Is there anything new to say about abortion?
I’m grappling with that question as I write this.
Even if not, there’s much to say about the abortion debate.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long espoused the belief that the abortion issue is settled and shouldn’t be discussed. In spite of this, he’s once again revived the debate by trying to shut it down.
Trudeau’s government has changed the rules for the Canada Summer Jobs program — which subsidizes student summer employment at companies and charities — so any organization applying must now attest its “core mandate” supports a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
This change comes just weeks after the federal government settled a lawsuit launched by pro-life groups denied Canada Summer Jobs funding last year — before the ideological purity test was on the books.
At a town hall last week, Justin Trudeau doubled down on the new rule, which has attracted the ire of not only pro-life advocacy groups, but also charities tied to religions that are against abortion — a group that includes almost all Christian denominations, as well as most of Judaism and Islam.
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“An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion and the right for women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society,” he said.
“You’re more than allowed to have whatever beliefs you like, but when (these) beliefs lead to actions determined to restrict a woman’s right to control her own body, that’s where I, and I think we, draw the line as a country.”
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office further clarified its position, saying “faith-based organizations who do plenty of work outside those realms, would not be affected by the attestation.”
But even so, they’d be expected to check the box saying they believe something they don’t.
Our constitution specifically guarantees freedom of expression, which suggests acting on beliefs is not, as Trudeau claims, legally distinct from privately holding beliefs.
But the prime minister’s approach is consistent with that of many pro-choice Canadians: abortion is a legitimate choice, thus restricting access to it is anti-choice.
Those in the pro-choice camp are generally indignant that those in the pro-life camp could possibly have the beliefs they do. The reverse is true as well, proving both factions are having entirely different discussions.
(Note that I’m referring to those on each side of the argument by their preferred monikers to avoid the inevitable contrived semantical fights.)
The ethical debate surrounding abortion is not about whether a woman has the right to have a fetus removed: it’s about whether that fetus is a human life.
Pro-choicers believe it isn’t, while pro-lifers believe it is. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s important to understand the abortion debate along these lines, rather than the Trudeaupian view that pro-lifers — a category that includes many women, incidentally — are at odds with womanly autonomy.
If pro-lifers didn’t recognize a fetus as a life, there’d be no grounds to argue abortion is wrong. And if pro-choicers did recognize a fetus as a life, they couldn’t argue for a woman’s right to remove it.
The radical feminist view of prostitution, for example, dictates that a woman cannot consent to something that is inherently harmful, because of the broader implications of that action. While radical feminists are vehemently pro-choice, the same approach — that abortion cannot be legitimized as a “choice” because of the effect on the unborn child — could apply to the abortion debate.
Lest there be no confusion about my position, I am pro-life. I think abortion is wrong. But above all, I think abortion, like any other issue, should never be placed above debate, as the prime minister is doing.
Allowing discussion and dissent about abortion should be a no-brainer, because the dialogue stems from a scientific question: at what point does life begin?
Sure, religion and philosophy play huge roles in how many answer that question. But there are pro-life and pro-choice scientists who peg the genesis of a life at points both in utero and at birth.
Before his fall from grace, pro-choice comedian Louis CK crafted a poignant (albeit crass) bit about this phenomenon.
“I think abortion is exactly like taking a sh-t,” he said. “Or it isn’t. It is or it isn’t. It’s either taking a sh-t or it’s killing a baby. It’s only one of those two things. It’s no other things.”
The bit continued with the observation that while he disagrees with the pro-life position, his fellow pro-choicers need to get that pro-lifers won’t shut up about abortion, because, well, they think it’s state-sanctioned murder.
Just as pro-choicers think they’re standing up for women in the face of oppression, pro-lifers think they’re standing up for children against the same force.
Of course, like any political comedy, the joke fell flat with some. A Vogue column accused it of being too simplistic and reductive (as opposed to Louis CK’s other, erm, intellectual comedy?), saying that women who’ve contemplated or had abortions don’t consider it as insignificant an act as defecating.
It’s a valid criticism. Most pro-choice Canadians I’ve encountered don’t view abortion flippantly, which reinforces the complexity of the subject. All the more reason to welcome debate, or, at the very least, not to exclude from government programs advocacy groups trying to strike a conversation.
Trudeau not only misrepresents the debate, but, by mandating ideological uniformity, does so at the expense of free expression.
People can have their beliefs on the matter, but the sooner we recognize what the debate is actually about, the more constructive a dialogue we can have on it.