Why is it so hard to talk
Canada is the only Western country without any laws regulating
abortion. We also appear to be the only Western nation that can’t
seem to debate this topic. Faith Today senior writer alex newman
delves into why that is so, and what can be done about it.
Tucked into a corner of McMaster Univer- sity’s Health Sciences Building in Hamil- ton, Ont., is one of many lecture halls with seats like bleachers stacked so high that by sitting there, you’re at risk of vertigo. In one of those halls on a Thursday evening in March, something unusual is
taking place – a debate about abortion between Stephanie
Gray, co-founder of Calgary’s Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) ( www.unmaskingchoice.ca), and a
first-year health sciences student from
McMaster’s debating team.
The event is unusual, says Gray,
because these days it’s very hard to
find anyone willing to debate her
about abortion. As a topic, abortion
is “too messy,” says a debate team
member, and that is why it is a subject rarely broached on the university
debating circuit. Indeed, the debate
only saw the light of day because Mac
Med Students for Life lobbied for it.
The reluctance to debate abortion,
however, as every Canadian knows,
is not just at universities. It is something Canadians – in academia, on
the street, in our parliament and even
sometimes in our churches – have a
hard time discussing. That is partly
because our national personality doesn’t like tackling
“not nice topics,” says Paul Malvern, an author and strategic communications consultant. Malvern is also the
former principal speechwriter for Prime Minister Harper,
and a frequent speaker on pro-life circuits.
on abortion in the pages of the Post.
“The U.S. is an openly Christian country, and there is
a vast difference between the religious nation and the liberal abortion law – even though the laws vary from state
to state. And that tension drives the debate, the tension
between the morality of the people and the law, and as
long as the law doesn’t reflect people’s values, there will
continue to be that tension,” Kay explains.
Meanwhile in Canada, Kay adds, there is less “
religious pressure” to ban abortion, making for less tension
between reality and the laws. “If you
asked most people who live in Toronto or Montreal to design an abortion
law, they’d say we don’t need one.”
Just this January an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found 59 per cent of
Canadians feel there is no point in re-opening the abortion debate, with 30
per cent feeling a debate is overdue.
are canadians Too nice?
vs the advocates
Véronique Bergeron is a parliament-
ary assistant who frequently blogs
about pro-life topics. She says there’s
a marked difference between the pos-
ition of regular Canadians and those
immersed in the debate on a daily
basis whose opinions are polarized.
Bergeron, a married lawyer with eight children – and
a biomedical ethics degree – says, “In the science realm
everyone knows that life begins at conception. Technol-
ogy has allowed us to see what’s developing in the womb
at an early time. You’ll hear people saying it’s a clump of
cells, but those are not solid debaters.”
But within the movement the lines are drawn on two
distinctly different premises – pro-life arguing that all abor-
tion is a trauma against nature, and pro-choice arguing that
every woman has the right to choose what happens to her
body. And because the pro-choice position relies on law and
the justice system, Bergeron adds, “They feel that the issue
was settled over 20 years ago, and that the debate is closed.”
Faytene Grasseschi, executive director of the Christian
youth advocacy group 4MyCanada (www.4mycanada.
“The internet has opened the
discussion in a
going over the heads
say that abortion
is good, and the
other side doesn’t
worthwhile to say.”
The reluctance of Canadians to debate abortion may also
have something to do with how vocal Americans are
about it, and a desire to distance ourselves from American fundamentalism. Why Americans are more prepared to debate has a lot to do with “the state of the law
so plainly at variance with the moral view of so many of
its citizens,” says National Post managing editor Jonathan
Kay, a columnist who has more than once weighed in