Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gestational Legislation: a morally sound strategy

In the most recent issue of the Guelph and Area Right to Life newsletter, there is an (unsigned) front page article on gestational legislation titled: Gestational Legislation - Giving Henry Morgentaler more than he asked for?

We are all aware that there are some in the pro-life community who agree with the gestational approach, and there are some who do not agree with it. This is fair, and it is okay that we do not all agree on the same approach to abortion.

They stated (rightly) that the debate on the gestational strategy has:
"sometimes [been] heated and hurtful".

I have grave concerns however, by the tone of this article whose sole purpose seems to be to demean the gestational approach, which the author does not themselves believe in.

Archbishop Miller of Vancouver and Cardinal Collins both published statements that a gestational approach to abortion is a moral and valid belief.

"This teaching [in Evangelium Vitae n. 73] makes clear that legislation which intends to limit the harm done by a pro-abortion law is not itself cooperation with an unjust law but rather "a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects." A law aimed at limiting the number of legally authorized abortions does not entail the approval of those abortions that it fails to criminalize.

In the absence of a "pro-abortion" law within the Criminal Code of Canada, that is, of a law that explicitly permits abortion, some think that gestational legislation — or any incrementalist legislation — might create a new law that implicitly authorizes abortion. However, in Canada, a series of court rulings, a failure on the part of the federal Parliament to pass criminal legislation, and a variety of provincial laws, regulations and funding formulas intended to provide access to abortion, have the effect of a defacto legal regime that permits abortion with almost no restrictions. Legislation intended to restrict access to abortion would not create a new legal situation in Canada which would authorize abortions, but instead would intend to limit the number of abortions already authorized under the law. Moreover, such legislation intends to limit the harm done to public morality by the injustice already present in the defacto legal situation."

Many of us welcomed this statement by Archbishop Miller. However the writer of the newsletter apparently did not. They stated that the:
"church hierarchy entered into the fray, sadly raising more tension."

I disagree. It is always healthy and proper for the church to state their position on issues of morality. This is what our church leaders are supposed to do: guide the flock on moral issues. With something as important as abortion, their statements provided us with this necessary guidance. Those of us who believe gestational legislation is a valid philosophy, were encouraged that our actions were in line with Catholic Church teaching. As to raising more tension, this is only true for those who do not accept a gestational strategy. For the rest of us, there is no tension, only joy that we may continue doing what we are already doing.

The newsletter then stated that:
"[regarding a gestational approach] it is argued that we wish only the good, to protect the children after twenty weeks, but implicit in this approach is the fact that those we do not include we abandon."

It is not implicit at all that we are abandoning any babies. Here is what Archbishop Miller said regarding this:
"A law aimed at limiting the number of legally authorized abortions does not entail the approval of those abortions that it fails to criminalize."

I was also very troubled by the long quote the writer provided from abortion doctor Morgentaler from 1967 that appeared to be used to make a not so veiled comparison of Morgentaler, to people who believe in a gestational approach.

(Note: In 1967 the existing abortion law prohibited all abortions, so the quote is not pertinent to the current situation where there is no legal restrictions on abortion.)

The writer then quotes Dr. Morgentaler who said that the end does not justify the means. The writer says of this comment, that:
"Strange he did not see the plank in his own eye. Let us not be the same."

The implication is that those of us who believe in a gestational approach to get rid of abortion, are wrong. We are not wrong, as Archbishop Miller also stated,:
"The teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter is clear. Under the conditions articulated in Evangelium Vitae, n. 73, it is morally licit to work for and to vote for legislation, including gestational legislation, which limits the harmful effect of an unjust legal regime that permits abortion."

For those people who cannot support gestational legislation, like the writer of the article, this is a fair belief to hold, and is not against the Church. We respect that viewpoint and we welcome any sound evidence that shows the gestational approach does not work.

However, what is "hurtful" and harmful to the movement, is articles such as this, which provides no evidence, but rather, simply criticizes our morally justified beliefs of the gestational approach.

Archbishop Miller closes with these wise words:
"We pray that the prolife movement may not be divided in spirit by disagreements regarding the practical wisdom of gestational legislation. We implore all within the movement to refrain from questioning the good will or motives of those who have taken a different stand from their own on this issue."


  1. I think that an important point in discussing the gestational approach issue is that: "Half a loaf is better than none.". E.g. , reducing abortion access from 38 weeks to 10 weeks could statistically reduce the number of surgical abortions per year in Canada from 100,000 to possibly 70,000. It would not significantly reduce the millions of chemical abortions each year in Canada because most happen before the first ten weeks of the unborn children's lives.
    The wording of the legislation would have to be strictly restrictive without any wording of approval of abortion at any time, e.g.: "No abortions after ten weeks, surgical or chemical.". No words of permission or approval of abortion at any time could be added for the legislation to be acceptable because we can never approve of killing anyone. The next step is to go after banning the remaining 10 weeks, incrementally if need be, but we will get there to save them eventually. We would not have abandoned them for a moment. I like to think of the image of "whittling away at it" until it is gone. I hope that this is helpful to the discussion.
    Cy Winter, Ottawa, Ontario. March 23, 2013.

    1. My first sense after reading this title: Giving Henry Morgentaler more than he asked for? Was that the Guelph newsletter had been infiltrated, further reading of the blog showed this was not the case. The article says, “the gestational debate has sometimes [been] heated and hurtful”. This is true. Sadly, it appears the author of the article is adding to that hurt. It hurts me when the article inferred that those who support a gestational approach to ending abortion are doing more harm to the pro-life cause than that done by Morgantaler. This comparison really hurts. The author wrongfully draws similarities between what is good and what is evil. What the author fails to mention is that Morgantaler was working to open doors to abortion while today pro-lifers are struggling to close those very same doors.

      Archbishop Miller made it abundantly clear that a gestational approach to limiting the harm of abortion is “morally licit” and his words were echoed by Cardinal Thomas Collins who is the leader of the Catholic Church in Canada. Why then would the author claim that the, “church hierarchy entered into the fray, sadly raising more tension." More harm! As a Catholic, I will follow the wisdom offered by ordained ministers who are qualified Moral Theologians; but I am very concerned that many good people will be misled by the article found in a pro-life newsletter.

      Cy, with regard to a gestational approach that would save the lives of as many babies as possible, you are correct in saying, "Half a loaf is better than none." Your analogy is confirmed by Archbishop Miller and Cardinal Collins in their 2012 statement cited in Patricia Maloney’s blog: "The teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter is clear. Under the conditions articulated in Evangelium Vitae, n. 73, it is morally licit to work for and to vote for legislation, including gestational legislation, which limits the harmful effect of an unjust legal regime that permits abortion.” Yes, that half loaf is better than none. When we see the potential to love thousands of living children that bread just gets better.

      Some, including the author of the Guelph newsletter believe that a gestational limit condones the killing of the babies younger than whatever the limit would be. This is NOT the spirit of a gestational limit and to say this is once again misleading and causes more hurt. What we have now is that no babies are legally safe in the womb. What a gestational limit would do is to save a certain number of those dear babies.

      Let us stand soundly behind those pro-life politicians whose intentions are to create laws that would save as many babies as possible. When we think of how throughout history unjust laws have been outlawed slowly and surely, one step at a time, then we ought to be optimistic in the hope that some day the unjust killing of babies in the act of abortion will also be outlawed.