Jackson Doughart
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There should be no right to abortion

The Charlottetown Guardian, 18 November 2011


The newly-formed P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization has announced that it will hold a rally Nov. 19 at Province House. The demonstration is part of the group's effort to convince the provincial government to provide and fund abortion services on the Island. Currently, women who want to terminate their pregnancies have to travel to either Fredericton or Halifax, and the province does not pay for the procedure unless it is performed in a hospital with the referral of two doctors.

According to Health Minister Doug Currie in an interview with The Guardian on Nov. 9, the Ghiz government's policy will not change, though he also noted that this is motivated by finances and not by the controversial nature of the procedure. However, I feel that this is an excellent time to revisit the abortion debate, if for no other reason than to strengthen the defence of Mr. Currie's position.

The marketing campaign for the rally has included references to the 1988 R v. Morgentaler case at the Canadian Supreme Court, which struck down existing provisions in the Criminal Code against abortion. The case did not establish universal access to abortion as a right; rather, it removed existing statute law which required women to first apply for an abortion through a panel of doctors and then to have it performed at an accredited hospital. P.E.I.'s government is thus well within its right to maintain the current policy. If this were not the case, the group would most certainly attempt to force the government into compliance via legal means, instead of lobbying in the democratic sphere, where the consent of the citizenry matters.

Opposition to abortion is quite easy to understand and does not require a lengthy explanation on my part. A succinct articulation of the pro-life stance is contained in Don Marquis's 1989 essay ‘Why abortion is immoral', which can be found easily on the Internet. Marquis's view, which I share, is that since the killing of an adult or child is understood to be wrong because it robs the individual of all future experience, the same logic must apply in the case of an unborn person, whose future experiences are equally being eliminated.

Perhaps a more important issue to address is the ways in which the abortion debate has been slanted in favour of those who support the pro-abortion position (popularly known as the rather heartless euphemism ‘pro-choice'). These defenders of abortion cling to several flawed perceptions in order to delegitimize their opposition.

The first such misconception is that the pro-life position amounts to an attempt by men to control women and that men should not involve themselves with the issue. The late philosopher and feminist Iris Young even went so far as to argue that only women should have a say in the debate, since the outcomes do not affect men. Of course, the fathers of unwanted and unborn children also have an interest in abortion, and as enfranchised citizens, men should certainly participate in any discussion about this important moral issue.

Belief in this misconception seems to presuppose that the controversy rests on a fault line between the sexes and that overwhelming support for abortion would be easily attained if only men would mind their own business. However, a 2009 Gallup poll in the United States and a 2010 Angus Reid poll in Canada both showed that opposition to abortion is shared by both men and women at similar levels, indicating that the debate is not a question of gender, but rather a question of values.

Secondly, many pro-abortionists are quick to bring up dire and extraordinary circumstances in order to divert our sympathies from the unborn child to the expectant mother. The most common of these circumstances are pregnancies resulting from sexual assault and ones that directly threaten the life of the mother. These situations need to be taken seriously, but are comparatively rare justifications for the procedure, which is performed more than 90,000 times in Canada every year. This argument, which was an essential component in the R v. Morgentaler decision, has been employed to justify all abortions, most of which are actually performed as a form of birth control. Anyone should be able to see through such casuistry, which tries to establish a rule based on exceptional cases.

Finally, the anti-abortion stance is often mischaracterized as a mere religious opinion that can be disregarded as backward and theocratic. While it is true that many opponents of abortion are Christians, the arguments that support the conviction are fundamentally secular and do not require religious language or precepts to be substantiated. By staying silent, non-Christians who oppose abortion only serve to reinforce the falsehood that morality is the domain of the devout.

In addition to staging a counter protest, opponents of abortion should campaign for universal access to contraceptive means of birth control. Not only would this strengthen the authority of the anti-abortion argument, but it would also benefit women of lower socio-economic status, for whom the unexpected conception of a child is certainly a tragic occurrence.

There is little that can be done at present to abrogate so-called reproductive rights, which fall under the jurisdiction of federal legislators and jurists. On the issue of local abortion services, however, the populace can continue to support the government's current policy. As long as Islanders have a say, innocent unborn life on P.E.I. can be protected from the disturbing and immoral practice of abortion.





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Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com