Sunday, May 29, 2005

Honour for abortionist a disgrace to university

From the Web site of the University of Western Ontario (aka "Western"):
On Thursday, June 16 at 10 a.m. Western will confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree upon Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a humanist leader who has promoted the idea that people have a right to control their own sexuality and reproduction, without interference by the state.

He founded the first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1968 and in the year that followed he challenged the criminal code by providing safe abortions for women in his clinic in Montreal.

His belief in a “Woman’s Right to Choose” eventually led to a change in the law.
Perhaps I had better provide a little more background. A blog is an international forum, and this is first and foremost a Canadian story. That said, anyone interested in the continuing controversy over abortion is likely to be stirred up by the story.

In the 1970s and 80s, Canada had a law which permitted abortion in hospitals, but only if certain criteria were met. Dr. Morgentaler decided the quickest way to legalize abortion on demand was to flout the law. He opened clinics in several provinces and offered abortions without regard to the legal criteria in place at the time. Inevitably, Dr. Morgentaler was charged with having committed a crime, just as he had planned.

After several legal battles, the case made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988. In R. v. Morgentaler, the court ruled that Canada's abortion law constituted an unjustifiable violation of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which reads,
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The court commented, "Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman's body and thus an infringement of security of the person." Thus the court struck down the abortion law.

On the other hand, the court recognized that the state might have a legitimate interest in the protection of the fetus. A different law might be deemed acceptable, providing that it achieved a better balance between the competing interests at stake:  the woman's right to security of the person and the state's interest in protecting the fetus. In particular, the state might justifiably limit access to abortion in the later months of a pregnancy.

The Canadian legislature made one attempt to replace the abortion law but could not achieve adequate support among Members of Parliament. In Canada there is presently no law prohibiting abortion at any stage of a pregnancy. Much of the credit (if that is the right word) for the situation must go to Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

Not surprisingly, Western's decision to confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree upon Dr. Morgentaler is quite controversial. According to TheStar.com:
Joanne McGarry, a Western graduate and executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said her organization is asking disgruntled alumni to register their displeasure by stopping their donations to the university.

"This man's sole contribution to Canada has been the taking of life in unprecedented numbers," said McGarry.
Western has also faced criticism from within its own faculty. Don McDougall, the Chair of UWO's Board of Governors, wrote an open letter to the university community. In the letter, Mr. McDougall comments, "For the past several years, [Dr. Morgentaler] has advocated abortion as a means of reducing poverty and criminality and removing unwanted children from our midst. This form of eugenics should offend most people in our academic community."

UWO alumni have started on online petition to protest the decision to honour Dr. Morgentaler. To date, they have collected 11,261 signatures.

Here is my take on Western's decision, as expressed in an open letter to UWO's President Paul Davenport. (I sent the original via e-mail on June 17, 2005. I haven't received a reply, but I don't presume that Western is under any obligation to reply to me.)

President Paul Davenport:

This e-mail should probably be directed to the Senate, since that is the body that awards honorary degrees. I couldn't find an e-mail address to contact the Senate, so I am voicing my objection through you.

Dr. Morgentaler represents different things to different people. For people who reduce abortion to a woman's choice, Dr. Morgentaler is a symbol of a great social good. But for people who are mindful not only of the woman, but also of the child whose life ends at abortion, Dr. Morgentaler is a symbol of a great social evil.

You comment, "Research universities like ours attach a very high value to encouraging differing points of view and debate." But how does the decision to honour Dr. Morgentaler "encourage" the alternative point of view on abortion?

As you know, Canada has had no abortion law since Dr. Morgentaler's personal victory in 1988. Over 100,000 pregnancies are aborted in Canada every year; to my mind, this is a horrific statistic. There is no law against third-trimester abortions. The child is not recognized as a person but stripped of his or her rights in law. Thus no attempt is made to balance the rights of the child and the mother.

That is what Dr. Morgentaler symbolizes for me. A very great social evil, indeed.

Some day, perhaps, another figure will emerge and achieve some kind of compromise which acknowledges the child as a party to the abortion. That figure may deserve to be honoured by Canadian institutions and individuals.

But Morgentaler? The Senate's decision to award him an honorary degree is a disgrace to the University of Western Ontario.

I could offer a further explanation of my opinion, but I think it's better to turn things over to you, the reader, at this point.

