Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column addresses the thorny issue of abortion. It’s the Canadian perspective, but I know the same issues are found the world over.
China’s one-child policy is thirty years old now, and it’s hardly even contentious. It’s often portrayed in Canadian literature as an example of smart government intervention: a country which couldn’t feed its vast population took measures to make sure it wouldn’t become overpopulated.
But in June 2012 23-year-old Feng Jianmei put a face to the policy when she was forced to undergo an abortion at seven months since she was pregnant with her second child. The authorities grabbed her against her will and held her down while they aborted the baby. Her husband took a picture of the grieving mother with the bloody body of her baby beside her on the bed. The photograph went viral. China had to promise to punish the people who had done it.
I can’t imagine someone ripping a baby I desperately loved from my body, just because the government deemed that I had had enough. We should have control over our bodies. Or should we?
Let’s take a CBC undercover sting that reveals the diametrically opposite problem. Last year some reporters infiltrated some Canadian medical clinics and discovered that in Canada abortions were being performed based only on the sex of the baby.
The feminist response to this has been muted. Feminists are supposed to fight for women, and I can’t think of anything more anti-woman than to kill a baby simply because she’s a girl. And the effects are stunning. According to India’s 2011 census, they’re missing 37 million girls. By 2020 in China, there will be thirty million more men of marriageable age than women.
Yet how can pro-choicers protest? They firmly believe that pregnancy is all in the eye of the beholder; if the mom wants the baby, it’s a baby. If the mom doesn’t want the baby, it’s only a fetus, and you can discard it if you want. So if a mother decides that she doesn’t want a girl baby, how can a pro-choicer argue?
We Canadians tend to shy away from debates like these because they’re socially unpleasant, and abortion is something that we just can’t agree upon. Stephen Harper has been desperately trying to silence his backbenchers who want to make it a political issue, because he doesn’t want the Conservatives labeled as anti-woman. But I don’t think most Liberals would welcome the fight, either. It would be long, and it would be bloody, and most of us would rather just tune out. Can’t the abortion controversy just go away?
But it can’t. From the time a small child hears that “Mommy has a baby growing in her tummy” and a new sibling is coming, we instinctively understand that a pregnant woman is carrying a new life. The question then becomes: do we owe that life anything?
Pro-choicers told us that the debate would end soon once people realized that it was all a woman’s choice. Yet the population, and especially those under forty, is becoming more pro-life, not more pro-choice, as time goes on. A recent Environics poll found that 72% of Canadians want at least some protection for the unborn.
The debate can never really be settled because it raises such thorny issues. Is the baby a baby? Or is it solely the mother’s choice? And if it is the mother’s choice, then how can you then turn around and tell a man that he has to support a child he doesn’t want?
It isn’t straightforward, and it isn’t going away, as much as the politicians wish it would. Are the unborn alive? And if so, what does that mean? Those questions are fundamental, and we will all have to grapple with them as individuals, even if the government continues to ignore them.
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