This article was amended on Sept. 24, 2012 to clarify comments made by Jim Hughes.

OTTAWA - A statement by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller that supports Catholics who campaign for “gestational legislation” to limit abortion has helped calm growing tensions within the pro-life movement.

Miller wrote it is “morally licit” for Catholics to support legislation that sets limits on abortion rather than immediately banning it outright. The archbishop’s statement, quickly endorsed by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins and posted on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) web site, urges co-operation in the pro-life movement but stresses: “Co-operation does not always mean unanimity regarding a given strategy; open and civil debate about the wisdom of any specific strategy is healthy.”

Over the past year, support in pro-life circles across Canada has grown for a law that would prohibit abortion at later stages of pregnancy or gestation. Campaign Life Coalition, the national political arm of the movement, however, has remained staunchly opposed as have several other groups that believe incremental legislation of this type will not result in an eventual ban on abortion.

Each side has accused the other of not being Christian or Catholic enough — either for not protecting those babies that might be saved through some restrictions on abortion, or for not sending a strong enough message about the value of all human life from conception.

But Miller said that both positions, for or against gestational legislation, are morally licit.

Miller wrote it is acceptable to support gestational legislation (i.e. legislation that would allow abortion in the early weeks of the unborn child’s development) as an incremental step that would reduce the harms of “an unjust legal regime that permits abortion.” But such law should be regarded “as a step along the way to the eventual full legal protection of the right to life of all unborn human beings.”

“At the same time, it is also morally licit to withhold support for gestational legislation — and other incrementalist legislative strategies intended to limit access to abortion — if, after prudent reflection, one is convinced that it is an unwise legislative strategy,” he said.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), co-sponsored by the CCCB and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus, welcomed Miller’s intervention.

“The division within the pro-life movement is very preoccupying, especially when leaders and members of pro-life groups point at each other and criticize each other’s approach to protecting the unborn,” said COLF director Michele Boulva. “All this hinders our chances of obtaining a law that would protect the most vulnerable of Canadians — its unborn citizens.”

She applauded the bishops’ taking leadership in the pro-life arena.

“As Catholics it is essential that we turn to our bishops when confusion arises regarding the Church’s teaching. Christ has empowered them to teach in His name.”

Based on Blessed John Paul II’s teachings in Evangelium Vitae, “legislation which intends to limit the harm done by a pro-abortion law is not itself co-operation with unjust law but rather ‘a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects,’ ” the archbishop wrote.  

The absence of any law restricting abortion in Canada is a “de facto legal regime that permits abortion with almost no restrictions,” the archbishop said.

“Legislation intended to restrict access to abortion would not create a new legal situation in Canada which would authorize abortions, but instead would intend to limit the number of abortions already authorized under law,” he said.  

He also reiterated Catholic teaching against abortion at any stage, noting that “no law can claim to legitimize abortion.”

Two major pro-life groups on either side of the issue welcomed Miller’s statement.

Campaign Life president Jim Hughes said the archbishop makes it clear we have a de facto law by having no restrictions on abortion.

“I thought Archbishop Miller laid the case pretty well,” he said. "Although I and many others would not necessarily agree with his opinion on a de facto law.”

The most important part of his statement “points out that gestational legislation may or may not be the way to go,” said Hughes, who remains wary of the gestational legislation approach.

Priests for Life Canada is among the many pro-life groups that would support gestational legislation. Priests for Life board chairman Fr. John Lemire, a parish priest based in New Liskeard, Ont., said he is pleased the archbishop’s statement has “supported the idea that a Catholic, a Catholic politician, can in good conscience support gestational legislation.”

The archbishop’s letter may have helped shore up some of the unity within the pro-life movement that has been fragile since its inception, Hughes said. The movement is made up of political, educational and pastoral groups that counsel and support mothers with unexpected pregnancies.

“Campaign Life Coalition has been accused of being ‘all or nothing’ and that’s not true,” Lemire said, noting that since its first questionnaire in 1978, it has “always had an incremental question as part of its strategy.”

The key, said Hughes, is in the wording of any legislation.

“I’m not in favour of ‘we need any law,’ ” Hughes said.

He is opposed to the gestational approach because the experience of countries with gestational laws in place have “so many exceptions” the laws are “virtually useless.” There are many other forms of incremental legislation that would restrict abortion — such as defunding it, or informed consent laws, that Campaign Life would support, he said.

“As the political branch of the pro-life movement we have been battling over 30 years,” he said. Campaign Life has also worked closely with counterparts in other countries who have said “gestational limits are not the way to go.”