All points of view are welcome here, with a proviso that should be clear from my previous post. Present your position, defend it vigorously, but please … don't stoop to personal insults. Ad hominem arguments can only diminish your credibility.

17 Comments:

At 6:19 PM, May 29, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

In Canada, abortions are legal. And that's all that can be said about its status. For such a complex matter, this is wholly and appallingly insufficient.

It is a truism that abortion is a matter to be decided between a woman and her doctor. I would argue that the woman can - and should - have the final say: within whatever legal parameters are eventually established. However, it is bizarre to me to expect us all to pretend that there isn't another party to the procedure, or, if you will, a potential party: the unborn child, baby, foetus. Whatever term you choose, he/she/it is clearly a party to the procedure, and has interests that also need to be balanced into the equation.

Yes, the woman has a certain right over her own body. So should the foetus; arguably not as much as the woman, but rights nonetheless.

A woman who considers abortion needs to make an informed decision. She needs factual information not only on the process and its risks, but also on the stage of development of the foetus within her. Would it make the choice more difficult? Almost certainly, but that is one of the benefits and challenges of being an adult: the right and burden of making difficult choices for oneself. To pretend the foetus is merely a "cluster of cells" is cowardice. I am not suggesting heavy-handed, emotional bullying: but facts? Yes.

It is also bizarre that in a country where a child, born at 26 weeks' gestation, can be protected, nurtured, and allowed its life through medical "extraordinary measures", another child can, theoretically and quite legally, be "terminated" at 37 weeks, a gestation at which babies can, and frequently enough are, born and taken home healthy three days later. In fact, some time after 34 weeks or so, it would take "extraordinary measures" to have that child not survive removal from the womb. And yet it would be legal to do so.

My brother says that having a point of weeks beyond which abortions won't be performed is "arbitrary". Perhaps. But we have lots of arbitrary limits in our society: ages at which one may or may not drink, vote, drive, marry, etc. Arbitrariness alone is not a reason to refuse to establish boundaries.

So, should abortions continue to be legal? I believe they should. But do we need some legistlation on the when, why, and how? Desperately!

 
At 9:30 AM, May 30, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

A woman who considers abortion needs to make an informed decision. She needs factual information not only on the process and its risks, but also on the stage of development of the foetus within her.

This is an interesting angle. Every medical procedure requires the patient's consent, meaning informed consent. A doctor who glosses over some of the unpleasant facts, and thereby provides a patient with skewed information, can be sued. This means there is some kind of formal or informal understanding among medical professionals, and perhaps state regulators, regarding what information needs to be communicated when seeking a patient's consent to a procedure.

This is a way in which we could achieve a compromise. Without re-criminalizing abortion, we could regulate the kind of information a woman needs to receive about fetal development before she consents to the procedure: yes, abortion is a woman's choice, but we insist that it be an informed choice.

Too patriarchal for some, I'm sure; and too close to abortion on demand for others. Anything that looks like a compromise is going to offend people on both sides of the debate.
Q

 
At 3:14 PM, May 30, 2005, Blogger snaars said...

I don't know of a single person who thinks that killing unborn infants is a great idea. I believe the vast majority of women that have abortions do it because they think it's the best decision they can make under their circumstances. I believe it's a decision they do not take lightly. If they are guilty of anything, it is either A) bad judgement, or B) ignorance.

Ah, i love the smell of a freshly-opened can of worms! This is not just one debate, it's a writhing mass. It involves issues of human rights, health, and privacy, just to name a few. I, like many, have strong opinions on all these issues. Right now I am interested in discussing the legal aspect of the issue.

First, I feel the need to point out that there is a big difference between the legal status of an act and the moral status of an act. Whether or not an act is legal or illegal has no bearing on whether an act is moral or immoral. Conversely, whether an act is moral or immoral often has very little bearing on the act's being legal or illegal.

If we (just for a moment) put aside the question of whether or not abortion is moral or immoral, we are still left with the question of whether it should be legal or illegal.

I have no familiarity with Canadian law. However, the phrasing bothers me: "the court recognized that the state might have a legitimate interest in the protection of the fetus." What is the nature of the state's "interest" in the life of the fetus?

Is it the same interest that the state has in any other citizen's life? If that is the case, then the fetus has the same right to protection under the law that any other citizen has. If the fetus has rights, but lesser rights than citizens, then what rights does the fetus have? Isn't this one of the issues that is being worked out in the abortion debate?

