The various groups appearing before the Parliamentary Committee reviewing Bill C-43, the proposed law on abortion, have at least one thing in common: they all oppose the legislation. Pro-abortion groups naturally argue that criminal sanctions against abortion are an infringement on a “woman’s right to choose.” This requires the now-familiar dismissal of medical facts showing that the unborn child is a human being and a callous disdain for the effects on our society of so much killing.

Following are some excerpts from the testimony of various groups, taken from the printed Minutes of the committee hearing s made available to The Interim in early March. [See also Sabina McLuhan’s column in this issue for excerpts from the testimony of the group Men for Women’s Choice.]

CCLA

One of the first groups to appear was the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), represented as usual by their counsel, Alan Borovoy.

Borovoy argued that Bill C-43 does not adequately protect women who seek abortions when their pregnancies “threaten their life or health.” It is a somewhat strange argument because these are precisely the grounds on which the bill does permit abortion and will allow every request for one to be granted.

CCLA objects to women having to prove that they have a substantive medical reason for wanting an abortion. Borovoy calls it “terribly unfair.”

“Even if it were assumed that a fetus is a person,” he said, “that person does not necessarily have a claim, a right of sanctuary, in the body of someone who does not want it there.” Borovoy would not answer MPs’ questions on the rights of the unborn, insisting that issue was outside the framework of the bill. He preferred instead to talk about “compulsory organ sharing and body sharing” as repugnant to democratic principles.

YWCA

The YWCA of Canada, “proudly declaring itself feminist,” told the MPs of its solid commitment to women and their families.

The YWCA is also against C-43, saying it “supports the right to freedom of choice; that abortion should be a private matter of individual conscience, decided on by a woman and a physician.” This is a “moderate” pro-abortion feminist position. The radical feminist position is that a woman should be the only one to decide.

Lyne Taylor, president of the YWCA, said that the pro-abortion policy is not “a decision that we take lightly. Because we are such a high profile and public organization there are enormous risks for us, and I am not speaking hypothetically… This is a policy we have had for 10 years, and we know what the risks are. Particularly since the Montreal massacre we are ever more conscious of the risks.”

MP Benno Friese later asked her to explain the reference to the Montreal massacre. Taylor replied vaguely that the YWCA has “received death threads on this issue [abortion] and personal threats of to her kinds and financial threats and a number of other things.” She did not explain the Montreal connection.

Campaign Life Coalition

The YWCA delegation was welcomed very politely by the MPs on the committee. The women MPs, in particularly, spoke glowingly of their admiration for the organization. This cordiality was markedly absent later in the day when five women from Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) presented the pro-life position.

Patricia Hansard, a member of the CLC delegation later wrote to NDP MPs Dawn Black and Svend Robinson protesting against their behaviour, which included passing notes, laughing, dropping cups and walking about.

Pierrette Venne (PC) refused even to question the CLC women. She asked if Jim Hughes was the president of CLC and was told he is. She replied, “I think that this group, and their president, are really extremely in their views, and I cannot really discuss in a reasonable fashion with them. They talked about not being able to compromise. In that case, I cannot either!”

Svend Robinson and Barbara Greene both referred to the numbers of illegal abortions in Romania under Ceausescu and were not satisfied with CLC’s Terese Ferri’s response that a comparison between Canada and Romania is without foundation

Ms. Greene spoke about her Jewish constituents who have abortions when the child is diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease and indicated that eugenic abortion was acceptable. She did not comment on the CLC response: Ms. Hansard pointed out that “A sensitive and caring society would never think in terms of getting rid of people who might be problems or have conditions which will require a great deal of care.” Rather she wondered how much such care would cost.

The hostility shown to CLC was not continued over into the next delegation. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) was received politely. [See March Interim editorial for reasons why].

Canadian Medical Association

A week later, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) told the Committee that doctors would be ‘persecuted” and threatened with prosecution for performing abortions and women would be forced into “deceit andlying” to get them.

CMA President Dr. Judith Kazimirski claimed that ‘physicians, nurses and other health professionals involved find the performing of abortions onerous, disagreeable and distasteful. They do so only because it is a professional responsibility. It will take very little to tip the balance and many physicians will discontinue performing abortions. The threat of the stigma of Criminal Code charges laid by the Crown, the patient or third parties such as putative fathers or extremist organizations, let alone sanctions of the Criminal Code, will tip the balance and many physicians will stop performing abortions.”

She also pointed out that medical litigation is on the increase in Canada. Obstetricians and gynecologists, who perform most abortions, have had their insurance costs rise from $500 to $12,000 in six years. The CMA feels that lawsuits against abortionists should proceed only if the Attorney General agrees. On the other hand, the doctors state that it should be an offence for an abortion to be performed by “unqualified personnel.”

During the question period, Dr. Kazimirski states that approximately 800 members of the CMA perform abortions and that 325 perform “the majority.” She claimed that ‘a significant number of physicians” would “re-evaluate their position” if Bill C-43 were passed.

