Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's time to talk about abortion

Alone among developed countries, Canada has no abortion law. Is 'settling' for a non-decision any way for a democracy to behave?

Also at
The real scandal is the order itself
Let us work to abolish this dubious, vaguely offensive tradition

This is not about abortion. This is about democracy.

It is about how we decide things, and by what rules, and how we treat each other when we disagree. Indeed, it is about whether we are allowed to disagree; whether dissent on a contentious issue is respected, or even recognized; and whether, in the face of clear evidence over many years that an issue is not settled — that it was never settled — a democracy should be allowed at last to debate and decide it. Like a democracy.

The furor over Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada, on the other hand, now that is about abortion. There may be some who object out of a disinterested concern for fairness, on the principle that an honour bestowed on behalf of all of the people of Canada should not be given to a man whose life's work is, still, so profoundly upsetting to so many Canadians. But for most people, it's about abortion. In honouring him, we are honouring it, normalizing it, stamping it with the seal of approval.

Or rather not abortion, as such, but the legal void that surrounds it, which Morgentaler did so much to bring about: the extraordinary fact that, 20 years after the Supreme Court ruling that bears his name, this country still has no abortion law of any kind. It isn't that abortion — at any stage of a pregnancy, for any reason, and at public expense — is lawful in Canada. It is merely not unlawful. When it comes to abortion, we are literally a lawless society: the only country in the developed world that does not regulate the practice in any way.