The court has left the question open by saying the state "might" have an interest. On the one hand, this is a wise holding, because it does not commit the court to a position on an issue that has not yet been decided. On the other hand, I think even this goes too far. I am troubled by the implications of the premise that, if the state has an interest in a life, then it can make decisions that historically have been left to private citizens.

Suppose we decide that a fetus has certain moral rights. If the state can tell a woman, "your fetus is valuable to the state, therefore you MUST carry it to full term," then should the state be involved in other life-and-death decisions? Should the state decide if and when life support can be withheld from someone who has been in a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years? (This was an issue in the famous Terri Schiavo case in Florida.) Should the state be able to decide which medical treatments and drugs people should take? Should the state restrict the amount of tobacco or alcohol a person may consume? Should it regulate what foods we can eat? Should the state be able to limit freedoms to protect its interests/citizens? Should it prohibit travel to dangerous parts of the world? Should it prohibit certain average law-abiding people from taking certain high-risk jobs?

I'm not arguing a "slippery slope" here. I'm just saying that if we say "yes," the state can step in and stop abortion in order to protect its interest in a fetus, then that may have implications for the other issues I listed.

I think our efforts would be far better spent in trying to understand why women choose abortion, and work to alleviate the circumstances that cause it. Taking away a woman's choice in the matter amounts to persecution, since the majority of these women are not equipped financially, emotionally, or physically to be mothers; or they do not have the social or mental stability required.

 
At 9:05 PM, May 30, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

You're right, Snaars, this is not a single issue but a writhing mass of issues. In my post, I was trying to narrow my assertion to a single point: we must take two parties into consideration, the pregnant woman and the baby, and seek to balance their interests.

I fear that your comment broadens our inquiry to the point where it could easily become unmanageable. But I will try to reply quickly to your main points.

(1) I believe the vast majority of women that have abortions do it because they think it's the best decision they can make under their circumstances. I believe it's a decision they do not take lightly.

That is an assertion that could be the subject of a debate in its own right. With respect, what objective evidence do you have to support the assertion? Are you appealing to common sense, or your personal experience, or a survey of your friends' experience, or a scientific study — or what?

In my mind, this is a vexed question. I have no doubt that many women agonize over the decision to have an abortion, and my heart goes out to them. But do those women constitute the "vast majority"? I have no data to work from.

How many women have multiple abortions and, in effect, view abortion as a form of birth control? How many women (and men) are lax in the use of birth control because they know abortion is a fall-back option? I don't know — to my knowledge, no one keeps any data on the subject.

The rhetoric of pro-choice advocates causes me grave concern. They sometimes argue that there is no more moral consequence to having a zygote scraped from the walls of the uterus than there is to having a wart removed. I find such rhetoric abhorent.

You know, I am sure, that blacks were dehumanized to justify slavery. Similarly, when babies in utero are dehumanized (e.g. compared to a wart) it is a prelude to stripping them of any consideration whatsoever. And then I fear that women may no longer agonize over the decision to abort, but may take the decision to terminate a life lightly.

(2) there is a big difference between the legal status of an act and the moral status of an act.

I agree entirely. Even if we agree that abortion is immoral (though perhaps we do not agree on this point), the re-criminalization of abortion does not necessarily follow.

(3) What is the nature of the state's "interest" in the life of the fetus?

You're asking the right question here. I think your argument begins to go awry soon after. Let me answer the question to put the debate back on a firm foundation.

The legal principle here is parens patriae:  the principle that the state must care for those who cannot take care of themselves." The state steps in as "guardian of persons under legal disability, such as juveniles or the insane … and in child custody determinations, when acting on behalf of the state to protect the interests of the child.

Parens patriae isn't primarily a principle of Canadian law, but of British law, and hence of legal systems derived from Britain's, including American law.

The Schiavo case may have fallen within the parens patriae category, because she was unable to make decisions for herself or advocate for her own interests. Of course, there was a complicating factor in Schiavo's case: the question of whether her medical care should have been discontinued based on direction she had given to her husband while she was still competent.

The other examples you mention are definitely outside the category, however: Should the state be able to decide which medical treatments and drugs people should take? Should the state restrict the amount of tobacco or alcohol a person may consume? Should it regulate what foods we can eat? All of the examples refer to competent adults.

