This week marked two major anniversaries in the political struggle for legal protection for the unborn in North America: the twenty-fifth anniversary of R v. Morgantaler, which struck down all abortion laws in Canada, and the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which effectively did the same in the United States. This is not a subject that I enjoy writing about; the terrain has been covered so many times, over and over, that it hardly seems worth the effort to try again. The pro-life side has the moral high ground and the stronger arguments, but the pro-choice side has the power and the status quo, and, especially in Canada, nothing seems to budge one way or the other. Sometimes I feel like I am living in Louisiana in 1840.
Today, then, I will simply draw attention to some of the more noteworthy commentary that I have seen on this issue in recent days. Before doing so, however, I would like to briefly comment on the media coverage of these anniversaries.
The media coverage has been, putting it as kindly as I can, incompetent. Many pro-lifers have complained, for instance, year after year, that the mainstream media ignores the annual March for Life in Washington, DC. This year was no exception: hundreds of thousands marched, and most of the major US news outlets ignored it. Search Google News for “March for Life” and you’ll come up with articles from the National Catholic Reporter, Lifesite, the Nashua Telegraph, the Greene County Daily World, and other heavy hitters. The New York Times’ coverage was both minimal and biased (critiqued here), and the story filed by the AP was riddled with errors both factual and grammatical (fisked here). As has been noted, the day after the March for Life approximately one thousand people marched in favour of gun control, and the media was all over them. The disparity speaks for itself. If you want to see what actually happened at the March for Life, try YouTube.
In Canada the coverage of our anniversary was similar. The Canadian Press ran an article about how Canadians “don’t want to reopen the abortion debate”, a refrain heard so commonly up here that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone (probably from Quebec) would propose putting it into our national anthem. ([Snip: removed parenthetical comment.]) The National Post, our allegedly conservative national paper, seems not to have run a single article or column about the anniversary. The Toronto Star, our reliably left-wing daily, ran one column, by the odious Heather Mallick, celebrating Henry Morgantaler, Canada’s most prominent abortion activist. The CBC, our state-owned national broadcaster, reported that some barriers to abortion in Canada have yet to fall: namely, in Saskatchewan women seeking an abortion must make two separate visits to their doctor, rather than just one. And the flagship CBC radio news program ran a segment in which they interviewed Henry Morgantaler’s lawyer and an abortion clinic founder. How is that for fair and balanced? (Although it is nice to see the Morgantaler decision described as merely “historical” rather than lauded as “historic”, a subtle but significant difference that I am sure could not possibly be a mistake). All told, it amounts to a shameful lack of moral seriousness about the most important human rights issue of our time.
Let me point, briefly, to a few things worth reading from sources outside the main news outlets:
- No-one should miss Mary Elizabeth Williams’ article in Salon, “So what if abortion ends life?” It has the courage to abandon the usual evasions of the pro-choice side of the debate. Of course, it is also blood-curdling. (And how much worse to hear it from a woman bearing those names.)
- In “The Paradox of Persons Forty Years after Roe”, Gerard Bradley of Notre Dame Law School examines the way in which the debate about abortion addresses the foundations of our legal order. It’s an illuminating essay.
- In “Bringing Marx into the Abortion Debate” Russell Nieli looks to an unlikely source for pro-life arguments. Couched in a reminiscence of an abortion debate at Princeton, Nieli emphasizes Marx’s insight into the ways in which material interests can distort our moral judgements, which is surely a significant factor underlying this issue.
- In a review of Christine Overall’s book Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate, University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy L. Wax draws attention to the way in which liberal abortion laws undermine the rationale for child support laws. It is an obvious point, but one we do not hear very often.
- Finally, a reprise of Richard John Neuhaus’ important address, given a few years before he died, “We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest”:
We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person — of every human person.