was removed from the uterus for surgery and then returned to the womb. In the latter case the baby was at first unprotected by the law, became a legal person protected by law, and lost his personhood and protection on being returned to his mother’s womb.
In ending his speech, Mr. McGrath asked, “Where have we pro-lifers gone wrong?” He re-emphasized his belief that the right to life is basic to all others, but added that politicians and courts will only move when the people move.
The general consensus later that evening was that there was little in the speech to give joy. Certainly there is hope that scientific evidence will move the many uncommitted to the pro-life side, but how dialogue is to be achieved with those who believe that killing an ‘unplanned’ or handicapped child is justified is difficult to see. How many more babies must be destroyed before full legal protection to the unborn is restored?