LONDON, ONTARIO - Regular Hermaneutics readers will know that by about mid-May, it’s time for your host to clamber aboard a chartered bus full of hopped-up zealots to travel through the cramped and sleep-deprived night up to Ottawa where he will take part in - and then file his report on - the latest edition of the National March for Life. For 50 years this annual gathering, timed to protest the legalization of abortion in Canada on May 14th of 1969, has drawn as many as 25,000 Canadians. In more recent years the head count usually comes in at an estimated 15,000 participants.
Even at that lower number, the March for Life ranks as the largest protest of any kind to visit our nation’s capital each year. And even when the turnout is maxed out, you can bet your bottom dollar that its coverage in the mainstream media and press will be just about zilch. We marchers understand full well that most Canadians do not want to talk about or even be reminded of the wretched fact that every year, an average of 100,000 prenatal infants are put to death in this country. Indeed, so effective is that muffling and turning away from so grim a truth, that March for Lifers consider our attendance an obligation of conscience no matter how inconvenient we might find this outing to be.
It’s interesting to note that the entire 50-year span during which Canada has dismally distinguished itself among civilized nations by having no legal regulation of abortion whatsoever, has been bracketed by the prime minister-ship of decidedly tepid Catholic men who share the last name of Trudeau. Pierre the elder who scrapped the old restrictions, at least had the honesty and decency to recognize that “the public is evenly divided on the subject of abortion” and therefore never sought to have the ghoulish procedure enshrined as a charter right. His profoundly shallow son (known as Blackie McSparklesocks to the commenters on Small Dead Animals) keeps lying that it is a charter right and routinely persecutes anyone who won’t join him in full-throated celebration of what he prefers to call ‘a woman’s right to choose’.
Every year the Marchers gather on Parliament Hill where pro-life speakers talk for an hour or so and then we take our place in a long, undulating and near-silent procession that moves through downtown Ottawa. Most hold signs; some give quiet voice to prayers and occasional hymns. Marchers of every age group are there; teenagers galore, mothers and fathers pushing babies in prams, oldsters pushing walkers or being pushed along themselves in wheelchairs. We do not take part in obnoxious chants. We mostly ignore the hundred or so anti-protest protesters who turn out to hurl tedious and obscene abuse at us. We never give cops or security personnel a rough time and some of them will even slip us a discreet thumbs-up if they’re in sympathy with our cause. (I can’t imagine they’re ever assigned to an easier crowd-control gig than ours.) We do not crap on police cars or leave any litter behind.
But in this year of the rampaging Communist Batflu Plague, the National March was deemed too epidemiologically risky and cancelled. In its stead last Thursday, there was a virtual approximation of the event which I didn’t bother tuning in as I am one of those tiresome literalists who find such disembodied simulations of real life encounters even more depressing than simply going without. During this shutdown I’ve been sadistically happy to watch a lowlife like Madonna give an Instagram lecture on solidarity from her rose petal-strewn bathtub. (And even better was the modified version which a non-fan put up featuring submarinal squeaking sounds and subtle eruptions of bubbles in the vicinity of her flanks. Yes, I know it’s unworthy and I’ll take it to confession when our Bishop decrees that we might be able to reinstate that particular sacrament.) But for anything I deeply care about where actual presence is the point, I simply refuse to flick on a screen and click ‘play’. Similarly I do not ‘attend’ Mass or even play Scrabble online for fear of setting a precedent and reconciling myself to an immaterial substitution of the real thing.
Though it might be construed as evidence that I haven’t undertaken much of a philosophical odyssey over this last half century, my stance on abortion has been pretty consistent. I have always rejected that school of preventive thought which myopically insists that men, by the mere fact of their sex, are not qualified to speak about abortion. True, the only way that any of us makes it onto this planet is through the biological hospitality of a woman but both girls and boys get born. And as much as I honour the sacrifices and discomforts which full-term childbearing imposes on mothers everywhere, I can’t help believing that this life which I enjoy and cherish entitles me to a stake in this debate. And is that stake perhaps increased somewhat by the giddy knowledge that I was an ‘accident’; that if I’d been conceived twenty years later to different parents with different principles, I might not be here at all?
I was two weeks shy of my seventeenth birthday when Canada legalized abortion. Though I was not what they called ‘sexually active’ yet, thanks to the records and movies and books I was imbibing, I’d been immersed for a few years in the percolating zeitgeist of the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ as well as the early sloganeering of second stage feminism. Though it was all still theoretical to me at that point, I was shocked that our government had given the go-ahead to legalized abortion. It seemed to me that a line was being crossed that was certain to coarsen the humanity of society as I’d known it. I wasn’t yet a Christian, let alone a Catholic, but I knew there was a huge moral distinction to be drawn between contraception and abortion. I thought it was intellectually craven for my country to approve the slaughter of innocent human life for the sake of what even a teenager could see was a partial and puerile understanding of compassion and individual liberty.
