Sunday, June 3, 2012

Abortion law unlikely without change in tactics

All-or-nothing approach by some pro-lifers to force policy against ‘choice’ hasn’t worked

By Paul Ranalli
Special to The B.C. Catholic

Within the community of those who work to promote respect for the innocent unborn, few can claim to match the passion, commitment, and work ethic of Jakki Jeffs, executive director of Alliance For Life.

That said, what are we to make of her latest iteration of the “all-or-nothing” approach to pro-life political action?

Many of us share her unwavering gaze on the goal of “legislated protection of life for every Canadian citizen in or out of the womb.” Ah, but how to get there? How to translate undoubted conviction into concrete achievement?

Sadly, the answer, by any objective standard, would not be to follow the political tactics exhibited over the years by AFL. While these groups do much good work in pro-life education and awareness, their legislative achievements have been an utter failure.

The only thing “amazing” about the “45 years of struggle” by Ms. Jeffs’ stream of the pro-life movement is just how little has been achieved from so much effort.

Any successful social movement allows for the unfettered efforts of many different streams, effecting a sort of “parallel processing,” in engineering terms. A social campaign will not long survive, much less succeed, with the kind of internecine sniping expressed by Ms. Jeffs toward the “we needaLAW” campaign.

Sadly, this is just the latest example of the demoralizing top-down criticism of honest pro-life efforts in this country by those who appear more interested in hegemony than actual political success.

Most pro-lifers would never dream of interfering with the good work of others in the field. However their tactics may differ. Yet some members have never been shy about offering their unsolicited advice, or worse.

A Chinese proverb states that a 1,000-mile journey begins with the first step. Apparently some in the Canadian pro-life movement believe otherwise.

However consider these moments in history: while Mahatma Gandhi demanded freedom for the Indian people from their British colonizers, his pivotal action was marching his supporters to the coast to make salt without paying the salt tax.

While Martin Luther King demanded full personal and political equality for black people in America, a legendary first step was a request to be able to sit in any seat of a city bus in Birmingham, Ala.

Closer to home, a Montreal general practitioner who once demanded unrestricted legal access to abortion for women began to perform abortions one at a time, and he got himself thrown into jail repeatedly.

To some in the pro-life movement these individuals might be seen as betraying the cause, because they attempted to achieve their ultimate goal in incremental steps. They did not exhibit the purity of demanding nothing less than an instantaneous law proclaiming full victory for their cause.

They must have had their tails between their legs, too. After all, what did they ever achieve?

Paul Ranalli is a neurologist from Toronto. Reprinted with permission from the author.


  1. This poor Doctor knows not the difference between incremental and gestational steps as regards abortion/pro-life legislation/tactics.
    We have had 42 incremental laws/motions put before the Canadian Parliament since 1987. To no avail. So, nothing yet has worked. All of the major pro-life organizations and their members supported, directly or indirectly, most of these incremental Bills which corrects the misinformed Dr. that we don’t support incremental laws.
    Do we quit? Compromise? No, we keep trying to save all the babies but never do we play God and decide who lives and who dies. That's what a gestational law does in a nation such as Canada which, as it regards abortion, stands without a law restricting it in any form nor during any stage of development.
    The supporters of such law to go down in history known as the perpetrators who supported legalizing a woman’s choice to have her unborn baby killed, up to whatever age is determined to be the "cut-off" point, by an abortionist.
    Assuming Ranalli knows that life begins at conception, how does he reconcile supporting legislation that would legally permit the killing of these small humans, with his ethics as a Doctor, and his supposedly pro-life views?

    Jeff Gunnarson
    Cambridge ON

  2. Jeff, I have written a couple of times now, and there has been discussion already on this blog, about the supposed distinction between "gestational laws" and "incremental laws":

    Roxanne's Law, Bill C-510 is the most recent example of an "incremental" law that is not a gestational law, yet, CLC (the political arm of the pro-life movement) did not actually support the law as it was written. CLC only supported it going to committee so the wording could be changed.

    It's one thing to "say" one supports "incremental laws", but it is a different thing entirely to actually support/promote/advocate the passage of a concrete "incremental" bill being debated in the legislature.

    So what actual "incremental" bill did CLC promote and actively encourage politicians to enact into law? Is it JUST gestational laws they won't support? What if there was a law that banned abortion from conception on with exceptions for physical health risk to the mother, or rape/incest. Would CLC support that type of law? It's certainly NOT a gestational law.

  3. I welcome Jeff Gunnarson's contribution to the needed discussion among the Canadian pro-life community about the incremental strategy in defending life, a technique that has enjoyed such tremendous success in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

    I am intrigued by his mention of 42 incremenetal laws/motions "we" have supported since 1987. By "we", does he refer to the Campaign Life Coalition? If so, I would like to see these itemized and described, because I think we could all find this instructive.

