Sunday, July 15, 2012

History of Pro-Life in Canada

The book Catholics Against the Church, Anti-Abortion Protest in Toronto, 1969-1985 was recommended to me by Dr. Keith Cassidy, President of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy. He told me that this book by Michael W. Cuneo was the best account of the history of the pro-life movement in Canada.

I ordered the book from Amazon, and since it was out of print and only available used, I had to reroute it via my daughter in Texas.

The back cover already has me dubious about whether or not the book is accurate; an endorsement "superbly interesting, breaking new ground, and a good read to boot" by Gregory Baum, a dissenting Catholic theologian doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the unbiased view of the author. Baum may simply be endorsing someone who agrees with his philosophy.

Be that as it may, the first chapter has already provoked my interest. The comparison of the Canadian and American pro-life movements is interesting; the statement that the Canadian Catholic clergy have basically left the pro-life movement here in Canada to fend for itself while the US clergy have thrown themselves behind the pro-life movement there is dismaying, to say the least.

Whereas the American bishops responded to Roe v. Wade with uninhibited activisim, and in fact greatly facilitated the development of an organized anti-abortion front, the Canadian bishops have left the movement entirely to its own devices. By the late 1970s certain segments of the Canadian movement were in fact fully convinced that the Catholic bishops were traitors to the anti-abortion cause.


I have always known that the Canadian pro-life movement is very divided; groups cannot seem to agree on any unified course of action. This book seems to give an account of that (although I suspect the author is biased). He relates the beginning of the movement by the Alliance for Life, a group of somewhat-educated professionals and wives of the same, and then the questioning of this group on the grounds that it was too compromising with the government and too ready to make concessions on legislation. The rise of a group of single-minded pro-life activists gave birth to Campaign Life Coalition which took over the movement when Alliance for Life moved its central office from Toronto to Winnipeg. This move inadvertently made that group a regional group and surrendered the national movement to CLC.

The author doesn't seem to approve of CLC's philosophy and mandate, which he claims is not only anti-abortion but anti-relativism, anti-modern morality and includes in its judgement any move away from the traditional Christian morals of family life. Already by the end of chapter one, he has painted Campaign Life as extremely right-wing, something that he thinks precludes negotiation with anyone.

He also paints the pro-life movement in Canada as a movement dominated by orthodox Catholics who believe the Church is drifting into the waters of left-wing ideology and liberalism.

The book was written in 1989, more than twenty years ago. I wonder what the author thinks now. Perhaps he would change his tune, or perhaps he would still consider the pro-life movement to be too extreme and too judgmental of modern society and its morals. I doubt that he could ignore the decline in Church attendance, but he might explain it away as the Church not being relevant to the modern world.

Another thought I had while comparing the Canadian and US pro-life movements is that here in Canada, we have had a succession of Catholic Prime Ministers. Trudeau, Mulroney, Turner, Chretien, while the United States has had only one Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. The Catholic prime ministers have all held power during the 40 years of controversy after abortion was legalized, while Kennedy pre-dated the conflict that ensued after Roe v Wade. I wonder how much that has coloured the relationship between the bishops and the parliamentary legislators? Perhaps in Canada, the need to remain on good terms with the government has been part of the cause for lack of action on the part of our bishops. I would like to know more about this, because it is something I have never heard anyone address. Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Suzanne F. said...

Julie, I am very interested. Please continue to post about this book. I think we should talk more about pro-life history.