Getting out of the echo chamber

rickmcginnisSix years after I was laid off from my job at a national daily newspaper and sent back out to the uncertainties of freelancing as a writer and photographer, I’ve found myself with a steady gig again. Of those six years I can’t say much except that it’s no way to earn a living. The new job is more interesting – editing a Huffington Post-style group blog called The Megaphone for The Rebel.media, the conservative news and opinion website Ezra Levant set up almost hours after SunTV was shut down.

I have always been a huge fan of Ezra’s battles for free speech, and SunTV was one of the many places I applied – unsuccessfully – for work during those six long years. In a country where the concept of civic liberty seems far more tentative than in our neighbour to the south, let’s say that working for Ezra has the feel of a crusade.

When I wrote an e-mail to Ezra summing up the brief mission statement I imagined for The Megaphone, I said that I wanted to try and challenge the echo chamber, where talking points become mantras. I was thinking about 2012, when I was reading far too many conservative websites and couldn’t imagine that Barack Obama would get re-elected.

Not long before the voting began, I spoke to an old friend who lives in New York; I talked about Barack Obama’s inevitable loss and my friend told me that I was fooling myself. A conservative himself, he said that nothing he’d seen indicated that Obama would lose, and that he’d probably end up winning by a substantial margin. When my friend’s prediction proved right, I promised myself that I’d never let myself get caught up in a comforting political illusion again.

To that end, I’ve tried to recruit writers unlikely to tell me what I want to hear, and so I found myself posting a piece by my friend Richard Klagsbrun, submitted with the title “Plenty of hypocrisy and dishonesty can be found on both sides of the abortion debate.”

Richard is personally “pro-choice,” and while it goes without saying that I don’t agree with much of what he wrote, I had to admit he made some valid points. He talked about people who call themselves pro-life who support the death penalty, a contradiction I’ve never been able to understand. He also wrote that the pro-choice side, despite their name, never seem to entertain the option for a woman not to have an abortion. “So let’s call things what they are,” Richard wrote. “People aren’t ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life.’ They are either pro-abortion or anti-abortion.”

Besides fact-checking, spelling and punctuation, the job of an editor is to be able to defend a writer’s right to an opinion, whether they agree with it or not. It requires you to imagine the validity of an opinion, and sometimes if forces you to re-examine the assumptions you’ve made while forming your own.

We on the pro-life – or anti-abortion, as Richard insists – side of the battle need to examine some of the articles of faith on which our cause is built, and imagine that some of them might be part of the reason why, after all these years and so much effort, we’re making such scant progress.

For a start, we need to examine why we insist on throwing our default political support behind a political party whose leader has explicitly said that no challenge to the status quo on abortion will be made by his government. The relationship between Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and the pro-life movement is one where we get nothing while they blithely assume that they’ll still get our votes, as they’re the only major party that will allow an MP to be personally pro-life and remain in the caucus, even if they can never rely on their party to support any attempt at changing legislation. As pandering goes, it’s nakedly cynical, and to our shame it works.

While victories have been won on a state-by-state basis in the U.S., the brutal truth is that we’re unlikely to see abortion made illegal here in Canada, now or at any time in the future. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves if our priority is winning political victories or saving babies’ lives.

I have argued here before that we need to support and encourage adoption, and make it easier for women to complete their pregnancies and cope with the painful decision to let another family raise their child. We need to more generously support and fund agencies and holy orders like the Sisters of Life who do the difficult front line work of helping young girls and poor women cope with unplanned pregnancies.

Ultimately, though, we need to make the idea of abortion as birth control unattractive, and appeal to those women who delay starting their families or limit their size because it would interfere with careers or cause financial stress. Campaigning for more generous maternity – and paternity – leave is an obvious solution, albeit one that parties like the NDP and Liberals would find much easier to support.

Making any kind of deal with the parties of the left and center-left is probably anathema to many pro-lifers, but this is brute politics, and no place to be squeamish. The ongoing task of any politician, regardless of their party, is to buy our votes with our own money, so it’s hard to imagine Harper or the Tories letting a valuable voting bloc slip away as long as they write the budget. For the first time ever, we might get something from the federal Conservatives besides a patronizing smile on the campaign trail and the back of the hand after.

I have spent almost thirty years in journalism and I can confidently tell you that a couple of hundred pro-choice protesters will get almost as much coverage as thousands of people at a March for Life – if any of it is covered at all. It’s worthwhile if only to remind ourselves that we aren’t an insignificant minority, but there are times when old political habits need to be reconsidered and priorities refocused. Parties lose elections and politicians eventually retire but morality is eternal, and we need to remind ourselves that we’re pledged to the service of a moral obligation and not any political party.

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