Pro-Life Prohibition, by Janice Fiamengo
He had to threaten a lawsuit to do it, but 18-year-old student Oliver Capko was finally able to convince the Student Association at Kwantlen Universtiy in Greater Vancouver to grant club status to Protectores Vitae, a pro-life group he had formed. He learned of the student association’s about-face in early December of last year. Student leaders had denied his original request because his club contravened their pro-choice policy, and it was only when Capko retained constitutional lawyer John Carpay that they thought better of their heavy-handedness.
Universities’ willingness to impose harsh measures and student councils’ consistent animus against pro-life clubs highlight the unique vilification of this small but committed group of students. They advocate nothing violent or illegal or immoral; they merely speak about what has been deemed unspeakable in Canadian society.
A tacit agreement has made abortion a political no-go area in this once-conservative country. The present Conservative government under Stephen Harper — though continually accused by detractors of harboring a “hidden agenda” (supposedly dedicated to returning women barefoot and pregnant to the kitchens of the nation) — has shown itself averse to addressing the matter, leaving Canada the only country in the Western world without any abortion law. It has been that way since 1988, when the Supreme Court struck down the existing law, and no government since then has been able to draft a new one. Although statistics on late-term abortions are very difficult — in some cases impossible — to attain in Canada, it is acknowledged that a significant number occur after 21 weeks gestation, the point at which the Canadian Medical Association declares the fetus viable outside the womb.
What is one to make of the marked determination, not only on the part of pro-abortion advocates but also on the part of all but a few stalwart pro-life supporters, to accept a de facto ban on abortion debate? Certainly there is less and less place for pro-life advocacy on either side of the political spectrum. Under different circumstances, the political Left in Canada might have been a natural home for the pro-life movement, especially that part of the Left with social gospel underpinnings. The leftist New Democratic Party, after all, has always drawn a significant number of its leading members from the mainline churches. With an emphasis on group rights, state-supported compassion, and special compensations for the weak, the progressive movement is at least theoretically a good fit for a principled commitment to the most vulnerable of human beings. The Left’s championing of women’s sexual freedom and self-determination, however, seems to have made protection of unborn children a political non-starter.
The conservative side of politics used to uphold the sanctity of life, with religious and social conservatives favoring humane limitations on the abortion license. But in the last twenty years or more, the emphasis in the modern conservative movement has been on freedom: free market competition, freedom from state interference in personal affairs, and freedom to express unpopular ideas. In that context, abortion law looks less like the protection of life than like the state meddling in private conduct, and therefore like an unjustifiable impingement on freedom of conscience. Avowedly pro-life politicians frequently declare their unwillingness to limit others’ “choice,” and both the libertarian wing of the political right and secular fiscal conservatives seem to find the pro-life position irrelevant or harmful.
For these reasons, legal restrictions on abortion are now nearly impossible to contemplate in Canada, a fact that pro-lifers, through their silence, implicitly acknowledge. In a prosperous, sexually liberated culture such as ours, it seems we can no longer imagine a law restraining a woman’s unfettered right to abortion: everything we have become — career-oriented, pleasure-seeking, committed to ideals of self-fulfillment and free choice — militates against it. And yet, even abortion’s staunchest defenders must recognize at some level that a culture that kills its unborn children in such numbers (reportedly about 30 abortions for every 100 live births) and with such indifference is an unhealthy one, both demographically and spiritually. The pro-choice determination to keep pro-lifers silent betrays that knowledge.
The Oliver Capkos of the country reveal a contradiction at the heart of our professed values — defense of the weak, the pursuit of justice, and the right to life — that few Canadians have the honesty or courage to confront.