    I do actually recognize the difference between incremental and gestational laws, although I do not see a clear moral difference. An incremental law is any useful law that creates a measure of respect/protection for the unborn, one which works toward full protection, without achieving it in one fell swoop. A gestational law is simply one subset of the larger basket of incremental laws.

    Many of us admire what we see in the legend of Sisyphus, even if his advances were measured in inches. Many of us, by the same token, are perplexed by those who might claim that the only alternative is to fling the massive boulder to the top of the mountain. Wouldn't that be great? Meanwhile, in the real world, there are terrific young people willing to put their shoulders to the boulder. And thank God for that.

    Paul Ranalli, MD

  4. As diligent and dedicated as people like Jeff Gunnarson are and have been through the years, I am hard pressed to understand their lack of enthusiasm for the NEW pro-life movement coming down the track. Not only are they intransigent in their insistence in the all or nothing approach, they are actually becoming an impediment to real political progress. I don't know of any way to deal with this except to say "ignore them" and move on.

  5. Jeff, you say, "This poor Doctor knows not the difference between incremental and gestational steps as regards abortion/pro-life legislation/tactics." Seems to me that Dr. Ranalli, a neurologist would know an awful lot about many things including how a baby would experience pain as its body is pulled apart during an abortion. So many Catholic clergy have encouraged the pro-life movement to support every law including gestational ones to limit abortion. Can we not work together to support every law so that the destruction of God's little children will at least be restricted to the greatest possible extend until all are saved. At least in this way many will have the opportunity to love and be loved. Thanks for taking a step back in humility to reconsider how you could help the unborn.

  6. In my considered opinion (medical and political) we should not try to define who is human scientifically because:

    a) Any definition must include the human spirit, which can never be sufficiently observable to be "scientific".

    b) The recognition of who is human has always been instinctual. Every member of any species has no difficulty in recognizing one of his/her kind.

    c) Any definition by agreement will always exclude some authentic members.

    d) The anti-life conspiracy would love to see huge amounts of time and money wasted on
    a futile debate.

    e) What needs to be reinforced is the human, particularly the maternal, instinctual response to babies, old and infirm. A small child does not hesitate in recognizing a human foetus from a sonogram, "He’s a baby".

    f) Some prolifers, being so happy that some more babies are included in humanity will inadvertently be rejoicing in a situation where the majority of babies are excluded and killed.

    g) If there were a law that said babies of 6 mo. gestation were human, no one would prosecute the woman for killing him and MDs would lie about the child’s gestational age.

    h) Surely we have learned from Stephanie Grey whose appeals are effective because they go to the heart with pictures.

    If we succeed in defining a foetus as human after 6mo. it will give us the satisfaction of once again proudly asserting we are not uncivilized. We are one with all the other “civilized countries” which have a law that allows only 90 % of their babies to
    be murdered.

    Though this country is abortion lawless, the practice of abortion is better regulated than in
    neighbouring countries because of self-imposed medical constraints. If the existing regulations were applied more rigorously, there would be very few abortions. We will miss and bury a golden opportunity to bring about prolife attitudes and practice thru existing legislation.

    Moreover we will have picked the wrong side of this debate. A person is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly a human looking creature is a human until proved otherwise. "Your are going to sell a black person because you insist he is property. Okay, then first prove he is not a human like your self." You are going to exterminate this Jew because you believe he is an inferior human. Okay, then you must prove he is less a human than yourself. You are going to terminate, kill, murder this human looking preborn infant. Okay then you must prove beyond reasonable doubt that he/she is not a human person, just like the rest of us. And your proof better be good because lives are at stake. I will not accept you can kill anything that looks like yourself or myself just because you keep screaming, "It's my right". Let see the very best of your science.”

    If we accept the defensive position in this debate, we must accept the fact we cannot win because there is no perfect science. Every study, especially those on humans are inadequate and easily faulted. The anti-life conspiracy will tie us in knots and impoverish us with claims of "that proof is not good enough to convince me"

    On the other hand, we could keep insisting that the anti-life conspiracy has not justified killing babies because:

    a) Their science doesn’t provide sufficient proof to condemn to death someone who just might be human.

    b) They have shown no medical justification for invading a woman's body with a curette or benefit from killing her child.

    I cannot think of any country where incrementalism has worked, except backwards. The prolifers in New Zealand with great effort put together and had passed a wonderfully prolife piece of legislation. Within 3 years there was no difference. Why? Because the doctors lied.

    There is a much better way to do this. The lack of a law gives the necessary opportunity and indignation at this moment.

