In the late eighties, think the Mulroney government, abortion was a hot political potato. The debate raged with considerable fervor into the nineties, until in this decade it has hardly been an issue that any political candidate with plans to get re-elected would want to tackle. Last time the issue was put to a vote in our federal parliament was twenty years ago, and with both pro-life and pro-choice forces deeply committed to a non-compromise position Canada was left without any abortion law. Right in line with Cuba, China, North Korea and handful of other nations. Even countries with arguably much more secularized populations such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland did not go that far, but retained some laws to protect the unborn in later stages of pregnancy,
The Canadian debate unfortunately became all too infected by theology. The pro-life proponents argued from the Bible that life begins at conception, precisely my conviction, one that I would put forth in teaching and personal counseling. What we evangelicals didn’t recognize was that Canada is a secular society, not a Christian country. Maybe we never were. I’m deeply committed to the Bible as the word of God, but in a multi-cultural society, which gratefully ours is, theology is not the means of persuasion in the political arena. The pro-choice forces were equally entrenched, unwilling to listen to reason, writing off any pro-life argument as conservative Christians trying to ram their morality down the throat of everyone; atheist, agnostic or believer. What was the result? The mother’s womb has remained the most dangerous place in Canada.
I visited Scandinavia last month and noticed that laws are being enacted that could charge a woman, who smokes excessively during the last trimester because of the damaging effects smoking can have on an unborn. The proponents of such legislation are not born-again believers motivated by theology, but legislators driven by science, which is aware of the potential viability of human life outside the womb after the 20th week of gestation.
Maybe it is time to look at abortion again. It has been in the news lately. When abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler received the Order of Canada, there was the expectation of a flood of previous recipients that would resign from what they might now consider a tainted award. The flood didn’t happen, but five prominent Canadians recently resigned or mailed back their medallions. One of those, Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean Claude Turcotte, argued that Dr. Morgentaler is a “questionable” person, who cheapens the order.
The killing of a renowned Kansas abortion doctor, George Tiller, while he was ushering during a Sunday morning service in his Reformation Lutheran Church has also received considerable Canadian press coverage. Dr. Tiller had drawn ire from pro-life groups because of his work in one of only three abortion clinics in the United States that perform late term abortions. Dr. Tiller’s murder is deplored by followers of Christ, no matter how staunchly pro-life we are. It also serves as a reminder that for all the reasonable born-again Christians with strong convictions, there is the occasional loner, who will act in a deceptive religious fervor. Our activism must always be tempered by emphasizing God’s love for all people, even those whose actions we deplore.
Do Canadians on both sides of the issue dare to take another look? Politics is the art of compromise. Conservative Christians will not get everything we want, while those who favor the status quo are being over-run by scientific knowledge. Let’s not wait for a “born again” or committed Roman Catholic member of parliament to raise the issue. How about a politician from one of the traditionally pro-choice political parties tabling a motion that recognizes both the scientific realities of human life in the womb and the need for assistance to women with unwanted pregnancies?