Honouring a Remorseless Extremist (National Post July 2, 2008)

Barbara Kay, National Post  Published: Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yesterday, it was confirmed that abortion-rights activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler received the Order of Canada.

Was that wise? No. The Order of Canada is meant to honour an individual whose contribution to the nation all Canadians can take pride in. Dr. Morgentaler's successful crusade to ennoble the concept of abortion without constraints of any kind does not meet that criterion.

Abortion is a divisive issue, and only two minority groups believe there is a black-and-white answer to the questions of "if " and "when." Certain religious groups feel abortion is never an option. Certain ideological groups believe it is never not an option.

But most Canadians fall somewhere in between. We concede our logical inconsistencies, but uphold them anyway. We are sympathetic to the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, as well as those involving grave fetal abnormalities. But we do not favour abortion as retroactive birth control, as punishment for an unco-operative partner or for reasons of inconvenience or gender selection-- especially late in the pregnancy.

Dr. Morgentaler is unsympathetic to these and all other moral shadings. So a significant number of Canadians were offended yesterday -- and many were more than offended: They were ashamed and morally anguished at his invitation into the Order.

Given the determination to override Canadians' clearly expressed will -- 92% of respondents to a recent Web-based poll opposed the honour going to Dr. Morgentaler -- we must conclude that the committee, or those who prevailed over committee dissenters, believe it is their right to exploit the award as a validation of their own ideological bent rather than its intended purpose of recognizing those whose achievements will inspire others to like achievement.

Dr. Morgentaler was not rewarded for revitalizing cities, or entrepreneurial innovation, or combatting disease, or aesthetic originality, creative accomplishments we can all applaud as nation-building acts. He was rewarded for remorseless extremism in a morally dubious cause. He did not originate the idea that abortion should be legally available to women, he simply bulldozed it past acceptable limits.

The question to ask about any Order honouree is: Has he or she made Canada a better country? Without Dr. Morgentaler, Canadian women would have ended up with reasonable, if not unfettered, access to abortion, as have women in all Western nations. With him, we have abdicated all moral responsibility for even discussing the idea that the unborn have rights, let alone protecting them.

Part of Dr. Morgentaler's legacy has thus been to make pro-life advocacy politically incorrect. Chilling free speech is not the hallmark of a "better country." Nor is the fact that on his watch abortion has become a procedure the media and government choose not to critique, investigate or regulate with anything approaching responsible rigour.

For example, as I wrote in a column a few months ago (with not a word of rebuttal from Morgentaler or any other abortionist), abortion clinics, following the Morgentaler lead, deliberately mislead their clients when they tell them that even multiple abortions carry no risk for future pregnancies. That is not true: Abortion increases the risk of an extremely premature birth in a subsequent pregnancy -- and the risk is compounded for women who have multiple abortions. And extremely premature birth (gestation of less than 26 weeks) augments the risk of any number of scientifically established deficits, cerebral palsy being the most dreaded and consequential of them.

Dr. Morgentaler has knowingly placed himself in a conflict-of-interest situation. He is a physician, but he is also the guru of an ideological movement in which the litmus test of the movement's success is the absence of pre-abortion ambivalence and post-abortion regret in women terminating pregnancy. It is in his interest, and has been his practice, therefore, to elevate abortion's benefits and obscure abortion's risks. As a result, I doubt there is any other elective medical procedure in Canada routinely performed with such systemic, calculated reticence in informing patients of possible negative outcomes, in this case for their future, wanted babies.

It may sound melodramatic, but it is nothing more than the truth that Dr. Morgentaler and his acolytes have the heartbreak of many parents of dead or physically impaired babies on their conscience. Or should have. Ideological fervour should not be confused with character. Henry Morgentaler is not a role model for his fellow citizens, and does not deserve the Order of Canada.