Pro-life MPs on the committee attempted to get a statement of the humanity of the unborn child from the CMA delegation. The doctors avoided a direct answer by repeating hat the CMA is preparing a report on the “rights of the fetus.” Obstetrician John Lamont, an abortionist from Hamilton, Ontario, questioned by MP Reg pagtakhan (a pediatrician by profession) why some doctors found the procedure “distasteful”, replied that abortion is a “failure” of the system [in preventing pregnancy in the first place]. Eventually he managed to say, “I am sure there is a small percentage of physicians who refer patients for abortion who would actually believe that [it is terminating human life], but refer the patient anyway.”

Later on, Dr. Kazimirski, commenting on a Physicians for Life ad which had appeared in newspapers that day, made a surprising admission: “As physicians and scientists we cannot deny the facts; life begins at conception.”

It is significant that the CMA did not attempt to defend abortion as a necessary medical procedure to save the life of the mother. Dr. Pierre Beausejour, a psychiatrist, said, “85 percent to 95 percent of induced abortions are done for psychiatric reasons, but there are very few absolute psychiatric reasons that are a threat to life, such as severe depression with suicidal risk. Most of these psychiatric reasons are for psychological and social reasons, or humanitarian reasons…”

CARAL

Following the CA, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) insisted on “the right to decide when and whether to bear a child” as a fundamental human right. CARAL does not want abortion in the Criminal Code and wants the government to use the Canada Health Act to withhold medicare payments to provinces that refuse to provide abortions.

CARAL denies that Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) exists. “In fact,” stated Kit Holmwood, CARAL’s president, “when women have made that decision on their own and they have made it for their health and welfare and for the best of their family’s health and welfare, women have actually come out very positive after an abortion experience, because it is what they have needed and it has made them feel better.”

MP Lise Bourgault pointed out that, in her experience, the pro-abortion lobby is not very large. “I find that your members have not written very much to the Members of Parliament,” she said. “I can tell you that 80 per cent of the letters I have received in my office since I am a member, since 1984, were from women who are against abortion. As to the others, very few have taken the time to write to us. Therefore, the Members of the House of Commons, who are a reflection of Canadian society, are convinced that there are more women against abortion than women who are in favor.”

Canadian Labour Congress

MP Peter McCreath made the same point during the next presentation from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) saying “I have not been lobbyed on any subject… as much as I have on the subject of abortion…It is my honest impression that a fairly significant majority of my constituents are on the other side of the issue.”

The CLC also rejects Bill c-43. President Shirley Carr told the committee she was “absolutely appalled” to have to speak on a question they thought settled 20 years ago. The CLC, she said, believes that “self-determination is a fundamental right of all women, and that reproductive choice and guaranteed reproductive health are an integral part of that fundamental right.”

Though the CMA had difficulty in answering the questions, MPs asked about fetal rights, while still maintaining their position on abortion, the labour representatives had no such problems.

Nancy Riche, executive vice president, asked if there is a valid objective in law to protect the fetus, said the issue is solely one of women’s rights. “We believe the fetus is not separate fro the mother until it is born.” Asked what medical authority led her to that conclusion, she responded, “I am a woman.” Asked if that were the only authority to be considered, she said, “If we are talking about basic equality rights, yes.”

REAL Women

The next day, REAL Women appeared before the committee with a completely different interpretation of equality rights.

REAL Women presented the physical and psychological effects on abortion. They countered CARAL’s earlier argument that Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) does not exist by documenting studies that show it is quite prevalent. Abortion, they said, “is a sexist trap and is being used to exploit women.”

“There is no protection for women, just more pressure,” said Gwen Landolt, vice-president of REAL Women. “Nor does this bill change the status quo. We are adapting women to a wombless male society instead of adapting society to meet the needs of women. The fact is that women do get pregnant. We do need help when we are pregnant and distressed, and the fact that we are pregnant should in no way deter us from carrying on our goals and aspirations. If we let Bill C-43 pass into law, it will mean that women will in effect become wombless males. Society will not help them carry their babies to term.”

REAL Women came under hostile questioning from several MPs. Robert Kaplan insisted that the group was “insulting” to women, implying that they were not capable of making the decision to have an abortion. Landolt responded that women are not given proper information on the consequences of abortion for a valid informed consent.

She added that “the basic argument is that nobody should have the consent. A women should have no more right to kill her unborn than I should have a right to kill you or an aged parent, because it is human life.”

REAL Women recommended that parliament pass a law which provides full protection for both women and children and society as a whole. If such a law is rejected by the Supreme Court, REAL Women believes the government should invoke the “Notwithstanding clause” of the Charter. “In an issue such as abortion,” said the REAL Women brief, “the most crucial issue of the latter part of the twentieth century – five individuals (a bare majority) should not impose their personal views on the majority of people in this country.”

NAC

The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) followed REAL Women at the hearing. The NAC delegation included Laura Sabia, the first president. Sabia said she was “appalled” to hear so many different points of view, an obvious reference to the pro-life views heard immediately before.

“Sometimes I wish that men could have babies,” she said. “If they could, perhaps we would go faster in making some changes.