(4) The court has left the question open by saying the state "might" have an interest.

I must apologize; I misled you here. I have gone back to read the Supreme Court's decision more closely, and they were unequivocal on the point. Justice Bertha Wilson addressed it at length. First, she wrote:

"There has never been a general right to abortion in Canada. There has always been clear recognition of a public interest in the protection of the unborn."

Next, Wilson cites the comments of Justice Blackmun, an American judge, in Roe v. Wade. Blackmun was at pains to sidestep the issue of whether a fetus is a human being. Instead, he referred to the developing fetus as "potential life". Nonetheless, he still recognized an interest on the part of the state: an interest in "the protection of potential life".

Wilson then continues, "A developmental view of the foetus … supports a permissive approach to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy and a restrictive approach in the later stages. In the early stages the woman's autonomy would be absolute; her decision, reached in consultation with her physician, not to carry the foetus to term would be conclusive. The state would have no business inquiring into her reasons.

"Her reasons for having an abortion would, however, be the proper subject of inquiry at the later stages of her pregnancy when the state's compelling interest in the protection of the foetus would justify it in prescribing conditions. The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state's interest in its protection becomes 'compelling' I leave to the informed judgment of the legislature."

This effectively returns us to the assertion that I seek to defend: that we must take two parties into consideration, the pregnant woman and the baby, and seek to balance their interests.

Whew! The debate is now well and truly joined!
Q

 
At 8:07 AM, May 31, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I'm not going to respond to all of the debate as there are issues in the writhing mass that I haven't had the time to consider.

However, I think Snaars is right in his assumption that "the vast majority of women that have abortions do it because they think it's the best decision they can make under their circumstances."

Sorry If I am getting your objection to snaars comment wrong, but I think you are contesting that women that have abortions are not always confident it is the right decision.

I'm sure they "think" its the best decision. I cannot see anyone making such a decision knowing it would was wrong. The issue of if it is right or not however is very much open for debate.

logically (and economically - not in a monitary way) we make the decisions we believe are the best for us all the time.

I will have to look back at my economics text to check the quote.

 
At 9:23 AM, May 31, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Welcome to the fray, Bill.

My objection to Snaars' comment is, it is unsubstantiated. Snaars may be able to substantiate it, I don't know.

I should clarify that my focus was more on the phrase, "I believe it's a decision they do not take lightly." Your point, Bill, is that women think it's in their best interests to have an abortion, otherwise they wouldn't do it. I don't disagree.

The question is, do women give any consideration to the interests of the baby before they opt for abortion? Why should they, when pro-choice rhetoric encourages women to think of the fetus as non-human and having no interests independent of the woman's interests?

To ignore the interests of the zygote/fetus/baby — there is no neutral language available to me here — is, in my opinion, to make the decision lightly.

Do the "vast majority" of women seriously consider the baby's interests, and factor that into the decision? I don't have any data on the subject. Maybe Snaars does, or maybe you do.

I also tried to push the argument back a step. If a woman does not want to become pregnant, she and her partner should be scrupulously careful about practicing birth control. I fear that some couples are lax about birth control because they regard abortion as a fall-back option.

By taking the risk of conceiving an unwanted baby, they demonstrate that they take abortion lightly. And here, it occurs to me, I can actually provide some data. According to Statistics Canada, "Roughly three in 10 young people who had sex with multiple partners in the last year said they hadn't used a condom during their last encounter." (See gender-based differences.)

Were they using another form of birth control? Maybe; maybe not.

People make major decisions in a very cavalier fashion sometimes. Why should I assume that abortion is an exception — that the vast majority are less cavalier about the decision to terminate a life than they are about other major decisions?
Q

 
At 9:59 PM, May 31, 2005, Blogger snaars said...

"My objection to Snaars' comment is, it is unsubstantiated."

I confess, I don't have the kind of substantiation I think you are looking for, q. I have seen scientifically gathered evidence, the interpretation of which led me to form my opinion. The evidence was presented in a classroom lecture by a professor a few years back when I took a philosophy course involving ethical dillemmas. I no longer have the information and I don't know where to get it short of finding the professor and requesting it. In any case, what I am left with is an opinion and an impression, not solid facts.

The statement reflects my personal beliefs about human nature and the cultural climate. In part my intent was to remind your readership that we are talking about real people, thereby gently suppressing any urge or temptation to demonize these women.

