What would a Canadian "third way" on abortion look like?
On the National Post's Full Comment blog, Charles Lewis writes about Faith in Public Life, a group that promotes compromise between people of different faiths on varying issues, including abortion.
In the midst of an American election in which abortion remains a contentious issue, one wrought with stark partisan and ideological divides.
It's no different north of the 49th parallel. However, in the Canadian context, one has to wonder what a "third way" on abortion would look like. The very notion faces a number of paradoxical challenges.
First off, while it may be inconceivable for either side of the debate in the United States to claim final victory, one side in Canada already has. The pro-abortion lobby insisted -- and continues to insist -- that the appointment of pioneering abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler to the Order of Canada represented final, official and undeniable sanction of their agenda.
Of course, the truth was rather different. Numerous previous Order of Canada recipients returned their snowflake medals in protest to the move. An ill-conceived campaign to have Beverly McLachlin -- who chaired the committee that granted Morgentaler the Order of Canada -- removed from the Supreme Court of Canada and dubious polls were invoked in order to justify denying Morgentaler the controversial honour.
In other words, no matter what certain individuals may insist, the debate over abortion in Canada is far from over -- especially if Morgentaler's OoC is to be treated as the test case for the resolution of that debate.
So the question over what a "third way" on abortion might look like in Canada remains a very valid question.
First off, one has to acknowledge that in order for such a debate to truly be a "third way" debate, it must be inherently moderate. That means that the demands of the most polarized activists -- calls for the criminalization of abortion from the anti-abortion lobby and the lack of any sort of regulation over abortion whatsoever from pro-abortion activists -- must be considered implicitly off the table.
As such, a "third way" on abortion couldn't call for abortion to be a criminal offense, but must still recognize that abortion shouldn't be available under any and all circumstances. What Elizabeth May once called the "frivolous right to choose" must be challenged.
The notion of unborn human life deserving all the legal protections offered fully-developed (read: born) should be disavowed. However, the pro-abortion lobby's dismissal of unborn children as "just a clump of cells" must also be rejected. The human fetus is still human life, and should be imbued with limited rights. It's also necessary that these rights cannot be allowed to supercede the rights of the mother, including the right to choose within reasonable circumstances.
Those reasonable circumstances simply have to include term limits on when an abortion can and cannot be sought. As a pregnancy gets closer and closer to term, it must be understood that there is a certain point at which a pregnancy reaches the point of no return.
While Henry Morgentaler argues that no regulation of abortion is necessary, it's important not to overestimate the scruples of anyone, even Canadian doctors. Regulation exists for a reason. People all over the world have just witnessed what happens when financial markets aren't sufficiently regulated. To argue that we should place no regulation on a matter dealing with human life would be beyond remiss.
Ideology should not be legitimately judged to be a factor here. Countries much more progressive than Canada -- and often argued to be a model Canada should considered emulating -- have such term limits. As a matter of fact, Canada remains the only country in the western world with no such limits in place.
The various social and economic factors regarding an abortion need to be considered. It's no secret that the most impoverished members of any society are those most likely to seek an abortion.
Helping to crack the poverty nut is the first necessity in reducing abortion.
The anti-abortion lobby also needs to recognize that opposing access to birth control or to sexual education is not an option. If one really opposes abortion, opposing something that makes thousands of abortions unnecessary is, quite frankly, the stupidest thing one could possibly do.
We have to recognize that, within the abortion debate, it isn't abortion itself that is the real problem: the real problem is unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
Above all, both sides of the debate must accept that, while the mother of an unborn child has the right to choose whether or not she'll give birth to her child. However, we must also recognize that with that right to choose comes a great deal of responsibility -- the responsibility to make the best choice for everyone involved in the matter, including her unborn child.
We as a society must also ensure we are offering women enough options to ensure that the best choice is keeping that child, as opposed to an abortion. This means providing single or economically-disadvantaged parents with the resources necessary to ensure they can decide to keep that child.
This involves not only action by government, but also action by charitable civil society organizations.
One particularly disheartening probability is that a "third way" on abortion might look like nothing at all. The most extreme elements of either side of the abortion debate might simply not allow it to exist.
Katie Paris, however, hopeful that, even in the United States where the debate is most intense, such a "third way" can come to exist.
"We believe this new approach is what most people are really interested in," she says. "We wanted to put a message out there that would really resonate. It’s trying to get people to think about it differently. We wanted to say it doesn’t have to be like this.”
Certainly, the abortion debate doesn't have to be like this. It's all a matter of two different questions: whether those most emotionally invested in the issue will allow there to ever be a moderate debate on the issue, or whether enough Canadians will ever stand up and demand one.