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Pro-Life Prohibition

The disappearance of the abortion debate in Canada.

by
Janice Fiamengo

Bio

January 26, 2013 - 12:28 am
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Under different circumstances, the political Left in Canada might have been a natural home for the pro-life movement, especially that part of the Left with social gospel underpinnings. The leftist New Democratic Party, after all, has always drawn a significant number of its leading members from the mainline churches. With an emphasis on group rights, state-supported compassion, and special compensations for the weak, the progressive movement is at least theoretically a good fit for a principled commitment to the most vulnerable of human beings. The Left’s championing of women’s sexual freedom and self-determination, however, seems to have made protection of unborn children a political non-starter.

The conservative side of politics used to uphold the sanctity of life, with religious and social conservatives favoring humane limitations on the abortion license. But in the last twenty years or more, the emphasis in the modern conservative movement has been on freedom: free market competition, freedom from state interference in personal affairs, and freedom to express unpopular ideas. In that context, abortion law looks less like the protection of life than like the state meddling in private conduct, and therefore like an unjustifiable impingement on freedom of conscience. Avowedly pro-life politicians frequently declare their unwillingness to limit others’ “choice,” and both the libertarian wing of the political right and secular fiscal conservatives seem to find the pro-life position irrelevant or harmful.

For these reasons, legal restrictions on abortion are now nearly impossible to contemplate in Canada, a fact that pro-lifers, through their silence, implicitly acknowledge. In a prosperous, sexually liberated culture such as ours, it seems we can no longer imagine a law restraining a woman’s unfettered right to abortion: everything we have become — career-oriented, pleasure-seeking, committed to ideals of self-fulfillment and free choice — militates against it. And yet, even abortion’s staunchest defenders must recognize at some level that a culture that kills its unborn children in such numbers (reportedly about 30 abortions for every 100 live births) and with such indifference is an unhealthy one, both demographically and spiritually. The pro-choice determination to keep pro-lifers silent betrays that knowledge.

The Oliver Capkos of the country reveal a contradiction at the heart of our professed values — defense of the weak, the pursuit of justice, and the right to life — that few Canadians have the honesty or courage to confront.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)

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Janice Fiamengo is a professor of English at the University of Ottawa, and author of The Woman’s Page: Journalism and Rhetoric in Early Canada (2008).
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