Arguing over abortion

Gerry Phelan
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I am against abortion, but I doubt I will make a lot of friends in the pro-life movement today.

It’s because my opposition doesn’t stop at abortion. I am also against me or anyone else telling a woman what she can do with her body.

And I am also against me or anyone else telling someone with a terminal illness that they have to continue to suffer, even if they have made the decision they have had enough.

End-of-life issues are for another column, but the latest fuss is about the beginning of life.

There is an attempt to reopen the abortion debate in the House of Commons.

Conservative MP Stephen Wood­worth has proposed that a parliamentary committee study the legal definition of when life begins.

The Criminal Code of Canada states that a child becomes a human being at the moment of  birth. Woodworth suggests very few Canadians “believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being.”

He told Parliament, “Most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly misrepresents the reality of who is a human being.”

Well, that’s what many people have been at odds about for decades.

Emotional issue

This is one of those emotional issues most of us would rather not talk about. In this province, the pro-life movement spends part of Good Friday in prayer and silent vigil to make their point. In recent years, we’ve seen pro-choicers show up at these events, as well.

Some of my very good friends have spent decades standing up for the unborn. I admire them, but I haven’t joined their protests. I’ve been torn on this issue for a long time.

I recall 20 years ago hearing someone I greatly respected take a definitive position. The abortion issue was being hotly debated then, likely due to the opening of the Morgantaler clinic in St. John’s, and the host of the talk show declared emphatically, “I am against abortion and try as you may, you won’t convince me otherwise.”

There was someone standing up for his principles. I wish I had that conviction.

I’ve weighed the pros and cons of even wading into the debate. Many of you know I am a Roman Catholic. Abortion is a no-no in my faith, but I wrestle with the ethical, moral and religious questions.

Figures available from the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicate there were 1,068 induced abortions performed in this province in 2010.

The most surprising finding for me was that most of those cases — 900 — involved women over the age of 20. I had mistakenly thought more of them would be teenagers.

Beginning of life

Close friends know I often joke about my age. I have two birthdays; one is the day I was born, but the first is nine months earlier. I count my months as a fetus. It may seem funny when you’re making small-talk over a beer, but it’s pretty serious stuff when you are dabbling in the opinion business.

I believe life begins at conception and, yes, I believe that abortion is taking a life. Our laws permit it and I respect a woman’s right to make the decision. I also support the right of others to make the case for the child.

There was a lot of chatter last week that even bringing the beginning-of-life issue to the House of Commons was an attempt to turn back the clock; that society has moved on.

NDP status of women critic Niki Ashton was quoted in the Montreal Gazette as saying, “We should not return to using coat hangers (or) vacuum cleaners.”

I don’t hear anyone advocating that, but this issue provokes comments with raw emotion.  

I see nothing wrong with reopening the debate. When I was growing up, it was always the mother who was pregnant. These days, it is not unusual to hear a couple say, “we are pregnant.”

Times change. Attitudes change. Our knowledge changes. The law may or may not.

But let’s not be afraid to talk about life.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached


Organizations: House of Commons.Conservative MP Stephen Wood, Canadian Institute for Health Information, House of Commons Montreal Gazette

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    May 05, 2012 - 10:42

    While quoting R.R. Reno's First Things editorial because I myself found it particularly persuasive, I temporarily forgot the teaching of some philosophers that doing anything which is morally wrong, in kind and not just in degree, than suffering any misfortune, so that even a high degree of sensitivity to another's misfortune is not necessarily the "moral sensitivity" Mr. Reno seems to suggest it would be. This view is supported by a widespread experience that suffering unfairly inflicted is worse than suffering which is deserved, when the suffering is the same physically in both instances. If we claim that harm's being worse similarly increases the injustice of its being inflicted, then we are in effect claiming that harm and injustice are essentially the same thing, with the only difference being in the extent of harm. Therefore, if having an abortion is wrong, it is worse than any suffering arising from being pregnant. It has been said that mankind generally does not disagree much over what is right and what is wrong but only about what wrongdoings are excusable: some civilizations excuse abortion and some excuse torture; some excuse both.

  • Colin Burke
    May 05, 2012 - 09:26

    R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, wrote in its April edition that any person morally sensitive who happens not to believe in God must himself "...take ultimate responsibility for the moral order of the world" and feel obliged to "deny moral absolutes for the sake of humanity" and to "reengineer right and wrong to make everything come out right in the end." Reno says that "faith lets me say that it's up to God, not me, to ensure that in the final accounting moral truth reliably brings about human flourishing," instead of Reno's being required "either to suppress my moral sensitivity to human suffering, or to take charge by making moral revisions and exemptions that, however well-meaning in my own mind, are very likely designed to serve myself."

  • Herb Morrison
    May 04, 2012 - 18:08

    Wayne, one of the multiplicity of reasons why some women who opt to have an abortion doso is because they know that the father of their baby will be what's referred to as a "deadbeat dad," who will not provide support of any kind for either her or the baby he has fathered. Anyone who fathered a child needs to be as involved, in a supporting role in the situation.

  • Two Bodies
    May 04, 2012 - 14:40

    A woman can do whatever she wants with her body. However, when she is pregnant ther are two bodies present, her and her baby's. No one has the right to do something to their body which will directly hurt another person's body on purpose. For example, I can shoot myself in the foot, but if I was stepping on someone while doing it and aiming for them through my foot, it would be wrong.

    • Nylette
      May 04, 2012 - 16:07

      So if the mother has a nervous breakdown, loses her job and has to go on social assistance as a result of the unintentioned pregnancy, I guess that's okay (sarcasm). Can we pleeaase have some compassion for these women?

  • Both Sides
    May 04, 2012 - 14:08

    Im sort of torn over this whole discussion. I think that yes, there needs to be an abortion clinic available for those who are rape victims, become ill, etc. But I also believe that women and teenage girls need to be more responsible when it comes to sex and use protection! Abortion should not be a fix to a stupid decision made. Educate! And to those men out there complaining about child support... wear a condom and you won't have an issue!

    • Nylette
      May 04, 2012 - 16:10

      Even "responsible" people sometimes make mistakes. It's called *being human.*

  • Nylette
    May 04, 2012 - 10:52

    In the abortion debate, we do not hear nearly enough about how an unwanted pregnancy can destroy, yes destroy!!!!!! a woman's life. When a woman has an abortion, it's not about selfishness or convenience. Pregnancy and giving birth are a BIG deal. A woman's psychological health and well being should mean something in a humane society. The preachy pro-lifers would do well to put themselves in the shoes of a pregnant woman who is just plain in no position to carry a fetus to term in light of her social circumstances, and to do so would quite possibly cripple her emotionally for the rest of her natural born life. I've seen it happen.

  • wayne
    May 04, 2012 - 08:01

    It's a medical decison between a woman and her doctor...plain and simple. Unless the father of the child can carry the embyro to term then he needs to stay out of it too.

    • Gertrude
      May 04, 2012 - 09:12

      I agree with you -- it boils down to a decision that a woman must make, hopefully with the assistance of a kind and supportive doctor. While I would never advocate men making decisions on behalf of women and their bodies, I do think that abortion can and does hurt the partners of the woman in question on a deep level. Male/female partners of women considering abortions often feel powerless, I am sure, and if they are against abortion, they may feel like they are unwillingly participating in murder, or at least unable to do anything to prevent one. I am personally not sure how to approach this issue; I know it exists, but I just don't have an answer for that one, yet.

    • really
      May 04, 2012 - 09:48

      Can the father also stay out of paying child support if the mother chooses to keep the child?