Just over a year ago Dr Colin Harte said this of a wonderful mutual friend Allison Davis who had recently died in his arms,”…this talk focuses on something that she thought was vitally important for the pro-life movement – the value of human life and being willing to suffer for it..” Born into the world with spina bifida Ali knew what suffering was, originally in support of the “right to choose” her world was turned upside down after watching a television programme that covered the story of a physician who had brought about the death of a newborn by sedation and starvation- that little girl, like Ali had been born with spina bifida.
Ali was at the forefront of those discomforted by and opposed to the David Alton bill which was a “lower limit” or gestational approach to regulating abortion in the UK. Dr Harte notes that she had problems from the beginning and was devastated when David Alton accepted an exception amendment concerning those babies with disability.She noted;
“The incongruence of conceding that a different attitude could be adopted toward these[babies with disability] babies because their lives would be short – went unnoticed by the vast majority of pro-life people. I felt I was alone in thinking it was robbing the poorest people rather than the richest on the grounds that, having so little, they would not miss what was taken from them”. Ali suffered greatly at this time because she believed she was alone in what she valued, even among pro-life people. I, like Ali, believe in the inviolable nature of human life and have suffered greatly for almost a decade deep inside my heart and soul as I have heard and hear again loudly trumpeted across our country – this rallying call to”regulate abortion”, from our Canadian pro-life family. I also believe as Ali did in the infinite value of human life – here is how she explains it.
“Unless human beings are regarded as having a value relative to each other, or an “ordinal ” value, such that the value of two people is necessarily twice the value of one, each must necessarily be accorded an “infinite” value. Since infinity cannot be multiplied or divided, each individual human being is as valuable as all other human beings put together. Thus one deliberate killing…….. is as tragic, as unjust, as much mourned, as much condemned by pro-lifers as the total number of “perfectly healthy” babies killed by social abortion. Length of life, or ability or disability or provenance can have no effect of augmenting or diminishing human value because infinity cannot be added to or subtracted from.”
Since 2006, there have been those who present to us with the idea that we can work in a principled way for some regulation of abortion and surely this must be better than none? I have been reminded how politically naive I am and of the political reality that we can only save some. I understand there are pro-life politicians prepared to introduce such legislation and Canadians ripe to accept some restrictions and saving some has to be better than losing all isn’t it? But at what cost – my heart and head ask? Does “imperfect legislation” reflect what we say we believe? For me it does not. When I became involved with the pro-life movement I pledged my life to protect any human life that was in jeopardy, from fertilization to natural death, in and outside of the womb. The healthy and those with disability, those newly conceived, those at every stage of development in the womb, those who feel pain, those who cannot, those near birth and those who are not, those considered viable and those who are not, those who are wanted, those who are not, those killed indirectly and those intentionally killed, those who are boys and those who are girls, those conceived in love or a sex act and those conceived by rape.
I absolutely believe that we do a disservice to those Canadians in the womb by considering the approach of saving some. Abortion supporters will not budge an inch even when 92% of Canadians abhor sex selection abortion – they defend abortion choice even for reasons that discomfort them. The movement I came into in 1984 had this same immovable stance – the inviolable nature of every human life and our pledge to work for protection and respect of every one. In a 1989 article in the UK Anne Widdecombe explained why the UK pro-life pro-movement supported a gestational approach. “We are bargaining, saying if we agree you can kill them, will you support us in trying to save a few thousand lives?”
Today, I am told that we can work to save those we are able to now and we will come back for the rest when the climate supports it – we only will/wish the protection of these children but we do not sanction the killing of those we do not ask protection for at this time. However, in this guardianship of some but not others we lose our way and our core principle belief of the inviolable nature and infinite worth of every human being. Somehow, I have not been able to explain my belief that if we abandon the fight for even one child we have abandoned the fight for all children, our pro-life principle is breached and our cause is lost.
The following excerpts from “The New Canadian Ethic- Kill Our Unborn Canadians by David Dehler Q.C M.A.LLB.,L.PH describe the movement I, very green and very ignorant of life issues, came into in 1984. “Mr Dehler pleads for those who cannot plead for themselves. He is a voice for the voiceless. He challenges a death-dealing system of so-called law that encourages further violence in our society by entrusting to the medical doctor – now for a fat fee guaranteed by provincial medical insurance plans – the killing of unborn persons, the destruction of human beings. Yes killing it is. And the doctors involved in this sordid affair are indeed, as Mr Dehler says, Killer doctors…. Mr Dehler speaks truth from conviction… Mr Dehler has shown relentless courage, at great personal sacrifice, in pursuing justice for the unborn persons of our land...”Lionel Choquette – The Senate Canada 1980. In 1977 before the Supreme Court of Ontario David Dehler made the following plea in part in his affidavit.
