It was another big crowd on Thursday, as thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators gathered on Parliament Hill for the annual March For Life rally.
In fact, according to organizers, it was an even bigger turnout this year due to the recent controversy around the Summer Jobs program, and the Liberals’ efforts to cut off and marginalize pro-life groups.
In that it has provided an opportunity to adopt a sense of martyrdom, then one could view that as a victory of sorts. Frankly, this movement probably needs to pounce on anything even remotely resembling a victory. As Canada marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Morgentaler decision, it’s worth reflecting on what a miserable failure the country’s pro-life movement has been and will continue to be.
One has to feel sorry at times for pro-lifers. There is nothing illegal about holding anti-abortion views, and yet there is no shortage of examples of how the movement has been ridiculed and ostracized, the changes to the Summer Jobs program being but one.
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But yet the movement has brought much of this on itself. Tactics, such as randomly mailing and publicly displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses or comparing abortion to the Holocaust, do little more than discredit the anti-abortion cause. If you act like a fringe movement dominated by fanatics, don’t be surprised if the public views you that way.
Moreover, though, what does the movement have to show for itself in the 30 years since Canada’s abortion law was struck down? There are no legislative achievements. There are very few politicians willing to publicly embrace the movement at all. The movement has not changed attitudes on abortion — if anything, public opinion has gone the other way.
Maybe the movement is content with its abysmal track record, so long as it’s adherents remain true to the cause. If so, carry on then.
But in the meantime, there are some very glaring missed opportunities. The pro-life movement seems to be holding out for an unattainable goal of classifying abortion as murder and ending it altogether, rather than focusing on a much more reasonable and attainable goal of reducing the number of abortions.
While polls show that most Canadians support a woman’s right to choose, it doesn’t mean that Canadians are enthusiastically pro-abortion. A goal of a lower abortion rate would have a fairly broad appeal and support. And it’s one the pro-life movement will never embrace.
Canada’s pro-life movement, like its counterpart in the United States, consists almost exclusively of religious conservatives — mostly Catholics and evangelical Christians. For them, abortion is but one issue in a broader cultural battle that involves targeting, among other things, sex education and access to contraception.
The key to lowering the abortion rate, however, involves two of those perceived evils.
It should be noted, first of all, that abortion rates throughout the developed world have fallen significantly over the last 30 years. Of course, that’s happened in spite of, not because of, the anti-abortion movement. Yet you would still think that for someone opposed to abortion, this would be worth celebrating. The pro-life movement does not trumpet any of this, and when you dig a little deeper you can see why.
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Countries with more restrictive abortion laws actually tend to have higher abortion rates. Access to contraception is perhaps the biggest factor in driving down those rates. This should be obvious: preventing an unwanted pregnancy means no need for an abortion. Comprehensive sex ed goes hand in hand with this.
Take Switzerland, for example. The abortion rate in Canada, the UK, and the U.S. is very similar — around 13 per 1000 women, whereas in Switzerland, the rate is only five per 1000 women. It seems to me that a genuine and sincere pro-life movement would say “let’s emulate Switzerland’s success,” yet none do.
Switzerland hasn’t banned abortion, they’ve actually liberalized their laws. They don’t denounce abortion as murder, invoke the possible wrath of an angry deity, or bombard women with graphic images of aborted fetuses. Rather, the remarkably low abortion rate is a result of access to contraception, comprehensive sex ed, and socioeconomic level.
One needn’t hold strident anti-abortion views to desire outcomes comparable to Switzerland. We can strive for that regardless of whether the pro-life movement is on board — in fact, it’s safe to say that they won’t be. After 30 years of miserable failure for the pro-life movement, the prospects look favourable for 30 more years of the same.