A Time to Choose Life:
Women, Abortion & Human Rights

by Ian Gentles,
256 pages,
ISBN: 0773753664

Post Your Opinion
Hearts And Minds
by Anne Denoon

ALTHOUGH ITS TITLE and the nursery colours that adorn its cover announce its allegiance unequivocably, this collection of essays is apparently intended to lift the abortion debate out of the mean, invective-filled streets where it normally rages, and to place it on higher intellectual ground. Its unsigned introduction calls for "thoughtful consideration" of the issue and promises that it will be explored with a "fresh voice" and "in a dispassionate manner." In the 15 chapters that follow, there are certainly moments of freshness, for the book`s scattershot approach to the task of winning hearts and minds produces a number of ingenious explanations for, and interpretations of, the reluctance of the Canadian public, courts, and legislatures to embrace the pro-life agenda unreservedly. We are told, for example, that "governments find abortion an easy way of avoiding hard social problems like the shortage of reasonably priced family housing:` and that restrictive laws may encounter "resistance within the medical establishment itself." For one contributor, the culprits are the Charter of Rights (supposedly a feminist artefact), the presence of women on the Supreme Court and in Canadian law schools (which he seems to find inherently sinister), and the influence of so-called Charter experts who, even when male, tend to be "disproportionately young" and "left Of centre politically." Another argues that the 1984 Morgentaler acquittal was simply the result of jury-packing. A jeremiad by the late George Grant, allusively titled "The Triumph of the Will", pronounces pro-choice feminism the epitome Of presumptuous, amoral, secular, modern liberalism, and essentially fascistic in nature; but another contributor, Samuel Ajzenstat, sees it, conversely, as a betrayal and perversion of classic liberal principles. It is perhaps worth noting that although neither man hesitates to liken feminists to Nazis, it is apparently de rigueur, when on higher ground, to acknowledge the dubiousness Of tile comparison or to disclaim the intention, really, of making it. Since Grants disclaimer Comes on the final page of his essay, the reader is left to wonder what, in fact, was the meaning of the preceding 10 pages. Perhaps the freshest contribution is that of Diane Marshall and Martha Crean, who implicate "the macho cult of power and dominance," "the international touting of the will to power," [?] and "the abdication of men from ... the responsibility of fatherhood." Marshall and Crean are virtually the only contributors Willing to examine the real social and economic problems faced by women, to admit the existence of coercive sex, and to recognize the contribution of these conditions to the demand for legal abortion. This is in contrast to the suggestion by Janet Ajzenstat, elsewhere in the book, that because of women`s desire to control their reproductive processes, "Is it any Wonder that women are now more often left alone to raise their children?" Regrettably, Marshall and Creans Solutions are a hit lame: rather than endorsing access to contraception, for example, they call for sex education with "more emphasis on the emotional dimensions of the Sexual rela tionship," which is surely the one aspect of sexuality teenagers understand Only too well. They propose only that "the Public should contribute to ongoing efforts to reduce" sexual harassment, and, discussing ways in which employers Could become more motherhood-positive, Suggest, among other things, that "fathers" should not be obliged to attend office parties. Although some of the views expressed in this volume may he novel, and indisputably thought-provoking, they are never "dispassionate," and perhaps we should not expect them to be. Still, many contributors seem unable to resist using tactics that dull the patina of conscientious scholarship afforded by the lavish use of statistics and annotations. Thus, the author of a discussion of the psychological impact of abortion, after reviewing studies that indicate, unsurprisingly, that a pro portion of women are adversely affected, declares dogmatically, "it must he noted that no woman goes through the abortion experience entirely unscathed," then goes on to call for more studies to determine "the true extent" of the problem. A sup posedly respectful critique of feminist eth ical theory ends with what can only be described as a cheap shot worthy of a tele vangelist, and another writer betrays a startling ignorance of reproductive anatomy when he declares that "Iyophilized [freeze-dried] human placenta" is "in plain language, the melted-down product of abortion." Mothers, both recent, and those completing their second decade of love, care, and responsibility, will likewise he astonished to learn that motherhood merely entails "the loss of a small amount Of freedom [that] need last only a few months." The author of an account of the Daigle case chooses to speak of "Chantal" throughout, and to put words into her month without troubling to cite a source. (A rather misleadingly appended note number only refers the reader to further Writings by two other contributors.) But probably the most contentious and disturbing passage in A Time to Choose Life is the following, purportedly the voice of a British abortionist: ...many of the babies I get are... living.... One morning I had four of them lined tip crying their heads off. I hadn`t time to kill them because we were so busy. This quotation, evidently to be considered a paradigm of the pro-choice sensibility, since it appears not once, but twice in the book, is drawn from the venerable Times of London, according to an endnote. A closer look at its provenance, however, shows that although it was indeed used in a Times op/ed piece by one Ronald Butt, it was taken from a book by two British journalists titled Babies for Burning, which was in turn based upon articles published in the slightly less venerable British tabloid News of the World, and which was the subject of two injunctions and a libel suit, the hitter still pending as Butt wrote. Butt himself follows this extraordinary passage (which also includes references to the babies` "animal fat" being sold) with the question, "Can this possibly have happened?," and adds, "We are entitled to know." Readers of the present volume are likely to do the same, adding -,mother question: Why was the original source and context of this material not made clear? That is only one reason why anyone not already committed to the pro-life position will read A Time to Choose Life not with hope, enlightenment, or understanding, but with deep despair

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