- I am the applicant in this action….2) Unborn persons are being killed at the respondent hospitals [Ottawa Civic and Riverside Hospitals] by means of abortion. These unborn persons by reasons of the Common Law, have certain rights, including the right of inheritance, but are being denied exercise of these rights by reason of their foreseeable premature deaths en ventre sa mere….there seems to be a mistaken belief on the part of some doctors that they may therefore kill these unborn persons without regard for their common law rights and their right to live…4) I intend bringing an action against the respondent hospitals to have these and related matters adjudicated upon, in order to prevent further killing…”
The Court dismissed Mr Dehler’s case in part because he had no standing in its eyes to protect the unborn.
Senator Haidasz said the following on May 25th 1988 page 3477 of Hansard “Debates of the Senate. “I think you would all agree with me that respect for human life is fundamental to our society. We insist that all human beings possess an intrinsic dignity and a basic right to existence. Such a right is not negotiable and it is not to be qualified. It is not affected by public opinion polls or anything of the sort. Canadians will not and cannot justify killing the handicapped, the infirm, the mentally deficient or people of a particular race, colour or creed. Canadians will not withdraw their protection from any class of human beings. We refuse to consider killing the elderly because they are old and weak. For this very reason we must not consider life as optional at the other end of the human spectrum, the beginning of life. We have rejected capital punishment in our society. We, therefore, cannot possibly justify taking the lives of the most innocent and the most vulnerable of human beings….Furthermore, no gestational law is morally acceptable. Some people would consider under 24 weeks, but, even under the restrictions of the old section 251, 89% of abortions in Canada were done in the first 12 weeks….I believe that the law has a teaching function. To legalize acts of violence means that those who do the legalizing become participants in the crime. Moreover, truth is perverted. That is why legal “front street” abortions are considered worse than illegal “backstreet” abortions….Furthermore, the rejection of the right to kill the unborn is not a view of some religious sect, but is a defence of the dignity of the human person….Abortion is the killing of a human being innocent of any crime. No human being or group of human beings has the right to kill another human being unless in self-defence….let us pause and listen to that voice – the voice of the unborn being within its mother’s womb. We must never forget that abortion is an act of violence. To legalize abortion is to legalize acts of violence. Our whole society will be corrupted if the law itself becomes an instrument of corruption. We must protect our laws from this terrible fate…”
Joe Borowski, another hero of the early Canadian pro-life movement withheld his income taxes for five years in the 1970s, to show his opposition to Canada’s federal abortion policies. In 1981, Joe went on an eighty-day hunger strike to protest the absence of a provision for the unborn in Canada’s Charter. In 1978 Joe’s lawyers put forward a case arguing that abortion was illegal under Canada’s 1960 Bill of Rights, because it robbed pre-born children of their right to life The case was not brought to trial until 1983, and was not completed for several years later. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear Mr Borowski’s case in 1989, on the grounds that it had become irrelevant when Canada’s abortion laws were struck down in 1988. Through his QC Maurice Schumiatcher he had 9 expert witnesses establish in Court and on record that human life begins at conception/fertilization. Joe was chairman of the Alliance Against Abortion which circulated a petition to Parliament against abortion “Therefore be it resolved….That the Canadian Government immediately introduce a bill to Parliament to “Abolish state murder by abortion” because State killing by medical abortion is a “low minded act of cruelty and destruction.” Joe used this language as it had been recited by the Solicitor General of Canada when asking Parliament to abolish capital punishment.
I mention these folks, who are only fourof my many heroes, because I never heard from their mouths or others anything but working for full protection for every human life. This is the principle that brought me into this movement and it is the one that has sustained and guided me for over thirty years, during, good bad, ugly and indifferent times in Canada. I cannot and will not abandon it and I pray that I find the moral courage, even in the face of opposition from friends and colleagues I love dearly, to stay the course handed to me by Ali, David Dehler Senator Haidasz and Joe – to stand firm in the battle for life, telling it like it is and suffering in both heart and soul for what I believe with every breath of my body – the infinite worth of every human being.
I for one can do no other.
“Never, for the sake of peace and quiet deny your own experience or conviction” (Former Sec. Gen. of the UN., Doug Hammaraijold)