January 29, 2008

It was 20 years ago today . . .

. . . [or yesterday, anyway . . . sigh] that the Supreme Court of Canada, in the landmark R. v. Morgentaler decision, struck down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional - our analogue to the States' Roe v. Wade. In 1969 Dr. Henry Morgentaler and two partners opened a private abortion clinic in Toronto, as a direct challenge to the existing abortion law, which then outlawed abortion outside of uncertified hospitals, or without the a panel of doctors (a Therapeutic Abortion Committee, or TAC) agreeing that continuing the pregnancy endangered the health of the mother.  It wasn't long before Morgentaler was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned.  However, successive appeals brought him before the Supreme Court of Canada, where on January 28, 1988, it was ruled that the existing abortion law was unconstitutional, and struck down.

Since then, Canada has been the only civilized nation with no law at all regulating abortion. Any woman may have an abortion at any time, for any reason.

This, of course, suits the abortion advocates just fine.  I have attended three formal debates on the subject, and every time, the pro-choice debater has trotted out an argument along the lines of, "The Supreme Court declared that abortion is legal and enshrined in the Charter of Rights, so get over it." Of course, the opposite was true in 1987, and we had no Charter prior to 1982. It makes you wonder whether they would have reacted if a pro-lifer had argued in a debate, "It's illegal, so get over it." You have to love the shifting sands of judicial fiat.

The problem is that the existing state of affairs is often exaggerated. Abortion is hardly guaranteed by the Charter.  What the court actually said was that the slow pace of the existing procedural requirement, in which women's cases were reviewed by the TAC to determine whether an abortion was medically necessary, threatened the health of the mother and hence her "life, liberty, and ecurity of person." Then they lobbed the ball back into Parliament's court, putting the onus on the legislature to draft a new law that didn't.

In her written opinion, the late Justice Bertha Wilson wrote that the protection of the unborn was "a perfectly valid legislative objective" and that the woman's right to security of the person became morally more complex when she became pregnant.  She acknowledged that the state's interest in protecting fetal life increased as gestation continued and that the state must take this fact into account: it "should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive submissions on the subject from all the relevant disciplines." In other words, the only reason that abortion remains legal is that to date, no government has passed new legislation restricting it. Apart from one, er, abortive effort by the Mulroney Tories, which went nowhere, no government has even wanted to touch this political hot potato.  But that isn't the same as saying there should be no law, and in theory, there could be one again.

Furthermore, while there was a majority position, there was no consensus amongst the Supreme Court justices. The five majority judges drafted three opinions between them.  Therefore, unlike Roe in the U.S., Morgentaler sets no precedent. So judicial fiat created a situation where abortion is "safe and legal" at any point in a pregnancy; judicial fiat may, someday, make it illegal under at least some circumstances, and it can't come soon enough.

In any case, in honour of the occasion, I present two news stories from recent weeks on this issue, showing that as pro-lifers we still have a long, long way to go before people's hearts and minds are changed sufficiently to rectify the situation.

Here we go again . . .

The Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay (as a previous DIM BULB du jour recipient, more appropriately called @#$%head U.) has banned a campus pro-life group, Lakehead University Life Support, for the heinous sin of not agreeing with the opinions of the student unionistas. So they follow in the footsteps of other prestigious Canadian universities, such as Carleton University, whose student union attempted to ban the pro-life club Lifeline in December 2006 (though they caved when it actually came to denying them status), and Memorial University's Stalinists-in-training, who denied club status to the group MUN for LIFE last September.

During the 2006-2007 school year, Life Support was a fully ratified student club; however, for the 2007-2008 school year Life Support’s application for club status was rejected, though there were no substantial changes to the clubs application. . . .

The group has been going through the usual channels to try to gain official recognition. In November of last year, LULS member Francisco Gomez Jimenez emailed Matt Granville, the student in charge of campus clubs for the student union, asking for the reasons of the denial. He was told to contact a lawyer. Further written requests for explanations were ignored. The group approached the university’s Ombudsman to discuss this matter, but the Ombudsman was also a member of the LUSU, who told them the group could not get official status because it was "political."

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So apparently, "political" == "bad." This will probably come as a surprise to the school's student Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and/or Green clubs. But wait! There's more:

The student union told Life Support members their group would have special restrictions, including not being allowed to give "unsolicited education" on the life issues. This meant that the club could hold meetings but not distribute information or take any pro-active measures such as leafleting or engaging in unsolicited conversations with students. They were told they could not put up posters except those informing members of club meetings.

At Carleton, CUSA tried to argue that their ban of the Carleton Lifeline group was not about free speech, though the protestation rang hollow. I wonder whether LUSU will even try that defense, considering that the "special restrictions" apparently muzzle LULS members from talking about LULS.

On a more positive note, the film Indoctrinate U., about speech codes, activist professors, and other assorted political correctness on American campuses, is going to have a screening in Ottawa on February 18. Fight the power!

I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic fetus

Meanwhile, just across Lake Superior, strong, independent, feminist women rush for the fainting couch and smelling salts . . .

