The annual March for Life is one way pro-lifers have been protesting against the fact Canada has no law against abortion Photos by Deborah Gyapong

‘A day of shame’ — Morgentaler decision 25 years on

  • January 27, 2013

For a quarter century Canada has had no law against abortion, but the quest for change continues

OTTAWA - On Jan. 28, Canada marks the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision that struck down all Canada’s existing laws regulating abortion.
Since that Supreme Court of Canada decision, Canada has been the only country in the Western world that has no laws restricting abortion until the moment of complete birth, leading to more than 100,000 abortions annually.

Pro-abortion advocates have argued the Morgentaler decision recognized the “right” to abortion and views have increasing polarized. But the Supreme Court did not grant a right to abortion.

“That’s completely erroneous from a legal perspective,” said MP Stephen Woodworth, whose Motion-312 to study the definition of a human being was defeated last year.

“I am sure the judges who wrote Morgentaler would be very upset and disappointed that their guidance on this subject has not been followed through and there is such an extremist approach in place in Canada and being advocated in certain quarters.”

Justice Bertha Wilson, who wrote the decision, left it to Parliament to determine the point of an unborn child’s development and when it should be protected after receiving guidance from all relevant disciplines, Woodworth said.

“She thought it might be some time in the second trimester.” But “the courts never took the extremist position advanced by some people today that rights of a mother mean we must pretend a child is not a human being before birth,” said Woodworth.

Campaign Life Coalition estimates at least 2.5 million unborn babies have been killed through abortion. Campaign Life president Jim Hughes called the anniversary a “day of shame for Canada.”

“As a global leader in human rights, it’s a disgrace that for the last 25 years this country’s government has neglected to put an end to the greatest human rights violation of our time, the killing of children before birth,” Hughes said.

“It’s very sad that some have announced their intention to celebrate the killing of innocent human beings as an achievement,” said Campaign Life national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas.

“Sadly, an entire generation has been born and grown to adulthood in a Canada where free access to abortion is the order of the day,” said Catholic Organization for Life and Family director Michele Boulva. “An entire generation has been raised in a Canada where abortion is just one among a multitude of government funded medical ‘services’ and just another means of contraception.

“Yet, the evidence indicates that it is precisely the members of this generation who are quickest to express their dissatisfaction with the Canadian legal vacuum which has allowed and continues to allow for the destruction of innocent human life.”

Hughes points out the pro-life movement continues to grow, and the torch being passed on from generation to generation is “not just flickering, it’s burning brightly.” The National March for Life each May has drawn more people every year, and the face of the movement is increasingly younger.
Ruth Lobo Shaw, 25, of the Calgary-based Centre for Bio-ethical Reform (CCBR), is among the new young pro-life activists who have never known anything but abortion-on-demand.

“This issue is compelling to people in my generation because we don’t like being lied to, we are seekers of the truth,” said Lobo Shaw. “The truth is that abortion has decapitated, dismembered and disemboweled our friends, siblings and peers. We want it to stop.”

CCBR is dedicated to making abortion “unthinkable” by exposing graphic images of what abortion does to the baby in the womb. The shock tactics have become increasingly popular among young pro-life activists who claim they are effective in changing hearts and minds. But young activists are also pushing for legal changes, arguing that surveys show most Canadians would support gestational law that protects later-term pregnancies.

“The youth are vital,” said Mike Schouten, 36, who heads the campaign. “As with other social reform movements, they are the ones with vision, unbridled enthusiasm, and most importantly, have the ability to reflect on the efforts of their predecessors.”

Campaign Life’s strategy is changing one heart at a time, Hughes said. It has been consistently opposed to a gestational approach to legislation, though it has supported other incremental approaches such as defunding abortion. Campaign Life also does not promote the use of graphic images.
Schouten believes change will come in an incremental way.

“We look at what has transpired in the political arena over the past 25 years and see that there has been limited success,” said Schouten. “I believe that is due to a failed strategy which keyed around getting the ‘perfect’ law when it was pretty clear, from Mulroney onward, that this was an impossible request for politicians to meet.”

“There’s been disagreement in the pro-life community from the very beginning,” said Hughes, who sees gestational approaches as similar to the regulations struck down by Morgentaler. “You could drive a truck through them.”

“Changing the culture will change the law, so it’s not a question of either/or, it’s a question of which is more important; it’s which should we focus on,” said Lobo Shaw. “Both are very important.”

Changing the law depends on determining in Parliament whether Canada is abandoning the notion that every human being has equal worth and dignity, Woodworth said. He does not believe the abortion issue can be resolved until Canadians agree on that principle. But to COLF, the principle remains true no matter what the courts or the law decides.

“If 25 years under ‘Morgentaler’ has taught us anything, it is that the fundamental human impulse which compels us to uphold and preserve life cannot and will not be quashed simply by repeatedly denying that life exists where common sense and science tells us it does,” said Boulva. “Nor will this impulse be quashed by selfishness — even when selfishness has been perversely redefined as some kind of virtuous expression of autonomy.”


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