In American Grace, Robert Putnam and David Campbell's survey of how religion influences politics in America, the writers relate that on the question of abortion, approval seems to be trending downward.
Young people, they say, "are more ambivalent about abortion than their parents' generation." Even if they would allow for abortions, the circumstances in which abortion might be approved are fewer. Why is that?
Part of the reason is simply that today's young people know more. We in Canada know what that is about. Recently, when counsellors within some ethnic communities observed gender selection was happening after pregnancy ultrasounds and more girls than boys were being aborted, they properly sounded a warning.
Those were real children being rejected purely on grounds of their gender. We know it is no problem to recognize the gender of the child in the womb.
And much more can be known as well. The writers of American Grace pick up an illustration from the Oscar-winning movie Juno in which the central teen character becomes pregnant. She calls an abortion clinic and "cheekily" says, "I would like to procure a hasty abortion."
She doesn't follow through with it. The turning point for her comes when she meets a classmate outside the clinic, there to protest what's happening inside. The friend tells Juno the baby already has fingernails. "It has fingernails?" the young mother-to-be asks. She can't erase the thought from her mind and ends up leaving the abortion clinic.
The authors of American Grace say many young couples now take ultrasounds of their babies-to-be. "Both of us have had many friends and relatives display ultrasound photos and never once has an expectant mother used the impersonal word 'fetus' to describe what we are seeing. Ultrasounds are pictures of their baby-to-be."
It is this knowledge and more that is weakening the support for abortion.
Why is it then the Canadian media and our politicians are so anxious to avoid a debate on the abortion question? Anyone who recalls the legislation that died in the Senate in 1988 will remember it would not have outlawed abortions. Instead, it would have placed a limit on the instances in which abortions would have been legal. While I believe abortion to be ethically unsupportable in almost any case, I supported the legislation as a workable compromise on a very divisive question.
With the Senate action we were left with nothing to protect the baby in the womb. Their only protection is those health-care providers who refuse to do abortions for conscience's sake.
A fall 2011 Environics poll showed 72 per cent of Canadians want some legal protection for children in the womb, with 28 per cent wanting it from conception. The September 2011 poll told interviewees the heart begins beating at about three weeks, and brainwaves can be detected and organs are in place in two months. According to LifeSite news, "When asked when life should be protected, 28 per cent said from conception, 17 per cent said after two months and another 17 per cent said after three months. Only 20 per cent supported the current policy in Canada of no protection for human life until birth." A very high 92 per cent said sex-selection abortions should be illegal in Canada.
It has always seemed to me the people protesting so loudly against any attempt to legislate on abortions are only a hairbreadth away from Tommy Douglas during the 1930s, when he was writing in favour of eugenics to purge the population of its undesirables. Curiously, when Heather Mallick wrote her scornful column in the Toronto Star about Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth's attempt to raise the question about when a fetus becomes a person, it was clear she saw his parliamentary opposition as she saw herself, smart and, at least on the surface, strong. Woodworth's speech in Parliament, she wrote, was not impressive. On the other hand, "His opponents," she wrote, "were on fire. High praise for Quebec, whose MPs were brisk and contemptuous. B.C. Liberal Hedy Fry is one of nature's demolitionists. And Niki Ashton -- so young, so smart -- spoke about young women, especially the ones demonstrating outside Parliament in the red gowns of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale."
What all of these people need to remind themselves is this: The people who carry a concern about abortion are fully as entitled to be heard and respected as they. Politicians are as responsible to carry pro-life voices into our legislatures as theirs. Abortion is not a question that will go away. On May 10, Ottawa will have thousands of Canadians on Parliament Hill to call for legal protection for the child in the womb.
Last year, more than 15,000 assembled there. They were a small representation of the Canadians who believe we need laws to protect the unborn. In April, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported 64,641 abortions in Canada in 2010, and those figures did not include Quebec or many children aborted in private clinics, and the numbers for B.C. were incomplete.
This in a country that likes to see itself as humane and caring. It is unacceptable that this does not include the unborn, and our politicians should take note.
Harold Jantz is a journalist who has written on public issues for at least a segment of the Christian community for years. firstname.lastname@example.org .