Break the feminist lock on abortion policy (National Post, March 23, 2005)

Too bad Scott and Laci Peterson weren't Canadian. Had they been, the Conservatives might have felt emboldened to add a review of abortion policy to their agenda, instead of sweeping fetal rights under a centrist policy rug in order to prove social conservatives aren't running the show.

Peterson was handed the death penalty last Thursday for the murder of Laci and their son, Conner, who was "born" into San Francisco Bay from his mother's corpse. Public revulsion around the death of "baby" -- not "fetus" -- Conner did more to stimulate discussion on fetal rights than a thousand candlelit vigils at abortion clinics.

I mean discussion in the United States, that is, where a partial-birth abortion ban was signed into law last year. In Canada, various pro-life organizations and a few media commentators (including the Post's Andrew Coyne and Anne Kingston) have urged that the subject be revisited. But no political party dares pay them any heed.

Politicians with poor communications tactics sap credibility from the pro-life movement, to be sure. Calling abortion "murder," as Conservative MP Elsie Wayne does, or drawing parallels with Iraqi insurgents' beheading of hostages, as her colleague Cheryl Gallant has, offends most Canadians.

But what about Conservative MP Rob Merrifield, who was immediately demonized during last year's federal election campaign when he suggested women seek counselling before an abortion? This was a perfectly reasonable proposition, already policy in many extremely liberal European countries. But feminists, with wide media support, excoriated him and his party. Abortion was chilled as a platform issue then, and for the foreseeable future.

And yet, according to Gallup, no more than 37% of Canadians have ever supported abortion on demand, while Environics Research (September, 2004) finds 68% of Canadians want legal protections for fetuses at some point in their development.

I'm one of those 68%. The 1988 Supreme Court demolition of our abortion law left a void that hasn't been publicly addressed since. Nature abhors a vacuum. In 1988, in my province of Quebec, 16% of pregnancies resulted in abortion. Today, 30% do. You needn't be a fundamentalist Christian -- I am not -- to be disturbed by this statistic.

You needn't be a fundamentalist Christian to feel rising anxiety at technological progress casting ever-brighter illumination on early fetal consciousness and sensitivity to pain, and expanding viability for premature infants younger than fetuses terminated in late- (and even mid-) term abortions. These advances should already have made unborn babies natural candidates for rights that weren't apparent in 1988.

You needn't be a fundamentalist Christian to find this disturbing: Canadian girls born in 1988, now 17, have never learned, either in school or through public debate, that abortion is an ethics issue; that girls now use abortion as birth control; or that they don't associate abortion with either guilt or shame, because it's medicare-sanctioned, and nobody tells them there are practical, let alone moral, alternatives to abortion.

Canada supposedly loves the middle way, compromise and the "big tent." But when it comes to rights issues, other minorities -- First Nations, gays, people of colour -- mill around sipping tea in cozy comfort under a protective canvas, while the unborn are always left outside, heaped forlornly in the rain.

The ancient institution of marriage, only six years ago officially declared by our political mandarins as exclusive to heterosexuals, has enjoyed gay-sympathetic reassessment, public debate and legislative reform, all based on human rights. Yet the 1988 decision on abortion is tacitly considered eternal and settled, with any formal attempt to revisit it a potentially career-ending initiative. Whence the disparity in public consideration?

The answer, in a word, is feminism. Feminists and their supporters -- intellectual theorists throughout the educational system, politically correct politicians and the overwhelmingly liberal media -- dictate what is admissible for public discussion and what is not. Gender and racial rights suit the feminist agenda, while limitations on abortion, which involve potential sacrifice on women's part -- of time, convenience or career ambition -- do not.

Ironically it is women who suffer most from the feminist ukase against an abortion debate. In a telling scene from CTV's 2004 television movie The Choice: The Henry Morgentaler Story, a woman challenges Morgentaler: "Why do so many women mourn [their abortions]?" Since 1988, in line with feminist theory, girls have implicitly been made to understand that abortion is emotionally inconsequential. That mourning awaits them is a crucial, but consciously withheld, piece of information.

Misleading young women on the psychological dimensions of abortion is unethical, and that's just the tip of an iceberg of suppressed information. It's time to break feminism's abortion-debate padlock on the Canadian town hall.
© National Post 2005