Getting pro-life legislation: daunting but doable
There are no shortcuts to eliminating abortion
More than 30 years ago, when I was still “wet behind the ears” in terms of my knowledge of the pro-life movement, I joined the fledgling pro-life organization Campaign Life (Canada). During the ensuing years I earned an education that was founded on a bedrock principle that all human life is sacred.
This new organization, with its mandate to work in the political arena, was formed in Winnipeg, on May 25, 1978 at an annual conference of the now-defunct Alliance for Life Canada, the umbrella group for pro-life educational outreach.
In the 10 years following the 1969 passage of the Trudeau government’s Omnibus Bill, which threw open the doors to widespread abortion, Canadians slowly became aware of the damage that the legislation was causing to undermine the Culture of Life in Canada.
In the summer of 1979, the Life Ethics Centre of Edmonton produced a booklet titled The Worst Law Ever written by Fr. Alphonse de Valk. The booklet makes the case that the amendment to the Criminal Code provisions on abortion approved by the House of Commons was “the worst legislation in the history of this country.”
When The Interim newspaper was launched in 1983, it represented a partial solution or baby step towards educating our fellow citizens on what was being withheld by the mainstream media about the issue.
Just as in any conflict, there are victims and survivors, heroes and villains. Campaign Life leaders decided that, since our efforts were building on the foundation, laid by those who had come before us, we should recognize them as they passed on, by creating an Honour Roll which we subsequently had published as a paid advertisement in The Interim and continue to add to it.
We also learned from them that the battle to restore a Culture of Life in Canada is a marathon, not a foot race. New strategies and revised tactics continue to shape the battle before us, as we learn to spread the truth about the evil that surrounds us.
Now, more than 30 years later, some pro-lifers, desperate to see some change in the law, to once again protect the unborn are clamoring for a gestational law which would prohibit abortion in the third trimester. But John Smeaton, executive director of The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the United Kingdom laments the fact that more than 25 years ago, he supported such legislation with disastrous results. In a July interview with LifeSiteNews he said “it doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked in Britain: we now have abortions up to birth not only for disabled babies but for other reasons too, and the number of late abortions has increased enormously.”
In Canada, in order to pass federal legislation, we need a majority of MPs in the House of Commons to vote for a pro-life bill or motion. Currently there are 308 seats in the House (soon to be increased by 30) so it would require 155 (and soon 170) votes to win. Of course, that’s after it had passed first and second reading. After first reading, a committee of the House (five MPs) would decide if the proposal was a votable item. Over the years, many bills and motions have been deemed non-votable for many different reasons. If it passed at third reading and had not been totally emasculated, it would move on to the Senate.
There are currently 105 Senate seats, so it would have depended on multiple prime ministers appointing pro-lifers to the Senate in order to get pro-life legislation passed (53 votes). If it passed in the Senate, then it would become law.
Of course, as the bill makes its way through committee stage and before third reading in the House of Commons, and the same in the Senate, it could be altered, watered down or made unrecognizable to a pro-lifer reading it, unless there were a majority of pro-life MPs and senators at those stages, to protect the Bill’s integrity throughout the legislative process. (Better to have more than the bare minimum of pro-lifers to ensure passage.)
Now, that’s where Supreme Court appointments come in. If the prime minister has appointed activist judges who are pro-abortion, then we could expect challenges to the legislation by pro-abortion activists and lawyers, with the hope that the legislation would be ruled unconstitutional and thrown out (as they did to get the therapeutic committees thrown out in the January 1988 Morgentaler decison).
The late senator, Dr. Stanley Haisasz who often times chaired the Parliamentary pro-life Caucus (PPLC) which CLC set up in Ottawa in 1986, also recommended that we not forget the need for various pieces of legislation which could be passed provincially. These incremental steps would include de-funding, conscience legislation for health care workers, parental consent and notification and many others that could eliminate many abortions.
All in all the task seems quite formidable, but a strong spiritual focus is at the core of our efforts and with an inexhaustible force of determined defenders of life and family anything and everything is possible.
So, when new strategies are presented, I am reminded of the quote by 20th century philosopher George Santayana who said that, “those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” With ever increasing effort, the Canadian pro-life movement continues to win people over one by one and at the close of business, all will be accomplished in God’s time.
As the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said in Toronto in 2002, “We don’t need to have a schedule of when our successes need to be accomplished, our hopes to be realized. We have signed on for the duration.”
Jim Hughes is national president of Campaign Life Coalition.