Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Justin Trudeau: five problems with his pro-choice edict

A reader of my blog sent me a copy of a letter they wrote to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, regarding his decree that pro-life persons would be disqualified from becoming Liberal candidates. I received permission from the writer to post the letter here.

The letter is quite long, but well worth the read.

November 8, 2014

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

First let me say, how thankful I am that you and all our MPs are safe after last month’s attack on Parliament Hill. The experience no doubt must have been terrifying. Such a threat is a sombre reminder of how precious are our lives as well as our democratic institutions in Canada. The brave men and women who put their lives at risk in defence of what we so often take for granted surely are beacons of light in dark times and an inspiration to all peace-loving Canadians.

The main purpose of my letter to you today is to express my grave concerns over your edict that “all Liberal MPs, regardless of their personal views, would be expected to vote pro-choice”i and over the narrative you have chosen to attempt to justify taking this stance.

In a nutshell, you say that “since 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that a woman’s right to a choice in this matter is a Charter right.” You make a special point of highlighting your Catholic upbringing and then go on to say that we must put the Charter and the defense of “people’s rights” and “fundamental rights” before our “personal views.”ii

With respect, Mr. Trudeau, there are five serious problems with your attempted justification:

Firstly, the Supreme Court did not recognize a Charter right to abortion in the 1988 Morgentaler decision.iii The Supreme Court has never recognized a Charter right to abortion. The Supreme Court has, on the other hand, recognized that the state does have an interest in the protection of the fetus, and on numerous occasions, including in Morgentaler, has said that it is Parliament’s responsibility to legislate fetal protection.iv

Secondly, your argument that in order to defend human rights (i.e. “people’s rights”) we must defend abortion rights, is a circular argument: it is premised on the assumption that the fetal child has no human rights to protect and that the only human being in the equation is the woman—this is the very thing under dispute in the abortion controversy. Those who oppose abortion do not do so because they oppose women’s human rights, but because they support human rights for both the preborn child and the woman.

Thirdly, your starting assumption that the preborn child has no human rights to protect is itself a “personal view.” I appreciate that you may genuinely believe that the child ought not to receive any legal protection before birth. But it is a personal view, a belief, an opinion. Everyone’s views about what is good for society come from somewhere. Our beliefs are informed by some underlying philosophy or worldview, even if we are unable to articulate exactly what that worldview is. Beliefs (i.e. views) about the preborn child that are informed by the Catholic/Christian faith are no more “personal” than beliefs informed by Atheism, for example.

Ultimately, the only beliefs we have are “personal” ones because they are our own. Each Member of Parliament will have their own personal beliefs, whether informed by the Judaeo-Christian tradition or some other religious faith or Secular Humanism, or Atheism, etc. Each of these belief systems will help to inform the MP’s understanding of the nature of the human person, and thus, the nature of abortion.

Fourthly, by highlighting your Catholic upbringing and then going on to say that we cannot let our “personal views” get in the way of defending “people’s rights” and Charter rights, you imply that the Catholic Church does not support human rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And fifthly, and perhaps most concerning, when you use your Catholic faith in this manner, you potentially lead other Catholics astray. As a political leader, your words carry a lot of weight. Those Catholics less informed about their faith may believe from your words that even faithful Catholics can, even must, support abortion rights. In this way, you overstep the bounds of your authority which is in the political realm, not the religious realm. Intentional or not, what you are doing amounts to using your position of political power to corrupt a Catholic person’s morals.

With respect, Mr. Trudeau, if you want to argue in favour of abortion rights, please be honest with Canadians. Please let Canadians know why you believe abortion is good for women and good for Canadian society (if this is what you honestly believe), without distorting the Supreme Court’s ruling in Morgentaler; without misrepresenting what the Charter requires; and without suggesting that the beliefs informed by the teachings of the Catholic Church ought not to inform public policy because they are just “personal” beliefs, when in fact all our beliefs are “personal.” And please make your case without misrepresenting and marginalizing the Catholic faith.