In 1981 the American novelist, Walker Percy, did a bang-up job of summarizing what I had instinctively felt as a seventeen year-old in an essay for The New York Times entitled, A View of Abortion with Something to Offend Everybody. Head on he attacked the fatuous hooey, then much employed, to suggest there was any uncertainty about when human life actually begins:
“The current con, perpetrated by some jurists, some editorial writers, and some doctors, is that since there is no agreement about the beginning of human life, abortion is therefore a private religious or philosophical decision and therefore the states and the courts can do nothing about it . . . Religion, philosophy and private opinion have nothing to do with this issue . . . It is a commonplace of modern biology, known to every high school student that the life of every individual organism, human or not, begins when the chromosomes of the sperm fuse with the chromosomes of the ovum to form a new DNA complex that thenceforth directs the ontogenesis of the organism.
“There is a wonderful irony here. It is this: the onset of individual life is not a dogma of the Church but a fact of science. How much more convenient if we lived in the thirteenth century, when no one knew anything about microbiology and arguments about the onset of life were legitimate. Compared to a modern textbook of embryology, Thomas Aquinas sounds like an American Civil Liberties Union member. Nowadays it is not some misguided ecclesiastics who are trying to suppress an embarrassing scientific fact. It is the secular-juridical-journalistic establishment.”
Both a trained physician and an accomplished novelist, Percy switched hats for that essay’s conclusion: “Please indulge the novelist if he thinks in novelistic terms. Picture the scene. A Galileo trial in reverse. The Supreme Court is cross-examining a high-school biology teacher and admonishing him that of course it is only his personal opinion that the fertilized human ovum is an individual human life. He is enjoined not to teach his private belief at a public school. Like Galileo he caves in, submits, but in turning away is heard to murmur, ‘But it’s still alive!’”
It now seems almost quaint to recall a time when people sought to ease their conscience regarding abortion by pretending to entertain uncertainties about when human life actually begins. Far fewer scruples are harboured today. Now state legislatures erupt into demonic cheers when they pass legislation ensuring that fully formed infants can be murdered on the very brink of birth. At awards shows or women’s marches, Hollywood starlets (some of them wearing pink hats which are supposed to resemble vaginas) tell us what a shrewd move it was to have that pesky in-utero baby sucked up the Hoover when it threatened to interfere with landing a role. And closer to home an abortionist with the highest kill rate in our nation’s history is awarded the Order of Canada in a ceremony at Western University’s Alumni Hall.
Not infrequently an unintended pregnancy used to be the spur for a couple to get their act together and find a way to properly welcome new life. But now easy access abortion proffers one more opportunity for a couple - or often, just the woman - to extend their adolescence a little longer by reneging on the impulse or accident that bore fruit. Since the existence of the child is the woman’s call alone, many fathers callously refuse to offer any semblance of support and may even apply what pressure they can to have the nascent child eliminated. Such men are rotters, all right, but you can see where they got such a shabby idea. The legal and social irrelevance of fatherhood has been relentlessly banged into their heads for half a century and no appeal is made to either parent’s sense of responsibility or honour regarding one another or the new life they’ve conceived. Having asserted the dismal illusion of a woman’s total control over reproduction, women now are increasingly being left to it, much to the snowballing misery of all.
Shortly after our own first child was born in 1981 and I understood the realities of human regeneration in a far more visceral way, I ventured into print for the first time with my own misgivings about abortion in a Free Press editorial column. It inspired an impressive avalanche of mail, about evenly divided between support and denunciation. What I find particularly fascinating in perusing those letters now, is to see the first iteration in my lifetime of that oppressive non-argument so numbingly invoked today - “the science is settled” - whenever someone dares to question the veracity of global warming or climate change theory.
“Doesn’t Mr. Goodden realize that the abortion debate is over?” one of these writers huffily asked. Or in other words, “Please shut up. You’re not qualified to have an opinion. We’ve made up your mind.”
Well, no you haven’t, thank you very much. And with any luck at all, next year at about this time I’ll once again enjoy the privilege of walking down major thoroughfares in our national capital with 14,999 other unintimidated Canadians who believe our country made a horrible mistake fifty-one years ago when it chose to break faith with innocent human life.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :