A couple of days ago I wrote a longer post about the way that religious believers have of hiding the real, religious reasons for their support for legislative programmes. They will bring up practically every conceivable reason for doing or not doing something except the one that is foremost in their minds, namely, that the things done or not done are mandated by their religious beliefs. This morning, in a special to the National Post, we are given another glimpse into this dark world where religious beliefs hide, beliefs which are reasonably thought to be the primary justificatory reasons behind certain legislative proposals, beliefs which are, all the while, carefully hidden from sight. We are invited to consider the vital importance of legislative proposals without being told why their supporters think them so important. And McKay (the author of the special to the National Post) heightens the sense of importance, by characterising the mood of the House of Commons after the vote on Woodworth’s Motion 312, as somber, almost funereal. “In fact,” as McKay tells us,
I said to a colleague it was like exiting a funeral. Conversation was muted. The shrillness that characterized the debate was silenced.
I have no way of telling whether this gives us an accurate assessment of the mood in the house, or whether this was simply the colour given to the scene by someone who was religiously committed to the proposal that had just been defeated. If it was the latter, as I suspect, McKay really should reconsider his role, for it is inappropriate, in a democracy, for religious opinions to be determinative of legislative outcomes. Take a look at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada page where the religious basis of the move to “fix” Canada’s abortion law is made very clear. At the same time, however, it is also disingenuously claimed that Motion 312 was “a motion that any Member of Parliament could have supported in good conscience. It was not a “pro-life” motion – it was a “humanity” motion.” The duplicity of that is clear.
My last post on this issue was fairly long; this will be relatively short and to the point. In a special op-ed to the National Post — a newspaper which itself tends to give liberal support to conservative religious causes — the Liberal Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood, John McKay, writes an article under the head of “A lost opportunity to fix our abortion laws.” He is, of course, speaking about the defeat of the Woodworth motion to strike a parliamentary committee to define the beginning of personhood, which he describes in the following way:
The motion was really nothing more than a carefully worded and quite innocuous attempt to fill a legal void left by the Morgentaler decision. The Supreme Court had anticipated that its decision would unbalance the law and the various rights claims, and therefore specifically asked Parliament to respond. But the rhetoric over the motion was amped up so much that it became a litmus test for one’s position on abortion rather than a discussion on when life should be recognized in law.
Now, I don’t pretend to be a constitutional expert. However, it is not at all clear that what McKay says is correct. It is not at all plain that the Supreme Court (in R v. Morgantaler anticipated an imbalance in the law that needed to be righted by Parliament. Nor is it at all clear that such an imbalance exists now. Indeed, in the written judgement of one of the Supreme Court justices,
[t]he decision whether to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, a matter of conscience. I do not think there is or can be any dispute about that. The question is: whose conscience? Is the conscience of the woman to be paramount or the conscience of the state? I believe, for the reasons I gave in discussing the right to liberty, that in a free and democratic society it must be the conscience of the individual.
In a later case brought before the court, Trebley v. Daigle, it was determined that the foetus had no standing as a person in Canadian law. There is simply no obvious reason to believe that these judgements are wrong, and that women should not be left to make these decisions for themselves without the intervention of the law.
In other words, contrary to John McKay’s claim in his contributed op-ed to the National Post, Canada’s abortion laws do not need to be fixed. Indeed, it is justly held that the decision whether or not to abort should be left up to the individual judgement of the woman concerned. There is nothing, to use McKay’s word, innocuous about a legislative proposal which is designed to take that judgement away from women and hand it to others. But that is just what John McKay, and a host of other evangelical members of parliament, want to do. For, amongst Liberals, John McKay is exceptional in that he is an evangelical Christian, regularly attends prayer breakfasts for MPs, and, as a Christian, clearly would like to see the laws acknowledge the personhood of the foetus.
The problem is, of course, that there is no bright line in the course of the development of the foetus, such that we can say with reasonable certainty that on one side the foetus is not a person, and on the other it is. And that is precisely the murky ground in which people like McKay would like to ensnare us, for once we acknowledge that there is an issue here in need of settlement, the logical step would be the Catholic one, of claiming that personhood begins at conception, and this would rule out not only abortion, but the “morning after” pill, the IUD (or intra-uterine device), and other means used to prevent implantation of a conceptus in the uterus. Thus we would be back to the straightforward criminalisation of abortion, and perhaps also of the birth control methods just mentioned.
The dishonesty behind McKay’s lament about Parliament’s failure to “fix” Canada’s abortion laws is palpable. He does not point any of this out. He merely tells us that the law needs “fixing,” without telling us what about the law needs to be “fixed,” nor what the implications of trying to “fix” this aspect of the law would be. Again, we have a Christian hiding behind his role as an MP and a maker of laws, without so much as mentioning the religious presuppositions which are driving his appeal. Much of his op-ed piece is devoted to describing the somber attitude of the members as they left the house after defeating Woodworth’s bill. He ends with these words:
Parliament was asked to speak on when life begins, and it refused. Maybe at some level the sombre atmosphere exiting the Chamber reflected more than merely friends and colleagues being at odds with each other. Maybe it reflected MPs’ realization that they had just taken themselves out of a very important game.
The problem is that he nowhere tells us why he, in particular, thinks of it as a very important game. Indeed, he doesn’t think this is a game at all. As a member of an evangelical church in Toronto there is no doubt that he has to give an accounting of himself to his fellow-believers. This is one way to do it, and we can imagine how pleased they will be to read his op-ed piece in today’s newspaper.
They should be more concerned about the disingenuous way in which McKay is carrying out his Christian mission. We should not have to search for McKay’s Christian credentials. They should be stated as a competing interest. His failure to do so says more about McKay and his intentions than does his article. He deprecates the polarisation over this issue, but it is his kind of dishonesty that contributes to it, for it is clear, simply in his failure to say what about Canadian abortion law needs “fixing”, in his judgement, that he occupies a position which is the polar opposite to the one in which it is held that reproductive decisions should be left in the hands of the individual, and that the law should not interfere with those decisions. He should not be surprised to find, in the polarised black-and-white moral world in which he dwells, that people are deeply suspicious of his intentions, and of the intentions of others like him who represent Christian dogma on the issue of the moment when personal life begins. The dishonesty of McKay’s position should be obvious, and it is to be deeply regretted that Christians think it appropriate to act in this deceitful way.