“Women are not morons. And we are not misbegotten males, as Aristotle once said. We are intelligent, discerning human beings and we do not need to have people tell us somebody else must make the decision for us, as we heard this evening.

“I will make my own decision on abortion whenever I want to. I will have no male tell me otherwise, and I will have no other female tell me otherwise either.”

Janet Conway of NAC protested that “this law does not enable any healthy woman in this country to procure an abortion… The 65,000 women in this country who opt for abortions every year are not all physically sick. The vast majority are not physically ill, nor are they psychologically unstable. This bill is profoundly demeaning to women… The reasons women have much less to do with their individual health and much more to do with the structure of the society that enhances sexism, economic inequity and racism.”

Judy Rebick expressed her “contempt for the opinions of REAL Women or the Campaign Life Coalition” and urged that the government withdraw the bill.

Under questioning by MPs, Sabia, Conway and Rebick all rejected the idea that women should have to give a reason for having an abortion. Sabia said “We should be grown up in our attitudes towards this abortion. It is not such a demeaning thing. People seem ot think an abortion is terrible.”

MP Pierrette Venne had trouble with the NAC position. She told them that the bill did indeed give ground for “healthy” women to have abortions. She pointed out that the woman makes the decision and goes to a doctor to get an abortion.

“All in all,” she summed up, “what you do not seem to like about this bill is the wording; the terms used are not those you wanted to see. The terms you would have preferred are far more extremist. Nonetheless, the objective has been achieved. We have achieved exactly the same goal, but your preferred terminology has not been used in this bill.”

MP Lise Bourgault, stating she is for “a woman’s choice,” also said that Bill C-43 “is not that bad.”

NAC, however, did not move from its position. It does not want any law on abortion and wants the government to use the Canada Health Act to force provinces to provide abortions. In its brief, the organization states that ‘without the fundamental democratic right to decide it and when to have children, women will never achieve equality.”

Law Reform Commission

The Law Reform Commission (LRC), on the other hand, approved of Bill C-43 as a “compromise.” It is the only organization to appear before the committee so far to support the bill.

Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) asked that the bill be amended “to recognize explicitly the human right to life of the unborn in all stages of development, and secondly, that the health standard be clarified to read that abortions are permitted only when the health of the pregnant mother is seriously endangered and there is no medically effective treatment available to eliminate the health risk.” The EFC also expressed concern that if abortion is permitted for stress, it would lead to “fetal farming” or using fetal tissue for “utilitarian purposes.” When the unborn are seen as having no value in themselves, the use of abortion for “gender selection” will become acceptable. When millions are being spent on “fertility technology,” it is a contradiction that “we are losing the lives of some 60,000 unborn a year.”

Brian Stiller, the executive director of the EFC, told the MPs that any people in the “religious sector” feel that they cannot express their point of view because it is “imposing our religious values on others.”

Pluralism, he argued, “is an environment where ideas compete and where the coalition of ideas that give the greatest strength ultimately win out… The religious sector I come from says that because we believe life begins at conception and because we have a responsibility to try to protect the life of the unborn, we are going to do everything we can, not to jam our religion down your throats but to try to win by argumentation and presence at the table of pluralism to convince others that in fact our view is worth considering and in fact may have some substance to it.”

Campagne Quebec Vie

Campagne Quebec Vie (CQV) made its presentation February 14, calling for full protection for the unborn. CQV president Gilles Grondin criticized the earlier suggestion from the CCCB that the bill be amended to adopt a restrictive definition of the word “health.” Grondin called this “unacceptable” and added that it would open the door to all kinds of abuses.

Grondin asked MPs, “Is it possible to serve the common good of society when passing legislation that allows putting an end to the life of future members of that society? Is it not true that such legislation would be suicidal for that society? Is it not plain common sense to see what a country that kills its children has no future?”

Women MPs did not like CQV’s point that the escalating abortion rate in Quebec was having a significant effect on French Canadian culture. Garbrielle Bertrand said that she was “deeply humiliated” to think that women could be forced to bear children to raise the birth rate. In fact, CQV made no mention of “forcing” women to bear children.

Saskatchewan Reproductive Rights Coalition

The Saskatchewan Reproductive Rights Coalition appeared before the committee to protest the “inadequate” access to abortion in that province. They regretted that in Regina abortion have dropped since 1985 from 300 to 400 a year t o 30 or 40. “At least 300” Saskatchewan women, they claimed, now go to North Kokata and Manitoba each year for abortions.

In Saskatchewan, according to this group, it is hard to find a doctor willing to perform abortions now. However, under questioning from MPs, the coalition acknowledges that low medicare payments for abortion were ore responsible for the lack of abortionists than the pressure from pro-lifers. Bill C-43, the group asserts, will make it even harder to find an abortionist. Also, the group protests that the province has completely cut off provincial funding to Planned Parenthood and has a chastity education program called “just Say No” in the schools.

MP Mary Clancy did not like the sound of this and asked if there were also a programme for young males called “Just Do Not Ask.” The Coalition representative said she thought not and added that abstinence programmes, in her view, ignored “reality” because they did not include information on contraception.