Hughes’ objection to gestational legislation extends beyond doctrinal concerns to practical matters, he said. Campaign Life has focused on identifying and supporting individual pro-life candidates in both the Conservative and Liberal parties at the grassroots level. He noted that there are presently 60 pro-life MPs in Parliament. A gestational bill would not have the votes to pass, he said. In addition, Prime Minister Steven Harper remains unwilling to reopen the abortion debate.

Hughes said momentum on the issue has been shifting towards the pro-life movement, but a focus on gestational legislation risks sidetracking it.

The role of the Priests for Life, Lemire said, is to work with all the groups, to “try to be a bridge builder and bring about some dialogue and conversations” not only among groups but with bishops and people in dioceses.

That does not mean Priests for Life agrees with every tactic, he said. But he stressed people who might not be comfortable in an activist role could be great counselling a young expectant mother, or doing any number of tasks that need to be done to create a culture of life.

Published in Canada

JACKSON, Miss. - A federal judge allowed Mississippi's only abortion clinic to remain open while it continued to work toward compliance with a new state law permitting only certain doctors to perform abortions there.

District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan III of Jackson partially lifted the injunction on a law that had been scheduled to take effect July 1 but continued to block sections of the law imposing civil or criminal penalties on violators.

The law requires that abortions be performed only by obstetricians-gynecologists with privileges to admit patients to local hospitals. Currently neither of the out-of-state doctors who perform abortions at the Jackson Women's Health Organization have such privileges.

Published in International

WASHINGTON - How far would you go to defend life? Life Runners would go about 26.2 miles a race.

Founded in South Dakota by running partners Pat Castle and Rich Reich, Life Runners has been promoting Catholicism and the pro-life movement through marathons in some of the nation's biggest cities since 2008.

Castle said Life Runners came out of a prayer group the two men co-founded in 2007 called Life Group Devotions. They decided to create an "action arm" of their ministry.

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When a union declares itself pro-choice and tries to shut down debate about the legal status of a fetus, its stand is neither progressive nor representative of its membership, said Toronto pro-life feminist Martha Crean.

The Canadian Auto Workers wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper June 7 objecting to any debate in Parliament over the legal definition of a human being, as proposed by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312. The nation’s largest private sector union, representing over 200,000 workers, also organized counter protests to denounce a series of anti-abortion protests organized by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

The CAW-led protests backfired in Windsor June 24 when more people showed up for a protest against the CAW position, and Local 444 president Dino Chiodo distanced himself from the official CAW protest by telling the media it had been organized above the heads of Windsor union officials.

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TORONTO - When injustice becomes visible, it becomes intolerable, pro-life activist Jonathon Van Muren told an audience of about 150 spectators at the New Abortion Caravan's Toronto stop June 28.

"Great injustices have been conquered before," Van Muren told the crowd gathered at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Toronto's west end. He compared the fight to end abortion to the battles against slavery, child labour and segregation.

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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court's June 28 decision upholding the health reform law makes it even more urgent for Congress to act to fix the law's "fundamental flaws" on abortion funding, conscience protection and immigrants' access to health care, the U.S. bishops said.

The court found that although the individual mandate in the 2010 health reform law does not pass constitutional muster under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, it can be upheld as an acceptable exercise of Congress' taxing powers.

Published in International

As the New Abortion Caravan makes its way across Canada, it has drawn a variety of reactions.

One of the most aggressive shows of disapproval came when a pregnant team member was egged, said Stephanie Gray. And in Winnipeg, a group of about 30 protesters gathered outside Living Christ Community Church, where the members were presenting, beating on pots and pans.

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DUBLIN - As the plainchant of "Tantum Ergo" drew the eucharistic procession to a close, the presiding prelates began to filter away. That's when some trip hop music erupted at the back of the massive assembly of pilgrims, which moments before had been on its knees in prayer and adoration.

Published in Features

QUEBEC CITY - While university students, anti-capitalists and environmentalists have routinely mustered tens of thousands into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City over the last two months, a small coalition of conservative Christians managed 650 for the second annual Christian March from the Plains of Abraham to Quebec’s National Assembly.

The number of marchers for the June 2 event was down from about 1,000 the year before.

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VICTORIA, B.C. - A team of Western pro-lifers has begun a month-long trek to Ottawa in what the group is calling the New Abortion Caravan.

“Our journey will begin with how the opposition began (in 1970) — with a caravan,” said Stephanie Gray, the executive director of Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR). “They did graphic, bloody dramatizations of illegal abortions. We will demonstrate with graphic, bloody images showing the reality of all abortions.”

