By Paul Tuns
The Interim

The head of the political arm of Canada’s pro-life movement took a better-late-than-never approach to the prominence some religious leaders gave to abortion as an election issue for Christians to consider as they cast their votes on November 27.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim he would have preferred a generally stronger and earlier recognition of the importance of abortion as an issue for Christian voters.

“We’re grateful for their support but it would have been nice if they were clearer about abortion being a disqualifying issue.” (CLC’s position is that being pro-abortion disqualifies a candidate from public office, no matter how attractive their policies on other issues may be.) Hughes said it might have changed the terms of the debate and helped more pro-life candidates win on November 27.

He had in mind the silence of Calgary Bishop Fred Henry who failed to “criticize Joe Clark for his statements about being both a Catholic and pro-abortion,” and the tepid statement of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

The CCCB Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs document “Discerning Electoral Options: A Pastoral Reflection” listed specific points for Catholics to consider when voting. Included among the considerations are the parties’ and candidates’ views on “defending the right to life of the unborn” and “preserving existing legal prohibitions against euthanasia and assisted suicide.” Hughes said it is unfortunate the CCCB did not clarify that abortion should be a defining or disqualifying issue for Catholic voters; quite the opposite, the CCCB list might be interpreted as equating the importance of opposing abortion to support for medicare.

There were, however, several strong statements from religious leaders and organizations.

The Office of Life and Family for the (Catholic) Archdiocese of Vancouver released “A Canadian Catholic Voter’s Catechism,” which stated unequivocally that “the right to life is the most important issue in deciding” for whom to vote. The Voter’s Catechism, compiled under the authority of Archbishop Adam Exner, explains, “The most basic of all our rights is the right to life – the right from which all other rights flow.” Unlike the CCCB document, the Voter’s Catechism is clear about the importance of abortion as it explicitly rejects the idea that abortion is just one of a long list of issues. “The [Catholic] Church has many teachings about social justice, solidarity with our fellow citizens, the common good and human rights. We must take all of these into account. But two basic issues stand out in Canada today: the right to life and the status of marriage and family.”

The Voter’s Catechism also said when there is no pro-life candidate to vote for, Catholics should “vote for the candidate who is the least hostile to the right to life and to the family.”

London Bishop John Sherlock also highlighted the importance of voting pro-life. Bishop Sherlock has been under fire this year for his support of the World March of Women 2000 which promoted an agenda at odds with Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality. Hughes said he was “extremely pleased to see Bishop Sherlock’s comments.”

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), a national association of 32 Protestant denominations representing three million Canadians, produced an insert for church bulletins, “Going to the Polls: A Guide to Responsible Citizenship During the Federal Election.” Going to the Polls says biblical principles should be the guide as Christians “approach public life” and lists “Sanctity of Life” as a top priority for Christians. It noted that “human beings are created in the image of God” and thus “human life must be valued, respected and protected throughout all its stages.”

In a letter to the clergy and laity of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, Bishops Robert Mercer, Peter Wilkinson and Robert Crawley call upon church members “to guard and defend the purity and integrity of the Church’s Faith and Moral Teaching,” and noted especially the Church’s historic opposition to abortion. The bishops said, “Every human being, from the time of conception is a creature and child of God, made in His image and likeness, an infinitely precious soul, and … the unjustifiable or inexcusable taking of life is always sinful.” They lamented the “sad fact that none of our major political parties supports the Christian Faith in this matter” of protecting the unborn and urged voters to support individual pro-life candidates.

Hughes said it is important for religious leaders to stand up on the abortion issue because Christians need leadership and education at election time. He also said pro-life parliamentarians often complain they don’t see the spiritual support they hoped for on this issue. “This country needs moral leadership and our religious leaders are failing to provide that.”

The statements of several leaders and organizations this time around may be signs of more promising future.