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The Morality of Abortion

If we have no laws regulating abortion in Canada, is it still seen as a moral issue?

A few weeks ago I started reading Ronald Dworkin's 1993 book Life's Dominion. For those of you who have not been through law school, Dworkin is THE legal thinker whose books, articles and theories have dominated law school courses for the last three decades. I have seen entire courses at law schools on Dworkin and his critics.

Ronald Dworkin
Photo, courtesy Wikipedia

So when Dworkin tackled a topic like life issues, including abortion and euthanasia, lawyers and others, on both sides of the debate were immediately interested in his approach. At the time, his book was ground breaking in seeking a middle ground on the issue.

Certain of Dworkin's assumptions were immediately debunked. For example, Russell Hittinger took aim at Dworkin's treatment of the Roman Catholic position on abortion in First Things.

But now, over a decade later, re-reading his book makes me realize just how many of his underlying assumptions are wrong.

One of Dworkin's fundamental assumptions is that abortion will always pose a moral dilemma for women seeking abortion.

But what this ignores is the moral suasion of the law. That there is no law in Canada to regulate abortion sends the message that this is not a moral issue. And I would have to say that in Canada, it is indeed becoming less and less of a moral issue for women seeking abortions. Pro-choice groups have worked hard to make it NOT a moral issue.

To illustrate this point, even doctors who perform abortions are getting uncomfortable with the lack of an ethical foundation for abortion. An ethicist friend shared a story recently that a doctor called very concerned that a woman was seeking an abortion because her baby had a cleft palate. This is a superficial condition that is easily fixed through surgery. The doctor felt that this was unethical but really had nothing to point to.

In Life's Dominion, Dworkin also assumes that pro-life people really do not believe that the unborn always have a right to life. He argues that if we did, we would never support women who choose to have abortions.

This is just a silly argument. Those of us who are pro-life care about all life, not just the unborn. We therefore care about women who are pregnant, and we will support and care for those who make choices with which we profoundly disagree. We always love the sinner and hate the sin.

Dworkin's compromise resolution would be legislation prohibiting abortions after 24 weeks, the age at which he believes the baby is sentient (is aware of itself and experiences pain). This is basically a justification for laws prohibiting late-term abortions.

According to public opinion polls, this kind of legislation would get broad support in Canada. In fact, even legislation regulating abortions at an earlier stage would get majority support.

Canadians are not as polarized on this issue as the media often portrays. Father Raymond de Souza pointed out in a commentary in the National Post back in March that the majority of Canadians want the government to regulate and/or restrict abortion. The Calgary Herald and the National Post have both run editorials calling for abortion laws.

Canadians are uncomfortable having no law exactly because the issue will cease to be considered a moral one. At this point, any legislation regulating or limiting abortion would return this issue to the category of a moral issue, viewing it as an event with moral consequences.

That is why some radical pro-choice activists have a fit any time legislation is even whispered about. Even legislation that requires counselling or a 24 hour cooling off period before a woman has an abortion sends a message that this is a moral issue. And these folks do not want you to see it that way.

This week marks the National March for Life. This Sunday is observed in some churches as Sanctity of Life Sunday. Here are some things you can do.

Pray for the unborn, especially those whose mothers are considering the drastic step of abortion.

Donate or volunteer to your local Crisis Pregnancy Centre (check under "Contact Us").

Download EFC's bulletin insert for Sanctity of Life Sunday and use it in your church. If you are a pastor, take the opportunity to preach on a biblical view of life.

Understand the Abortion issue and advocate for the rights of the unborn. Get involved with your local Pro-Life group.

Janet Epp Buckingham is director of Law and Public Policy and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Ottawa.



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