Gray understands that CCBR’s tactics may cause controversy, but notes the graphic images are necessary to focus discussion on what actually happens in an abortion.

“The pictures of abortion are shocking because abortion is shocking,” she said.

“The images are disturbing because killing a child is a disturbing thing.”

The caravan launched on May 29 from the Vancouver Art Gallery amid shouts of protest from pro-abortionists. It is a project of the Calgary-based CCBR. 

In 1970, a group of woman gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to begin its Abortion Caravan — a touring protest demanding unrestricted access to free abortions on demand in Canada.

The group made its way from Vancouver to Ottawa, where it burned then prime minister Pierre Trudeau in effigy and dumped a coffin full of coat-hangers at his Sussex Drive residence. 

Eighteen years later, the Supreme Court repealed all restrictions on abortion.

The CCBR has turned the tables and will retrace the 1970 caravan by travelling through British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario before reaching Ottawa on Canada Day weekend.

The tour kicked off with a rendition of O Canada by Vancouver Canucks’ anthem singer Mark Donnelly. He said the event was for all Canadians and hoped it would spark a national debate on abortion. As he sang, protesters chanted: “This isn’t a Canadian issue.”

“We have taken the sacred cow of Canada’s abortion rights movement and are using it to advance the cause for pre-born children,” said Gray.

“Last year, we announced our new EndtheKilling plan to eradicate abortion from our country in our lifetime. We have given ourselves an 18-year deadline to achieve justice for the pre-born.”

Many of CCBR’s staff were born after Canada’s abortion laws were struck down and see themselves as a part of a survivor generation.

“Too many of our peers have died and now the young people of Canada are standing up to lead the New Abortion Caravan,” said Lauren Kyfiuk, a CCBR summer intern.

“It’s our responsibility as survivors to speak out for those who have been killed and to be a voice for the voiceless.”

The group will engage the cities they tour using a variety of mediums. Young pro-lifers will drive trucks with large posters of aborted children on the outside, while other staff will demonstrate on street corners holding large signs with similar images. CCBR will circulate graphic postcards at peoples’ homes and will engage the public through debates and presentations.

“We must bring that which is done in darkness into the light and confront the culture with the graphic reality of abortion,” said Kyfiuk. “We must have the courage to tell the truth in love if we aim to EndtheKilling in our lifetime.”

After several stops in British Columbia, the tour was to visit Edmonton, Saskatoon and Regina from June 6-9, and then stop in Brandon, Man. June 12 and Winnipeg June 13, before making these Ontario stops: Thunder Bay June 16, Sudbury June 20, Brampton June 21, London June 25, Toronto June 28 and Ottawa July 2. For more information visit: www.unmaskingchoice.ca.

(With files from the B.C. Catholic)

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - The Catholic Organization of Life and Family (COLF) has called the status quo on abortion “intolerable” and calls not only for “legislative reform” but also a “great cultural renewal.”

In its latest publication, “The Unborn Child: a gift, a treasure and a promise,” COLF describes respect for life as a “gauge of civilization” and warns that when the right to life is not fully protected “other rights are sooner or later mocked.”

It points out that in Canada there is no legal protection for the unborn child.

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PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation May 4 that prevents the state of Arizona or any local government from using taxpayer dollars to contract with organizations that offer abortion as part of their services.

Brewer signed the measure at a reception held in Scottsdale by the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that works to elect pro-life candidates to public office.

Published in International

A grassroots pro-life movement is hoping to spark a review of abortion laws in Canada through open debate with local MPs, all while maintaining a fair and open discourse for all sides on the issue.

“I’m pro-life from conception,” Mike Schouten, campaign director of the weneedalaw.ca web campaign, told The Catholic Register. “I also recognize that in the current situation in Canada there’s obstacles in our way that prevent us from having a law that bans all abortions. That’s simply just not going to happen right now.”

Schouten said the campaign aims to take an incremental approach.

Published in Canada

COLD LAKE, Alta. - A baby grows in her mother’s womb, and the parents love her and invest in her their dreams for the future. When she is born, this love blossoms. This was the situation for a Cold Lake couple, Patrice and Helene Roussel, in 1985. They were proud parents of a baby girl.

Three days after her birth, the child died.

Published in Features

Red Deer, Alta. - The foundational beauty of moral theology is that it stands on the belief that every person is made in God’s image, a leading Catholic ethicist told the annual convention of the Edmonton Catholic Women’s League.

“That belief has many consequences, all founded on one major principle: the inherent dignity of every human life from conception until natural death,” Dr. Moira McQueen told some 175 CWL delegates from across the Edmonton archdiocese April 20.

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