Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Catholic school students sent home for displaying pro-choice stance - The Globe and Mail

This is an interesting story:

The simmering abortion debate in Canada is important. Both pro and anti-choice people argue that they are silenced by the other side. The fact that I used the word anti-choice indicates where I stand. There are several points to make about this "debate."

The first might be that it is not a debate. The anti-choice side is committed, determined, and vocal. I don't actually fault them for that. Such in the nature of democracy that people have the right to make their case in the public sphere. I don't fault people for doing so. It is a right of citizenship. Nor, do I fault anyone for being determined and committed. Indeed, I'd like to see more people who are determined and committed. We might have a higher voter participation rate.

Still, to call this a debate is to call it something that it is not. The vast majority of Canadians have made up their mind on this issue and the debate, such as it is, is carried forward only be a small coterie of the diligent and committed. For most Canadians, this is simply not at issue. It is no where near as important as education, health care, the environment ... if public opinion polls are to be believed.

This does not mean that people don't have conflicting views on the subject. They do. But, the majority view (from what I can tell) is this: I might agree or disagree with abortion, but I'm loathe to tell a woman what she should with her body. I'm even more loathe to argue that the state should regulate women's bodies. If the state steps in and says "OK, 51% of the population will not have control over their bodies" something vital to democracy is lost.

What does this mean? Well, first it is a pretty sophisticated philosophical perspective. Second, it shows that the anti-choice side is embedded in a bit of a problem. They need democracy to make their case but the arguments that they are making challenge one of the basic conditions of democracy. They are using, in other words, democracy to subvert itself. There is reason people need to be consistent. One need not be logically consistent to avail one's self of constitutionally guaranteed rights. However, in my view, it makes the anti-choice perspective open to other questions. To what extent do they believe in democracy?

The next thing to note is that a minority of Canadians support eliminating abortion. I'd defend abortion in the same way I defend other rights: to eliminate them damages the society. If you eliminate free speech, something bad has happened that cuts to the heart of democracy and the quality of life we live (and I don't mean that in a consumeristic way). Or, due process of law. Same thing with controlling people's bodies. In other words, defending democracy sometimes requires defending the rights of individuals. Still, the minority point is worth noting because what we are talking about is a double hit at democracy. Not only would we eliminate 51% of the population's control over their bodies; this would be done against the wishes of the majority of Canadians.

Next, those who are anti-choice argue against my point (above) on the views of Canadians. Here is where they get interpretations of polling wrong. They note that Canadians are divided on abortion. I agree: they are. But they are divided on its merits; not on whether or not the state should regulate women's bodies. Hence, the anti-choice side is telling half the story. They note that Canadians are divided, but don't note that that division is a matter of conscience and that the issue regarding public policy is something else. Again, my point is that Canadians think "I have my own views on the ethics of abortion. That does not mean, however, that the government should step in and regulate women's bodies." In short, Canadians have a more sophisticated and nuanced position on abortion then the anti side lets on.

The anti-side is not without its tools. As I Christian I argue that we should not, in this instance, turn to the state if we are anti-abortion and I think this is actually the tactic most people take. There are a range of options available other than criminalization. These include prayer, discussion, support for the decisions people make regardless of the decision.

And, this is where the anti-side, frankly, drops the ball. Everyone talks about supporting people when they have to make hard decisions but they fail to think about how much support is required. Supporting a young woman, say, who has elected not to have an abortion means something more then donating a few used clothes on Sunday morning. It means something more than tagging a portion of your church offering to a "crisis" centre. It means being there for the person on an on-going basis over a long haul. It means helping with child care and providing income support where needed. Some anti-choice people do this but not near enough. Indeed, in public discourse, the anti-choice perspective has narrowed to a one shot solution -- bring in the state -- when so much more is needed. To say this differently, anti-choice people need to put their money where their mouth is. They need to be willing to make the time commitment to helping out. And, frankly, until I see that on a mass level, I find it hard to take the anti-position seriously. There are all kinds of things I oppose but no one should take me seriously if I do nothing to change things. Same thing for the anti folks on this one. And, what is more, supporting someone doesn't mean saying "I'll support you if you agree with my decision." The really hard thing about supporting someone is that you need to do it even if they make the decision with which you disagree.

Finally, does the church have the right to send students home because they offered a political perspective with which the church disagreed. I don't disagree -- as readers of this blog will know -- with religious education. Anyone who sends their kids to Catholic school should expect a Catholic education. Sorry, to imagine differently or argue for something different is naive. (I know people who get upset at my church because we run a youth event and at it the youth pastor talks about Christ. What did you expect? It was a Baptist youth event!) I wonder, however, how are those students best served? Even if one wanted to promote an anti-choice perspective, are those students best served. Are they best served through coercion? Or, are they best served by keeping them in school?
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