By Faye Sonier
Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, recently blasted media outlets for being too “balanced” in their coverage of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s death by interviewing pro-life Canadians.
The pro-life perspective “is an extremist view,” not deserving of “legitimacy” and “does not deserve equal time or respect in Canada” railed Arthur in a recent Rabble.ca piece. According to Arthur, “naïve reporters” should not be interested in the pro-life expression of “concern for women’s well-being,” or the perspective that all human beings, including those at earlier stages of development, deserve human rights.
In an effort to drive her point home, Arthur relies on a 2013 Angus Reid poll to argue that only 5 per cent of Canadians are opposed to abortions being available in any and every circumstance. In response to the same question, 35 per cent of those surveyed appear to endorse Arthur’s view that women should be able to have an abortion “at any time during their pregnancy, with no restrictions whatsoever.”
However, the largest percentage of those interviewed – a majority of 59 per cent - believed that unrestricted abortion in Canada is wrong. They felt there should be restrictions on the practice. The largest group within that category, about a third, felt that abortion access should only be provided during the first trimester.
By believing that abortion on demand is not good public policy, the majority of Canadians hold a position radically different than Arthur’s.
This same poll offers insight into Canadian’s true and nuanced perspective on the issue. When asked whether they knew the state of abortion law in Canada, only 23 per cent of respondents were aware “a woman can have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy, with no restrictions whatsoever.” A staggering 77 per cent thought there were laws in place to restrict abortion access at some point or for some reason.
When Canadians label themselves as ‘pro-choice,’ they don’t mean it the same way Arthur does. Most believe there actually are some restrictions on abortion access and that those limits on access are reasonable. For example, the same survey reveals that nearly half of Canadians believe that abortion is only accessible during the first trimester. When they say they are pro-choice, they are pro-choice in that they support a law they wrongly believe exists.
When provided with a real world example of what unrestricted abortion access engenders, Canadians demonstrate that they don’t truly support our abortion status quo. As a 2011 survey shows, 92 per cent of Canadians thought sex-selection abortions, where a child is aborted because his or her parents prefer a child of the opposite sex, should be illegal. Only 6 per cent share Arthur’s belief that this practice of sex-selection gendercide should be legal.
Only 6 per cent, when faced with a concrete outworking of unrestricted abortion access, stood with Arthur on the side of unlimited abortion access. The vast majority of Canadians do not believe that abortion is a morally good or neutral choice in every circumstance.
While Arthur cherry picked a statistic that suited her ends, a fuller and contextual understanding of abortion statistics reveals that while most Canadians aren’t pro-life in what many consider the strict sense of the term, neither are they pro-choice in Arthur’s immoderate sense of that term. Only a small minority, quite possibly as low as the 6 per cent in the survey, share Arthur’s view. In this debate, Arthur is the real radical and extremist.
This reality translates into opportunity for both sides of the debate to engage and persuade a public that largely isn’t settled in one camp or another. And in a democratic nation that values free speech, elected representative government and freedom of the press, a debate on an important social and human rights issue is frankly the least we can do.
The accusation that the media was being too balanced in its coverage of Morgentaler’s death is a ridiculous claim. Even by Arthur’s own analysis of the media coverage, a significant number of stories – 37 per cent of those she reviewed - didn’t include interviews with pro-life Canadians. But if “extreme” or minority positions should be ignored by the media, than by her own standard, Arthur is the one who should be excluded from engaging with the media. Ever. Again.
In Arthur’s attempt to exclude pro-life Canadians from the media and the public square, she condemns herself to the same fate with her irrational and ridiculous standards.