The recent request by several Conservative MPs, tireless anti-abortion crusader Maurice Vellacott among them, that the RCMP open murder investigations against physicians who have performed late-term abortions because the mother’s life was at stake has resulted in a predictable body of responses from across Canada. First, the leader of the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper, announced that his party would not “reopen the abortion debate.” (It will, however, continue to produce a stream of private members’ bills and public declarations that abortion is murder.) And then feminists responded by condemning what they see as an effort to reopen the abortion debate. My favourite Canadian feminist blog, Dammit Janet, even has a post label for it: “fuck the debate.”
This puts us in what would be a hilarious position if the issue weren’t so important. Nobody, it seems, actually wants to have a debate about abortion right now. The Conservative backbench wants to jump straight to prosecutions. Stephen Harper is petrified of an abortion debate because he would probably have to choose between the Conservative base and the survival of his majority government. And many feminists don’t want to “reopen” the debate — I won’t say they’re scared of it, per se — because the Constitution is on their side, the courts have agreed, and that, as they say, is that.
Well I’ve had more than enough of this nonsense. I’m tired of Stephen Harper trying to have it both ways by saying he won’t “reopen the debate.” I’m tired of scurrilous backbenchers trying to score stealth victories by introducing bills that are actually pro-life pretexts so thinly veiled they wouldn’t fool a child. I’m tired of anti-abortion activists claiming that we are the totalitarian ones, and then, even as they mouth this piffle, trying to do an end run around the legislative process by calling on the RCMP to treat medically necessary abortions as murder cases. I am tired of the misogyny, and the hypocrisy, and the doublespeak, and the stupidity of it all.
So we are going to have this out. The abortion debate needs to be, as Harper puts it, “reopened.” And it should never be closed. It should never be closed for the same reason that debates are never closed on questions like whether slavery is wrong, whether the Holocaust happened, and whether the exploitation of children is evil. You can debate all of these things, which I strongly believe, and in a free democracy, it is right that you be allowed to debate all of these issues. This debate must never involve violence, and it must never involve outlawing free expression, and beyond that, it is pretty much a free-for-all, which is as it should be.
But fair warning: if you want to deny the Holocaust, or claim a right to exploit children, or demand that abortions be outlawed even to the extent of endangering women’s lives, I intend to see to it that your side loses, in as crushing and humiliating a fashion as possible. Those of us who stand on the side of basic human freedoms can never afford the complacency of thinking that debate is ever “closed.” We must always be prepared to test our arguments against those who would overturn our hard-won victories — and, yes, always be prepared to concede in the infinitely unlikely event that the other side raises a compelling argument. We will continue this fight wherever it may take us, as long as it takes, until the last dog dies.
Do note that “opening a debate” is in no sense the same thing as “passing a law.” We have just learned, as if we ever needed to, that the anti-abortion wing of the Conservative caucus is not interested in debating abortion, either. They want it banned, come hell or high water, and they’re prepared to do something as self-evidently ridiculous as calling on the judiciary to begin considering murder charges against abortion doctors in the absence of any direction to do so from either the legislative or executive branches of government. This is not reopening a debate: this is closing off debate through the rule of the police.
Harper is not interested in “opening an abortion debate” for more pragmatic reasons: he thinks it will cost him politically. This should not be a great concern to those who oppose Harper politically. Harper has for too long now been permitted to act as the spokesperson for a movement whose political priorities are dramatically at odds with his own. He should not be permitted to say that his position as prime minister is that debate is not permitted. He should be obliged — he should be compelled by public pressure, if necessary — to state his position on this matter. He worries about doing so because the consequence could be an irreparably divided Conservative Party. That is his problem, not ours.
But most important of all, it’s nonsense to talk about the danger of “reopening the abortion debate” because in the minds of some people the debate never ended. There are still anti-choice groups. They still run large protests in Ottawa. They still have a cabal of MPs on their side, some of them on the government benches, some of them on the opposition benches, and some of them in Cabinet. Some of the people in the Cabinet are men who believe God has told them to ban abortions.
Now, when those people claim it’s time to “reopen the debate,” what they seem to think is that free and open discussion somehow means that everyone who participates has a valid point. Uh-uh. You’re not getting off that easily. Anyone who claims that we should prosecute people for murder because they were trying to save one life where two might be lost is a morally compromised ignoramus. That includes you, Maurice Vellacott, Leon Benoit, and Wladyslaw Lizon. Don’t think that we will ever forget the stunt you tried to pull this month. We know what you are about. Do not expect us to stand in silence while you do this.Tweet