Leadership lacking in pro-life movement

  • May 21, 2010
Cardinal Marc OuelletWhat a difference a year makes.

The 2009 National March for Life in Ottawa drew a record 12,000 enthusiastic supporters but was virtually ignored by the media. Twelve months later, the annual March attracted roughly the same number of pro-lifers to Parliament Hill but this time earned national TV coverage and front-page headlines in some large dailies.

Almost out of nowhere, Canada’s long-dormant abortion debate has been re-ignited.

This is the debate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists he doesn’t want and that opposition parties insist we should not have. Yet it seems to be a debate that all parties are encouraging in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind of way as they try to spin the inevitable public discord to their partisan political advantage. The hypocrisy is striking.

Canada has needed a frank, open, informed debate about abortion since 1988, when the Supreme Court, ruling on a Charter of Rights case, struck down Canada’s abortion laws. It was left to Parliament back then to draft new legislation that would conform with the Charter. Instead, for 22 years and to its shame, Canada has been alone among Western nations with no abortion law. Canadian women are legally entitled to an abortion for any reason at any time during pregnancy.

Poll after poll has shown that, although divided on the morality of abortion, Canadians are overwhelmingly united in their opposition to unrestricted abortion on demand. Most want abortion legislation. People may disagree on what the law should say but they agree there should be one.

So re-energizing the abortion debate is much needed, but it is discouraging to see it waged amid a vacuum of political leadership. Liberal heavyweights Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae have wilfully played the role of agitator by lobbing political grenades into the town square and running for cover, while Harper has called abortion a settled issue even as many in his party publicly agitate for change. It is a sad spectacle when elected leaders treat a divisive issue this way, playing to the cameras but cowering from controversial debate.

The vacuum they create is inevitably filled by the shrill voices, lobbyists and interest groups and  agenda-driven media outlets. Instead of rational, informed debate, we end up with distortion, hysteria and even hate. How else to explain the vitriolic reaction to recent comments in Montreal by Cardinal Marc Ouellet?

In response to a question, the archbishop of Quebec explained that the Church’s opposition to abortion is absolute and includes tragic situations such as pregnancy from rape. Sanctity of all human life is a core Catholic belief. That position is not new or hardly news. Yet Ouellet was vilified in the media, with one writer using extremely hateful language, and scolded by federal and provincial politicians. Appalling.

But that’s what happens when leaders don’t lead.
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