The statement was actually a prelude to my main point, which was the legal issue. I focused on it partly because I am acutely aware of my own ignorance in the area of law. I like to learn. :-)

Thank you for explaining parens patriae. This clarifies matters somewhat, but I have reservations. The concept seems to be applied selectively, not universally to all people at all times. If it is to be applied to the abortion question, it must be shown that parens patriae A) applies, and B) overrides other principles in the debate. You might not want us to get bogged down in a boring discussion of legal technicalities; if so, I completely understand. I probably wouldn't enjoy that either.

I find this statement of yours interesting, q (and revealing!):
"The question is, do women give any consideration to the interests of the baby before they opt for abortion? Why should they, when pro-choice rhetoric encourages women to think of the fetus as non-human and having no interests independent of the woman's interests?

To ignore the interests of the zygote/fetus/baby — there is no neutral language available to me here — is, in my opinion, to make the decision lightly.
"

Are you saying that all argumentation from the pro-choice camp is rhetoric? You might be
poisoning the well
- that is, unless you want to explain exactly which statements you have seen are rhetoric.

Let's be honest - there's much rhetoric on both sides.

Also, there are physiological differences between a zygote, a fetus, and - many would argue - a baby.

You may believe that the moral status of all three are the same, but I am not convinced. What substantiation can you offer for this claim?

 
At 1:23 AM, June 01, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

Well Q, you've certainly created a hydra with this subject, but I commend you for attempting to keep the discussion reasoned.

On your concern about whether most women adequately consider the interests of the fetus, it seems that your suggestion of education/informed consent is a decent one. The key, of course, would be making sure the education was as neutral (i.e., rhetoric-free) as possible. If you can pull something like that off in Canada, I commend the citizens of your country (I frequently do), as I question whether it would be possible in your rhetoric-charged neighbor to the south.

But beyond the education issue, I think the focus on "the majority of women" in the last few posts is misplaced, because it's about each individual choice by each individual woman. If a woman has in fact made a considered decision that would meet your criteria, and nevertheless concludes that abortion is her best course, should she be allowed to proceed? If so, how do you tailor a law that permits her to do so while denying others that same right? Where do you draw the line and on what basis?

 
At 9:50 AM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Thanks, Snaars and Aaron.

I'm impressed that everyone has been civil in their comments. I must admit, I wasn't sure it was wise to open up this subject for discussion. But the UWO decision deeply offends me.

Snaars, I believe you when you say you saw a presentation from a professor that would substantiate your position. Unfortunately, I can't respond to it without seeing the data.

You also comment, The statement reflects my personal beliefs about human nature and the cultural climate. Apparently we disagree in the presuppositions we bring to bear on the debate.

In my view, people are capable of profound evil. (Note, I'm not talking about abortion at this point, I'm discussing human nature in broad terms.) The phenomenon of ethnic cleansing comes to mind, but also more private acts like elder abuse.

With respect to abortion, I worry that people (women and men, to the extent that a men is included in the decision) will make a purely selfish decision, excluding the interests of the unborn child from consideration.

In your view, we can rely on the vast majority of people to do the right thing, even in private, so the state doesn't need to look over shoulders. That's probably as far as we can take this part of the dialogue: to acknowledge that we start out with different presuppositions which inevitably influence our position later in the debate.

Let's be honest - there's much rhetoric on both sides.

Agreed, emphatically. The rhetoric begins with each side's self-designation: "pro-choice" implies that those who oppose abortion on demand are anti-choice — that they think adults shouldn't be able to make decisions for themselves. That's bullshit: the concern is, there's another party to be considered. But "pro-life" is no better: it implies that those who support liberal access to abortion are pro-death, which is also bullshit.

I don't believe that everything pro-choice people say is mere rhetoric, or I wouldn't be engaged in this rational discussion. But comparing the fetus to a wart is rhetoric. So is the argument, "it is a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body":  it skirts the inconvenient fact that the fetus has a separate life, it is not part of the woman's body.

With respect to the physiological differences between a zygote, a fetus, and a baby, I think I'll make a new post that addresses that issue, and others.

Aaron — you got a laugh out of me with your comments about neutral, rhetoric-free pre-abortion counselling in Canada. (It's hard to get a laugh out of this subject!) I regret to say that Canadian society is polarized and prone to rhetoric on this topic, just like American society.