Mr. Trudeau, for some reason having nothing to do with what the Charter requires, you are willing to sacrifice one of our most fundamental Charter freedoms (freedom of conscience and religion) for the sake of an absolute abortion rights ideology. This is very disturbing. I believe this will have a detrimental effect not only on the individual MPs who violate their consciences, but on Canada as a whole.

We all watched in horror last month as two Canadian soldiers were attacked and killed and as Parliament was terrorized by a gunman. We may never know exactly what motivated the two killers, but we do know that there are Canadians and citizens of other Western countries as well who are being radicalized into the hateful and violent ideology espoused by ISIS. I’m sure all peace-loving and freedom-loving people cannot help but wonder what could lead civilized people into abandoning Western values and buying into such hateful propaganda. I’m sure there are several factors involved, but if we looked at root causes, I can’t help but think we’d find that a poorly formed conscience must play a role.

Our consciences guide us in moral decision-making. We have to make moral decisions every day. Some decisions will have far more serious consequences than others. Some will be decisions literally about life and death. It is thus imperative that as a society we respect conscientious reflection and decision-making and not institute policies that would punish people—including Members of Parliament—who act according to their deeply held conscientious beliefs that are rooted in respect for the dignity of the human person. 

Mr. Trudeau, while I don’t believe it was intentional, your policy to force all MPs to vote “pro-choice” effectively discriminates against faithful Catholics since it would force them to vote against what they believe about the dignity of the human person. You would be imposing upon them a certain belief system that is at odds with their own. This disenfranchisement of Catholics and other Christians from public life would not bode well for society. We are warned of the consequences of ignoring conscience in this excerpt from the “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life”:

Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person. 
In democratic societies, all proposals are freely discussed and examined. Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism. Such a position would seek to deny not only any engagement of Christianity in public or political life, but even the possibility of natural ethics itself. Were this the case, the road would be open to moral anarchy, which would be anything but legitimate pluralism. The oppression of the weak by the strong would be the obvious consequence. The marginalization of Christianity, moreover, would not bode well for the future of society or for consensus among peoples; indeed, it would threaten the very spiritual and cultural foundations of civilization.[26]v

Mr. Trudeau, if you can make your case for “pro-choice” honestly and leave your Catholic upbringing out of it and then respect each MP enough to give him or her the freedom to vote their conscience, you yourself will have garnered the respect that is impossible to attain by holding fast to your current edict and the narrative that surrounds it.

At a time when our world is increasingly being influenced and threatened by those bent on demolishing freedom and democracy and justice, I urge you, Mr. Trudeau, as one of Canada’s key political leaders, to make every effort to protect what is surely a crucial bulwark against injustice, violence and hate: freedom to act in accordance with one’s deeply held conscientious beliefs that are grounded in peace, love, and respect for the dignity of human persons.

If I may conclude by borrowing from the words spoken by the Right Reverend Michael Bird during the final blessing at Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s funeral on October 28, may you and I and all Canadians remember always to “...live with courage, act with justice, and choose with love.”


iii The Supreme Court’s decision, profound as it was, did not create a right to abortion for Canadian women, nor did it offer any resolution of the abortion issue.”-- Gavigan, Shelley A.M., “Morgentaler and Beyond: Abortion, Reproduction, and the Courts,” in The Politics of Abortion, Oxford University Press, 1992, page 118.
The majority of the judges (5 of 7) had decided that Section 251 violated Canadian women’s constitutional rights to the security of the person. Only one, however, Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, declared that women had a right to an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. Moreover, all of the majority decisions conceded the state’s interest in protecting the foetus.”-- Brodie, Janine, “Choice and No Choice in the House” in The Politics of Abortion, Oxford University Press, 1992, page 59-60.

For an analysis of what the Supreme Court decided in the 1988 Morgentaler decision see this resource from the Library of Parliament: Abortion: Constitutional and Legal Developments, prepared by Mollie Dunsmuir, Law and Government Division, Reviewed 18 August, 1998.
iv  R v. Morgentaler [1988] 1 S.C.R.; Tremblay v. Daigle, [1989] 2 S.C.R. 530; Dobson (Litigation Guardian of)  v. Dobson, [1999] 2 S.C.R. 753; Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. DFG [1997] SCR 925

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