An anti-abortion group in Racine is under fire after mailing plastic fetuses to 44,000 people.

The mailing also included an informational letter and a fundraising envelope, WISN-TV in Milwaukee reported.

Mystical Listrom said she was not happy when she opened a Wisconsin Right to Life letter accompanied by a plastic fetus.

"It's my right to choose to do what I want with my body. I shouldn't have people telling me what I can and can't do with my body," Listrom said.

Her neighbor, Glenda Pollock, got the same package.

"If they had sent a letter explaining why they think abortion should not be allowed, I wouldn't have a problem with that. It was the plastic fetus that bothered me," Pollock said.

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Not a hint of irony is apparent as these women freak out over a nonviable piece of plastic. Meanwhile, pro-choicers continue to live in denial by arguing that a real fetus is a nonviable piece of tissue. At the Carleton abortion debate a year and a half ago, it took nearly an entire cross-examination period to get the pro-choice side to admit that what was in a woman's womb was not a "pregnancy," as if uteri all over the world contain a medical condition, rather than a developing human being. But if it's just nonviable tissue, no different than an appendix or a toenail clipping, then why the intense visceral response to a plastic fetus? If it's nothing, why object to its representation? Why turn the ultrasound monitor away from the mother in an abortion clinic so she can't see the screen? (This, too, was a question the pro-choicers refused to answer.)

What really surprises me about this story is the somewhat less intense visceral reaction amongst some pro-life advocates (such as some in this thread on Free Republic, for example). Although they disagree with abortion on demand, they seem to regard a tiny plastic fetus as a tasteless attack or invasion of privacy - as though your privacy can be invaded by a little doll. (Perhaps it comes to life, recites a version of "The Aristocrats," sends personal data to pro-life groups, then guns the whole family down with a tiny plastic AK-47.) It's not even a graphic, aborted plastic fetus - it's just small, shiny, and pink.

Here's the thing: if a harmless little plastic toy gets someone offended enough to give the mailer a piece of her mind, then you would think that a real aborted fetus would offend her enough to gather some friends together and storm Planned Parenthood with torches and pitchforks. That doesn't happen, though. You gotta love cognitive dissonance.

January 25, 2008

It was 20 10 years ago today last week


Blogging hiatus aside, I intentionally put off my yearly January 1 "state of the blog" post until later in the month, so as not to multiply milestones unnecessarily. Little did I know that my PC would choose that particular weekend to blow a CPU fan. While I've bought a replacement, the original screws that held the old fan to the heat sink are now too short. The computer works fine, but the fan is literally hanging by a thread (about three threads, actually, not counting the one screw that hasn't threaded into anything). I'm afraid to leave it unattended lest it vibrate off and purée my video card, or something.


Last weekend marks my 10th anniversary arriving in the fair city of Ottawa. It was Sunday, January 18, 1998 that I arrived here, suitcase in hand, to look for work. The original plan was to travel a week earlier - but the top story in the news that weekend was the massive ice storm that had crippled Ottawa, Montreal, and most of eastern Canada. So after about a millisecond of soul-searching, I decided to hold off a week. By the time I arrived in the city, life had pretty much returned to normal. The damage to trees was still evident on the highway, and many of them still had a thick coating of ice. In Ottawa itself, however, most of the ice appeared to have turned to slush.

(It could be worse: our senior pastor arrived in Ottawa as a candidate the previous weekend - baptized by fire, as it were. And ice. Still, it didn't deter him from staying, and he celebrates his tenth anniversary here as well.)

Way too much has changed in the last 10 years.

  • My first job was compiling, creating and burning documentation CD-ROMs. Not only were CD burners not yet common household items, but getting the right combination of hardware and media right was a real crap shoot. On my work burner, Verbatim and KAO disks worked all right. Memorex and Maxell consistently produced coasters.
  • My computer was a 100-MHz Pentium, and it connected to the Net via a 2400-baud modem. (A friend was kind enough to donate his lightning-fast 14400-baud modem a few months later.) Wireless Internet, indeed high-speed Internet at all, was still a pipe dream for homes.
  • The iPod was still a few years away from being a light bulb going off in Steve Jobs' head. And MP3s, although not unknown, were very rare.
  • Google? Never heard of it.
  • The biggest story in the news, apart from the ice storm, was Bill Clinton's greatest legacy to the American people: Monica.
  • The roof of the Parliament building was still green.
  • Our sales tax was still two percent higher.
  • Osama bin Laden was hardly a household name, and the tallest building in Manhattan was not the Empire State Building.
  • High school still had a Grade 13; students graduating from university this year were probably still in elementary school.
  • Although the Web probably contained numerous online journals (lovingly hand-coded by their owners), the word blog had yet to be coined.

Speaking of which, I really, really have to get into the swing of this again. Inertia is a powerful deterrent. Fortunately, I have a hard drive full of almost-finished posts ready to unleash on the blogosphere. If only I can get my CPU fan to stay put.

Until then, dear reader, sit tight. Ransom is back.