An unlikely hero

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Let’s get one thing straight: abortion is not pretty. No one in his or her right mind is “pro-abortion.” Abortion, at its core, is the pre-emptive extinguishment of a human life.

The question that’s launched a million protests — and starkly divided citizens in civilized countries around the world — is whether it’s tolerable.

Some see it as murder, plain and simple. Others consider it a necessary evil.

When The Telegram posted on its website Wednesday the news that abortion rights activist Henry Morgentaler was dead at the age of 90, the decision was quickly made to turn off comments.

The reason? Because it was clear the most angry, graphic and ultimately unpublishable remarks would most frequently come from anti-abortion activists. Rejecting them would lend unfair weight to abortion rights advocates’ voices. And this is an issue wherein the balance of opinion plays a key role.

Morgentaler is an unlikely hero. He wasn’t an astronaut or a balladeer (or both in one). He didn’t invent the polio vaccine or usher in medicare.

What he did do was stand up for the right of women to make their own difficult decisions about their own bodies. In doing so, he made it possible for them to avoid expensive trips across the border, or risky trips to back-alley butchers. He gave them the dignity to choose.

For that, he was both hailed and reviled. He was briefly jailed in the 1970s, and remained forever vigilant against threats on his own life, both before and after Canada’s abortion law was struck down in 1988.

Morgentaler, who was born in Poland and moved to Canada after the Second World War, once said his five-year detention in Nazi concentration camps helped steel him for the tumultuous legal battles he faced.

And yes, he made a lot of money doing what he did. You can make a lot of money in any medical field.

The abortion debate stems from two fundamental values. On the one hand, modern democracies tirelessly defend the individual’s right to freedom and dignity. On the other, we treasure human life in all its imperfections.

Those notions are inherently incompatible at the juncture of conception, where the rights of the woman and fetus become hopelessly entangled.

Metaphysical conundrums are one thing. But there are simple, pragmatic considerations that often get lost in the polarized rhetoric over abortion.

Women will get abortions no matter what. That has always been the case, and has been the main impetus for at least partially decriminalizing abortion from the beginning.

Millions of Canadians — perhaps the vast majority — believe abortion is wrong. It is something they would never do, nor would they ever condone it.

But in a pluralistic society, many also realize that pragmatism is often the safest course. They know that in matters of life and death, the only thing certain is that a dichotomy will inevitably arise, and a solution will remain elusive.

Such people are both pro-life and pro-choice. And somewhere in that murky middle ground, a way forward can be found.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, Poland

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