    Of course we need debate, research and laws to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

    Philip G. Ney MD FRCP(C)

  7. Of course we need debate, research and laws to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable. There are ways that have been shown to work that need to be tried.

    I am very glad we are having this debate among ourselves. The real problems at the root abortion is the apathy and inertia of Godly people who seem not to understand that:

    a) Until you see how you are part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.
    b) Truth is very seldom popular. If you not only espouse the truth but act on it, you will be unpopular and that is a strange sensation for North Americans.
    c) Until we put together what we do with what we say we believe, no one will take us seriously.
    d) If these are really little people who are being murdered by the millions, surely it must radically change our life style. Yet for most pro-lifers its business and pleasure as usual.
    e) We all need to pray harder, repenting of our lethargy and other contributions and asking for courage, wisdom and protection. For we fight not against flesh and blood but against powerful evil forces.

    Philip G. Ney MD FRCP(C)

  8. As unfortunately happens in the pro-life movement there appears to be a certain amount of acrimony by some of the posters/objectors, who appear to mostly reside in Ontario.

    The Christian position is most certainly to stop all abortions and the killing of all innocent lives, however there is another principle at work here and that is respect for others who differ in their viewpoints on how to end abortion.

    As a Lutheran, I could certainly see more of an advantage in the incremental approach, with the ultimate long-range goal to end all abortions. A small victory is better than NO victory at all and after all Jesus did say a "cup of water given in my name will not be forgotten."

    We will win the battle for life, but we need all our combined efforts and cooperation is the most immediate need to overcome the forces of darkness.

    Cliff Pyle

  9. In reference to Mr. Gunnarson's comment about the "42 incremental laws/motions put before the Canadian Parliament since 1987" I have found this list from The Interim ( and a more recent list of 44 items on ARCC's website (

    However, upon analysis, these lists yield very few "incremental"-type abortion bills, if by an "incremental bill" we mean a bill that would limit the harm of abortion in some fashion, without completely banning it. (Other terminology that has been used to describe such bills is "imperfect legislation," "restrictive abortion laws," "partial protective laws," "harm reducing laws," etc.)

    First of all, of the total 44 items in ARCC's list, there were only 29 actual bills (only bills can be enacted into law, not motions.) Of those 29 bills, many are simply reintroductions of the same or very similar bills from previous parliaments. For example, MP Maurice Vellacott and Senator Haidasz have reintroduced conscience legislation (to protect health care workers from participating in procedures like abortion and euthanasia) in several different parliaments.

    Two of the 29 bills were "Unborn Victims of Crime" bills which did not impact abortion.
    One bill had to do with criminal endangerment of fetus by pregnant woman who abuses alcohol, drugs, etc.

    Of the remaining 26 abortion-related bills, ten were more or less complete abortion bans:

    - bill to included fetus and embryo in definition of 'human being' so as to define abortion as homicide (3 bills)
    - bill to ban all abortions but permitting medical treatment to prevent death to pregnant mother (3 bills)
    - bill to protect "unborn child" in all cases by banning abortions but permitting medical treatment to prevent mother's death (2 bills)
    - bill to define fetus as a person and prohibit abortion with a couple of exceptions including life of mother (2 bills)

    The remaining 16 bills could be considered "incremental" abortion bills and can be categorized as follows:

    (1) - Abortion Coercion (one bill)
    (2) - Late Term Abortion ban - after 20 weeks (one bill)
    (3) - Conscience legislation (10 bills)
    (4) - Referendum on tax funding of medically unnecessary abortions (2 bills)
    (5) - Amendment to the Canada Health Act to withhold transfer payment to provinces for funding non-medically necessary abortions (2 bills)

    To summarize, there have been five unique "incremental" types of abortion bills introduced in Parliament since 1987.

  10. As to Mr. Gunnarson's comments about the major pro-life groups supporting most of these incremental bills, CLC and AFLO did not support the late-term abortion ban (C-338). I have already covered their positions on the abortion coercion bill (C-510) here:

    Of the remaining three "incremental"-type abortion bills (conscience, funding referendum, and Canada Health Act penalization) I'm not aware what position the major pro-life groups took.

    In fact, I, and probably others in the movement, would welcome clear, unambigious statements of positions taken by the major pro-life groups like CLC and AFLO, whenever abortion related legislation comes up for discussion. That way there can be no misunderstandings at to where their support lies.

    And blanket statements like:
    "...we have had 42 incremental laws/motions put before the Canadian Parliament since 1987. To no avail. So, nothing yet has worked. All of the major pro-life organizations and their members supported, directly or indirectly, most of these incremental Bills which corrects the misinformed Dr. that we don’t support incremental laws..."
    are far too easy to assert when no evidence is provided.