If a woman has in fact made a considered decision that would meet your criteria, and nevertheless concludes that abortion is her best course, should she be allowed to proceed?

Thanks for returning our attention to the core issue. I do think the time has come to make a new post on the subject. Perhaps this weekend: it will require careful thought.

By the way, no one has commented on UWO's decision to honour Dr. Morgentaler. Mary P., I assume you agree with me that Dr. Morgentaler doesn't deserve the honour? Snaars, Bill, Aaron — you think he deserves the honour, based on the background information I've provided?
Q

 
At 11:44 AM, June 01, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

Q, thanks for your response, and I'm glad I was able to give you a laugh.

re: informed consent, I guess you see the practical difficulties one faces in attempting to accomplish what in theory seems like a reasonable idea.

As for the honorary degree, I'll take the counter position, because I think there are some good reasons. I begin with the caveat that I know nothing about this man (nor about Canadian abortion law) apart from this thread, so I'm not offering a truly independent opinion.

If one believes that universal access to safe abortion is a good thing regardless whether certain criteria are met (I do note here that you didn't identify the criteria, so I have no idea whether I would consider them reasonable or overly restrictive -- for the thrust of this post, I will assume I would think them overly restrictive), then M was a pioneer determined to help establish that right. That more abortions are now taking place is both good and bad, good for the reason that a woman should not have to meet overly-restrictive criteria to get an abortion, but bad because it has led to a proliferation of abortions, some as you correctly observe to essentially serve as birth control. The good should in fact be recognized.

Suppose for the sake of argument that after the court had delegated to the legislature the responsibility of considering the state's interest in protecting the fetus, the legislature had indeed acted responsibly to balance the interests of the mother and fetus. This question of M's honorary degree would be much less controversial, for without his efforts, the necessary rebalancing of the interests would not have taken place. Thus, it seems to me that his recognition should not be diminished due to the legislature's inaction.

 
At 12:09 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger snaars said...

Thank you, q, mary, bill, aaron - one and all, for good posts. It's not every day that a group of people discuss this issue in such a civil manner. I usually find this issue emotionally draining because of the rhetoric, and so I avoid it. I am impressed with the level of conversation here, which for the first time in a long time, has made me reconsider aspects of this issue.

Thanks to aaron for pointing out that the motivation of the "majority of women" does not really address the question of whether abortion is morally permissible.

Thanks to q for reminding me that humans in positions of power are capable of great evil towards the helpless. Undoubtedly, there are women out there who abort their children for competely selfish reasons.

This conversation has brought three things to the forefront for me (others may see it differently). The three things are:
1. At what point in its development does a fetus have moral rights, and what are those rights? I believe this is the holy grail. It would be a HUGE step in solving the side-issues. 2 and 3 would probably be solved if we could solve 1, but since I do not have much hope that 1 will be solved:
2. What are the obligations of pregnant women and their health care providers, in terms of education? This is a big one for me, although I probably shouldn't express my reasoning here.
3. What should the law say about abortion?

I have not commented on UWO's decision because I am too far removed. I don't know enough about this man or the process that led to the decision to grant him the award. The abortion issue has not been solved in my mind, and a one's feelings toward the award would understandably be influenced by one's beliefs toward the issue.

I look foreward to your next entry.

 
At 12:56 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Just a quick note...

In a private email to Q I noted that I thought giving an honourary degree to Morgentaler was unwise.

Based on what I know of his opinions I don't think that he is deserving of honour.

I support abortion but not at all stages of pregnancy and not for all reasons, and correct me if I am wrong but Dr. Morgantaler sees the fetus/baby as an extension of the mother until its birth, therefore abortion is admissable at all stages of pregnancy.

I am not sure that is Morgantaler's opinion.

 
At 1:36 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

A quick opinion about a different aspect of the discussion...the honorary degree to Dr. Morgentaler.

I am a staunch pro-choicer in the U.S....I've both supported and volunteered with Planned Parenthood and am involved with advocacy for both HIV and abortion rights (my career is in HIV Prevention...another topic where legal and moral issues are complicated).

I appreciate what Morgantaler did in Canada...but even as a bleeding heart Liberal, I have to say I'd be happier if there were ways to guide the appropriateness of abortions.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., if 3rd trimester abortions were made illegal, there are too many loop-holes for overturning Roe vs. Wade...a terrifying thought for U.S. Pro-Choicers. Having a blanket law that "legalizes" abortion leaves a lot of space for aborting fetuses that are very close to term.

