March 13, 2008

When "pro-choice" isn't

My friend Jojo has, or used to have, a bumper sticker on the back of his car that read, "Some choices are wrong." He's mentioned that he sometimes gets some very dirty looks from passing motorists.

But for all their rhetoric about "a woman's right to choose," the ironic fact is that the so-called "pro-choice" camp also believes that some choices are wrong. The difference is, we pro-lifers are more up-front about it.

First the backlash, then the back-pedalling

A week ago, the Toronto Star published an article in which Kelly Holloway, York University student centre vice-chair and president of the grad students' association, defended her move to quash an abortion debate on campus last February 27:

Kelly Holloway did not mean to spark a debate on freedom of expression when she helped stifle an abortion debate on campus.

"I actually don't think this is very controversial," the graduate student at York University said of the decision to cancel a Feb. 28 event that would have shown graphic images of abortion and asked participants whether the procedure should be criminalized.

There is a saying that has been attributed to the late film critic Pauline Kael, on the occasion of the election of Richard Nixon to the White House. "I can't believe Nixon won," she supposedly said, "I don't know anybody who voted for him." Whether authentic or not, the point is that it is possible to surround yourself so completely with like-minded people, that the thought that someone might have a different mind on a subject is practically inconceivable.

Of course Little Miss Censorship didn't mean to spark a debate on freedom of speech. In the circles in which she walks, she is surrounded by people who don't believe any differently, so it is quite possible that she genuinely does not know that some of her intelligent, mature-minded schoolmates might actually have a varying opinion on the subject of abortion.

"Most people understand that every woman has the right to choose what she does with her own body and that moral considerations about abortion are a very personal matter for individuals to decide," said Holloway, who helped make the decision as vice-chair of the student centre where the debate was scheduled to be held.

This is, obviously, a prime example of the art of begging the question. Whether or not a fetus is part of a woman's "own body" is the very issue in question. Little Miss Censorship's assertion (which she and her echo chamber of friends and colleagues probably take for granted) assumes, without proof, that the unborn are not genetically distinct, living human organisms who happen to inhabit a uterus at the moment.

Establish what the unborn is, then we can know what rights a woman has regarding its disposition.

"The legal precedent in Canada is that abortion and those women who choose to have the medical procedure will not be criminalized," said Holloway, who is also president of the York University Graduate Students' Association.

It's worth pointing out, yet again, that the Morgentaler decision of 1988 sets no legal precedent. Moreover, the present legality of abortion on demand is due strictly to an absence of any law regulating the practice. This has happened, not because of any positive decision by judge or legislator, but because of a succession of spineless Parliaments (with one exception) that have failed to even attempt to draft any law regulating abortion - which that very same Supreme Court decision asserted was perfectly within Parliament's rights.

"So every York student has the right to make up their own mind and there is no need for an event, organized by anti-choice campaigners, that is disguised as a debate."

That's a hilarious bit of doublespeak that pretty much speaks for itself.

Holloway said banning discussions of the pros and cons of abortion was never the point. Her beef was with inviting the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, (CCBR) a Calgary-based pro-life group that compares abortion to genocide and pushes to make it illegal.

It's funny how this wasn't the argument she was using two weeks ago. Back then she was claiming that the abortion issue was not one that was up for debate, because debating the morality of abortion was the moral equivalent of debating the morality of wife-beating. Perhaps, in the meantime, she realized how foolish that sounded.

But if this is true, did either she, or the rest of the York Censorship Squad, ever try to raise their concern with Jojo? Did they ask him if he would limit himself to an oral presentation? I know that it is part of Jojo's standard routine to show abortion pictures during his opening statement, but his arguments don't hinge on them. I'm sure that if it meant the difference between a debate or no debate, he would have been willing to compromise. But I'll hazard a guess they never even bothered.

"They erected huge signs in full colour of fabricated fetuses alongside people dying in the Holocaust and also pictures of people being lynched," she said.

"So we set up a table outside of that display as the student union to encourage students to tell us what their reactions were so we could understand the effect it was having on students. We collected hundreds of statements from students who said they were upset, they were appalled, they were traumatized and they were worried about the fact that the student union hadn't taken responsibility to actually interfere in the matter."

Fabricated fetuses, eh? There's another assertion without evidence.

But so what? No one would seriously think that Steven Spielberg filmed actual disembowelled soldiers storming Normandy, yet his films such as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List are considered so notable for their realism that they warrant being broadcast, uncut, on network television or shown in schools for their educational value. Whether pictures of aborted fetuses are real or simulated is really beside the point. Are they an accurate representation of the real thing? (Perhaps Little Miss Censorship believes that aborted fetuses happily march out of the vagina all pink and clean and smiling.) If a picture of a simulated abortion is offensive, how much more offensive is a picture of a real abortion - and if a picture of an abortion is offensive, how much more is an actual abortion?

"Just like we would not sanction the use of student space to challenge whether black students should be able to attend university, or whether homosexuality should be illegal, we would not sanction this particular debate over whether or not women should be able to have a choice concerning their own bodies."

You really have to laugh. When the CCBR compares abortion with racism (i.e. lynching blacks), Little Miss Censorship and her friends are "appalled" and "traumatized." But when a representative of the CCBR wants to debate abortion on York campus, it's the moral equivalent of racism (i.e. debating segregation). Remember, Dear Reader, this logical powerhouse is a graduate student.

Choices are not made in a vacuum. Real choice requires that all the relevant questions and issues are available to be considered and evaluated. Uninformed choice is not real choice. By unilaterally pronouncing one side of a controversial issue to be out of bounds, Holloway and her merry band of student blackshirts prove themselves to be not pro-choice, but anti-choice.

Fortunately, the administration of York U. feels differently, and has rescheduled the debate for a time and place outside of the control of the blackshirts - who, by their actions, have probably guaranteed the debate a greater audience than it would have had if it had gone forward at the original time. Rumour has it the new date is March 19. Hopefully this will be confirmed soon by a more reliable source than a blog. And the editor-in-chief of York's student newspaper, the Excalibur, has offered both Jojo and his opponent Michael Payton space to present their views.

And on the legislative front

Meanwhile, the abortion advocates are all in a tizzy about Bill C-484, the so-called "Unborn Victims of Crime" bill. For example, Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada recently wrote, in a recent letter to the Ottawa Citizen, that "anti-abortion" advocates will "use the law as a foot-in-the-door to recriminalize abortion via future measures."

Abortion-rights advocates believe that women who are pregnant ought to be free to choose to terminate their pregnancy, and want the government to support that choice with the force of law. A consistent "pro-choice" position would argue that a pregnant woman ought to be free to choose to carry the baby to term, and want the government to support that choice with the force of law.

Put another way, if a woman chooses to have an abortion, there ought to be penalties for those who would forcefully deny her that right; if she chooses to have a baby, there ought also to be penalties for those who would forcefully deny her that right as well.

But, of course, no such symmetry exists in the mind of pro-choicers like Arthur. Even though C-484 is specifically worded to except abortion from its purview, she's worried that it will be a back door to restricting abortion. (Which, remember, is a perfectly valid legislative objective, according to R v. Morgentaler.) It's not about freedom of choice: it's about maximizing the opportunity for abortions on demand. I've said before that organizations like ARCC and CARAL are not "pro-choice," but pro-abortion. This is just another reason why.

(Incidentally, this isn't a pro-life or civil-liberties blog, all present appearances to the contrary. I just blog what's on my mind at any given time, and these issues just happen to be on the front burner these days.)