By Don Hutchinson
My previous blog has generated some lengthy comments (longer than the blog), as well as several emails and conversations, so I’ve decided to blog my response rather than add to the lengthy chain of commentary at “Needed: A groundswell of support for Canadian abortion legislation.” Interestingly, the comments, emails and conversations readily divide into similar camps to those experienced so long ago, evidencing that the division present then is still present today. There are several points from then and now that require attention.
I was nearly a quarter of a century younger in those long gone days; a thirtyish young lawyer with theological training and six years of pastoral experience when consulted on Bill C-43. The best of intentions were assumed then, as now, of those within the pro-life movement. The results since that moment in history, however, are not in the quality of the proposals made since 1991 – as one comment suggests – but in the fact that none have passed into law. While neither my blog nor the recollection of others’ perspectives will tell the full story of that experience, and much has been done to mend fences among the pro-life leaders of our generation, today’s younger generation of leaders may well benefit from engaging those of us who were around, as well as themselves, in the conversation; perhaps working through the divisive issues, without the pressure of the Parliamentary calendar.
The EFC – and evangelicals generally – have long accepted the concept of incremental pursuit of a stated public policy goal.
Famed British MP William Wilberforce (and others) pursued the abolition of the slave trade en route to abolition of slavery, as slavery was then understood.
William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, fought the sex trafficking of his day by pursuing an increase in the age of consent to sexual activity with an adult in Britain from 13 to 16; a similar increase to that pursued by the EFC in more than a decade and a half of effort in Canada before our age of consent was raised from 14 to 16 in 2008. The EFC also engaged on the prohibition of child pornography, now found in s. 163.1 of the Criminal Code, in Parliament and the courts with the most recent amendment in 2005. These efforts to raise the age of consent do not endorse pre-marital sex, just as the efforts to criminalize child pornography do not legitimize pornography in other forms.
Similarly, we worked on having the crime of human trafficking recognized, which it was in s. 279.01 of the Criminal Code in 2005. We also realize that without a change in Canada’s prostitution laws, the reason for 80% of human trafficking will remain under-addressed. Prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada. As we pursue the changes needed to Canada’s prostitution laws, we are not endorsing prostitution.
I would not pretend that evangelicals, and since 1964 the EFC, were or are alone in these and other efforts. However, we start from the place of all being made in the image of God and recognition that in the absence of any law of prohibition what is “legal” is unlimited; restrained only by individual conscience, as is the case in regard to abortion in Canada today.
The Canadian political context is not unfamiliar territory.
The lack of a law has established a “norm” or “familiarity bias” for many Canadians and politicians that “it has always been this way,” opening the door for pro-choice and pro-abortion activists to misrepresent the decision of the Supreme Court in R v. Morgentaler (1988) as having established a right to abortion. (I encourage people with a simple method for reading the decision themselves in this earlier blog.) For many who have experienced the paradigm of no law for 25 years, at a distance from understanding either the decision of the court or the responsibility the court noted belonged with Parliament, introducing any form of law has come to be perceived as immoral; whereas a law restricting “unacceptable” post-viability or sex selective or disability selective abortion would remove the bias against any and all restrictions on abortion being perceived as a violation of human rights (even though, as noted above and by the Supreme Court of Canada, it would be no such thing).
In an interview with Peter Mansbridge during the last election campaign, Prime Minister Harper said, “If you want to diminish the number of abortions, you’ve got to change hearts and not laws” before noting that he was “not interested in having a debate over abortion law.” Mr. Harper is correct that hearts need to be changed. They need to be changed one at a time when appropriate for the saving of one. They also need to be changed in the majority of 308 MPs and 103 Senators who will accept the responsibility that is theirs as Parliamentarians, because Canada needs a law to protect children in the womb. The reality is that the debate Mr. Harper is not interested in having started before s. 251 of the Criminal Code was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 and hasn’t stopped since. Members of Parliament, Senators and those of us in the activist community have engaged the issue, resulting about every 18 months since that fateful day in 1991 in a bill or motion that carries the debate forward – as yet unresolved in the manner recommended by the Court, i.e. by Parliament.
Parliament needs to act. Chidren in the womb who are old enough to survive delivery, rather than being aborted, are dying in a fashion that nearly three quarters of Canadians find reprehensible.
It is true that one cannot simply airlift ideas from another jurisdiction, whether the USA or Europe. I prefer to stick with Canada’s national need and international commitments (not that I place any less value on life in another country but because I realize the Canadian political situation is uniquely, well, Canadian).
As noted by supporters and critics alike, it is important for pro-lifers to look at what we agree on. On the way to that point it may also be wise to examine where we disagree, set an example for the reasoned discussion that we desire from Parliamentarians, and seek solutions to what are apparently now age old problems.
I take to heart the point made that my comments might not have been helpful toward “facilitating unity among those who understand the need for legislation.” My support for WeNeedaLaw.ca may have been as strong a reply as the shot originally fired across the bow by Mrs. Jeffs, rather than an example of the type of public discourse we’re looking for in our “free and democratic society.” I am hopeful that civil discourse is the type of conversation that will now ensue and what divided us in the past may be resolved.
I also heed the point about Christian charity, noting that ours is both the true God and a forgiving God. I apologize to those who might have experienced a sense of condemnation from my words (Romans 8:1). Conviction is of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-8) and, as a friend of mine says, “There’s no such thing as Holy Spirit Junior.”
The title of that blog was taken directly from the stated purpose of WeNeedaLaw.ca. In conclusion, let me quote another reference to the purpose of WeNeedaLaw.ca on what I believe is a point worthy of pursuit, or at least initiating the conversation so that we can move from dispute to discussion: we need “to do all we can to protect children in the womb with federal abortion legislation.”