Calgary Herald


- B RONWYN EYRE BRON­WYN EYRE IS A SASKA­TOON- BASED WRITER. BRON­WYN.EYRE@SASK­TEL.NET Abortion Debate · Sexism · Women's Health · Society · Discrimination · Feminism · Abortions · Social Issues · Human Rights · Social Movements · North Korea · South Korea · China · Supreme Court of Canada · Stephen Woodworth · Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada · Rona Ambrose


Are we a na­tion in need of Freudian ther­apy? You’d think so, judg­ing by the hys­te­ria that greeted Con­ser­va­tive MP Stephen Wood­worth’s now-de­feated mo­tion to strike a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee that would con­sider when hu­man life be­gins. Ap­par­ently no pub­lic fig­ure can ques­tion any abor­tion-re­lated as­pect in Canada with­out be­ing shouted down as a woman-hater.

“Shame! Shame!” the pro­choice lobby cried, ac­cus­ing Wood­worth of — what else — want­ing to “turn back the clock” on women’s rights.

Joyce Arthur of the Abor­tion Rights Coali­tion of Canada de­clared it was shock­ing to “start talk­ing about whether women should have ba­sic hu­man rights,” and added that Sta­tus of Women Min­is­ter Rona Ambrose “seems to think the sta­tus of women is a lit­tle bit be­low that of a fer­til­ized egg.”

All irony aside — half of fer­til­ized eggs, af­ter all, be­come women — such ab­so­lutism is surely some sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal cover for deeply re­pressed feel­ings, per­haps even of col­lec­tive guilt. For proof that abor­tion — with its un­de­ni­able, at­ten­dant themes of life, death and moth­er­hood — is psy­cho­log­i­cally and emo­tion­ally fraught, just ask the man who’s been in Freudian ther­apy for years: the fa­ther of abor­tion prac­tice in Canada, Henry Mor­gen­taler.

In a re­veal­ing in­ter­view with the CBC in 2008, Mor­gen­taler said he felt like a “new­born baby” fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful heart op­er­a­tion. “I en­joy be­ing alive.”

Evan Solomon then asked: “How does a guy who’s seen so much death (in Auschwitz and Dachau), fight for a cause which many peo­ple be­lieve is a form of killing?”

“I won’t deny there’s an in­con­sis­tency,” Mor­gen­taler an­swered. Other jaw­drop­ping re­marks fol­lowed. “I got the im­pres­sion my mother didn’t love me be­cause there was a younger baby she de­voted a lot of at­ten­tion to,” Mor­gen­taler said, be­fore read­ing from his self-pub­lished poem, The God­dess of the Golden Breast:

“I hate and curse the breast and the mother / I smash the god­dess to bits / I look at my­self, help­less, small, and hun­gry / And cry.”

Talk about a prime can­di­date for the couch.

If the deeper re­al­i­ties of abor­tion weren’t so loaded, why are so many eu­phemisms — such as “women’s health,” “re­pro­duc­tive rights,” even “re­pro­duc­tive jus­tice” — em­ployed to de­scribe it? And if a fe­tus is just a fer­til­ized egg, why do sex-se­lec­tion abor­tions bother us so much?

Clearly, abor­tion has both­ered ev­ery other western coun­try enough to im­pose some ges­ta­tional lim­its on it. Hav­ing none at all places Canada in the em­i­nent com­pany of North Korea and China, where forced abor­tions are known to take place.

In 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Crim­i­nal Code sec­tion that re­quired the assent, be­fore abor­tion, of a ther­a­peu­tic abor­tion com­mit­tee, the jus­tices clearly stated Par­lia­ment should at­tempt to en­act a new law. (The Mul­roney gov­ern­ment later passed Bill C-43, but the Se­nate stran­gled it with a tied vote.)

Even Jus­tice Bertha Wil­son, a well-known fem­i­nist sup­porter, said there was a “per­fectly valid leg­isla­tive ob­jec­tive” in seek­ing to pro­tect the fe­tus: “The sit­u­a­tion re­spect­ing a woman’s right to con­trol her own per­son be­comes more com­plex when she be­comes preg­nant.”

Long be­fore I be­came a mother, I was aware of the grav­ity of an un­wanted preg­nancy and the cor­re­spond­ing, life-al­ter­ing de­ci­sion that would en­sue. That I never had to make that de­ci­sion, I re­main ev­er­grate­ful for — and that, un­like a friend who had an abor­tion, I don’t have to be “haunted” or say through tears: “There’s no heal­ing this.”

Doesn’t it sim­ply make sense on ev­ery level — psy­cho­log­i­cal, hu­man­is­tic, le­gal — that while abor­tion should be avail­able for the first trimester or so, more se­ri­ous hur­dles should be in place af­ter that, con­sid­er­ing what we know about fe­tal de­vel­op­ment and the ris­ing sur­vival rates of pre­ma­ture in­fants?

I wish women would talk, dare to talk, about the com­plex­ity of this is­sue and not have to pre­tend the fe­tus was the next thing to an ap­pendix or a loose tooth.

That’s got to do some­thing to you. As a woman, I dare say my frag­ile sen­si­bil­i­ties could han­dle the de­bate.

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