But I digress...the issue that most interested me was his honorary degree.

As a University that relies upon donations, I think it's a reckless move to award this degree. He may be a hero to some, but it's irrisponsible to put future funding in danger. It could be seen as University officials pushing an agenda or trying to make a point.

Universities must be very careful of bad PR (at least in the U.S. where losing donors inevitably means tuition will rise...yet again). Is it worth the risk to bestow this honor on a highly controversial character in Canada's legislative history? Certainly there are many others that are equally deserving of this gesture.

 
At 2:27 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Bill, I'm certain you're right about Dr. Morgentaler's position.

Aaron makes a good point, that we can't blame Dr. Morgentaler for the failure of the legislature to act. But the status quo is just how Dr. Morgentaler likes it — no law against abortion at any stage of a pregnancy.

Carolyn, I appreciate your position re Roe v. Wade. I am no fan of President Bush. Although I am conservative on abortion, in other respects I am a social liberal. So I am concerned about the President's desire to reshape the judiciary during his second term in office, and the implications it could have for a variety of social issues.

Here in Canada, there is no chance of a sudden swing to the right on abortion. Just the reverse: no one wants to touch the issue, even though we have never achieved the balance that the Supreme Court of Canada aimed for in 1988. Even the Conservative Party (our most right-wing party) has had to give assurances that they will not introduce abortion legislation. Canadians simply have no stomach for another divisive debate on the subject.

On the other hand, the minority who continue to oppose abortion are very passionate on the subject. So honouring Dr. Morgentaler may indeed have a negative financial impact on the University of Western Ontario.

Snaars, if I've made you think then I'm well satisfied. When I was younger, I set out to change the world; but I seem to be behind schedule. Now I set more modest goals for myself, and making people think is primary among them.
Q

 
At 2:59 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

At what point in its development does a fetus have moral rights, and what are those rights? I believe this is the holy grail. It would be a HUGE step in solving the side-issues.

I agree. Right now, legally, we have no limits. And, as I commented in my first post, to abort a baby after 34 or so weeks, it would take extraordinary measures to ensure it didn't come out alive. (I know two people, both now in their forties, who were born spontaneously at 35 weeks, perfectly normal newborns.)

At this point, we're veering horribly close to infanticide. I used to teach prenatal classes: I've seen the pictures, the diagrams, the in-utero film clips of human development. By 32, 33 weeks, that body in there looks human, has human responses, and is generally well able to live outside the womb, with help. In all honesty, I believe it is infanticide at this point.

I feel that a fetus always has a moral right to a chance to live. I acknowledge that sometimes this just isn't possible. I believe that the mother has rights, too, and that they may come in conflict with the fetus's. But that's what this is all about, isn't it? Balancing of rights and interests of woman and fetus, mother and child. Right now, legally, the woman has all and the fetus has none.

One demarcation that seems useful is the stage when a fetus is "viable", that is, capable of life outside the womb. I think this should be the absolute cut-off. That's about 26 weeks.

Do I think Western (of which institution I am an alumna) should grant Morgentaler this honour? No. Abortions were legal in Canada before, and if they needed to be more readily accessible (I can't speak to this, because I don't know what restrictions were placed on them), there are channels and procedures to change laws that don't involve flouting it.

Carolyn raises a highly pragmatic and valid reason to avoid giving an honorary degree to him. For me, though, the thought of this man being treated as an altruist who improved the state of Canadian women and society leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. I have doctor friends who have performed abortions; I certainly don't think less of them for this. But a man who makes his living at it? It doesn't feel right at all.

 
At 3:18 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

"For me, though, the thought of this man being treated as an altruist who improved the state of Canadian women and society leaves a very sour taste in my mouth."

Mary, I tend to agree with that sentiment. I think this type of honor SHOULD be dispensed to those who are more universally revered. I'm sure there are many people who feel his work is criminal...which is why he is not an excellent choice to be honored by a University where many students and alumni may end up feeling the same way you do.

 
At 3:30 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Mary P. —

Your remarks, following everything that has been said previously, have great emotional power.

I'm deliberately keeping the debate cerebral, but it would be inhumane not to respond emotionally to this subject. Thanks for walking that fine line between emotion and reason with such precision.
Q

 

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