Turcotte brings abortion to forefront of campaign

  • September 16, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - By giving back his Order of Canada, Montreal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte is joining a group of more than 100 MPs whose opposition to Dr. Henry Morgentaler's nomination has shone the election spotlight on the abortion debate in Canada, says a leading pro-life group.

Campaign Life Coalition national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said Turcotte's Sept. 11 annoucement comes just three days after a Campaign Life ad, which appeared in the Sept. 8 edition of The Hill Times, a political newspaper in Ottawa, where the names of 106 Conservative and Liberal politicians opposing pro-abortion doctor Morgentaler's nomination were published.

“People need to consider abortion as a serious issue,” Douglas said in a telephone interview from Ottawa.

Turcotte has joined a number of prominent Catholics who have returned the award in protest. These include Madonna House on behalf of its late foundress, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Fr. Lucien Larre of British Columbia, Leo Goski of Regina on behalf of his late uncle, Msgr. A.J. Goski, philanthropist Thomas S. Caldwell, retired Windsor police chief Frank Chauvin and former New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor Gilbert Finn.

Turcotte said he was away when the decision about Morgentaler was announced on July 1 but wanted to make his opposition clear.

“I must admit that I had hoped that, in light of the large number of protests the Consultative Council for the Order of Canada would revise its decision," he said in a Sept. 11 statement.

“Because it has not done so up to now and because silence on my part might be misinterpreted, I feel obliged in conscience to reaffirm my convictions regarding the respect for human life, from conception to death. We are not the masters of human life; it rests in the hands of God.”

Turcotte received the Order of Canada from former governor general Romeo Leblanc in 1996.

Campaign Life surveyed all MPs on where they stood on the abortion issue, Douglas said. And its ad is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to independently review the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour, and its advisory council.

The Conservative government was quick to distance itself from the award nomination, saying decisions on the Order of Canada are made by the Governor General's office.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Stephane Dion said the award should be celebrated.

“Dr. Morgentaler has stood up for a woman’s right to choose for his entire career, often at great personal risk,” according to a statement issued by Dion’s office.

In late August, the Liberals tried to get the Prime Minister to clarify his view on abortion. Dion has said he supports a woman's right to choose. But Harper has not responded, reflecting the Conservative party's 2006 election campaign position where Harper said the party would not support or initiate abortion legislation and refused to disclose his personal views on the issue in greater detail.

Critics say the government doesn't want to be dragged into a polarizing debate on abortion.

On Aug. 28, the Conservative government also distanced itself from Bill C-484, Conservative MP Ken Epp's private member's bill seeking to make it an offence to injure or cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing an offence against the mother. Instead, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he would introduce a bill to make pregnancy an aggravating factor when a woman is assaulted, but it will not be a legal assertion of fetal rights.

"Let me be clear. Our government will not reopen the debate on abortion,” he said.

Morgentaler's pro-abortion campaign reached its peak in 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country's federal abortion law, saying the restrictive abortion code of 1968 denied women the right to “life, liberty and security of the person” guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This left Canada without an abortion law, the only developed country to date without one.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 96,815 induced abortions performed in Canada in 2005, down 3.2 per cent from 100,039 in 2004.

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