The Globe and Mail of all places had an interesting exchange on abortion between Ian Brown, who has written about his struggles with his son’s disabilities before, and Jean Vanier, who has also been awarded the Order of Canada for his work.
I am less interested in Ian Brown’s points, if only because he is basically asking a question of Jean Vanier: How could he keep his Order of Canada? (Brown expresses discomfort with abortion, especially the kind that would see his son killed in the womb but then says he can’t get away from a woman’s choice. I would merely suggest “choice” is not a value. “Faith, hope, love and choice, and the greatest of these is choice”? Um, not really.)
I read Vanier’s thoughts closely. I first read them with sadness and then, as I began to consider them more, with a sense of respect–finally, I came around and thought–this is a type of pro-life discourse that could bring even the uninterested Globe reader around. It is, in the end, pro-life discourse.
In his letter, Vanier says he is keeping his Order of Canada. He doesn’t say abortion is wrong, or evil. There’s also a fair amount of mundane “motherhood and apple pie” statements.
He gets at what make this country great:
It is important that we re-find this identity, that we encourage the young of our land (in whom we should have much hope) to discover the beauty of being Canadians with our own specific culture – peacemakers, people who give life, who become a sign that peace is possible in our world; to discover that our land is called to be a place of welcome not just for wealthy and competent people from other lands but also for refugees, for people from war-torn and poverty-stricken lands.” (emphasis mine)
In short, he is saying that Canada should be a place where the unwanted are welcome. (Even unwanted babies, one could add. )
He speaks of the sexual urge that “flows from a deep cry of loneliness.” There are few who sleep with someone for the cheap thrills, rather, it is because people are lonely. We all want to be known. We want companionship. And having a baby may be the furthest thing from our minds…
I really agree with him that loneliness is a terrible driver, both of sleeping with someone who doesn’t know you, not really, and then subsequently having an abortion. “And then too often,” he writes, “we see the shame, anger and despair of a woman who finds she is becoming a mother… her anguish makes her seek an abortion.”
I can see this.
“I do not want to say such a person in anguish is a ‘killer’. I would like to walk with her—maybe cry with her.”
Sure, and that’s the point of PWPL. Though I do think I’d like to prevent her from killing, while walking and crying with her. But still, I see his point.
Then he writes, “so we are not in front of something which is either ‘abortion’ or ‘not abortion,’ ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice.’ We are in front of something so much more complex.”
Pro-lifers are in this habit of saying abortion is not complicated, it is all so very simple. They are right, because abortion takes a life, and that is simple. And pro-choicers are in this habit of saying it is all very complex—and they are right, because that is how it feels to the people involved–there are many factors driving her to the clinic.
He then says:
Maybe the real question is: What is the meaning of our life? What does it mean to be human?”
Aha. And that is indeed a good question. I happen to believe if more women asked this, and more people responded appropriately, with encouragement, then we’d see more and more women empowered to “choose life” (understanding that we’d rather not choose killing as a routine course of action). (Too many women in the moment of a crisis are not asking big, philosophical questions, but rather the detailed short-term ones. Can I afford this? Can I finish school? Will he stick around? Do I want him to? etc.)
Anyway, Vanier’s life is compelling, compassionate, and if he doesn’t want to fall into all the ancient, unproductive and shrill rhetoric from both camps—then TRUST ME–I’m AOK with that.
On the notion of keeping the Order of Canada, he says the Order should go to those who “give and foster life.” Vanier sounds like a smart man—he must know that’s not what Morgentaler does. In that sense, he is keeping his Order of Canada perhaps so the Order is not devoid of those who do great things: give and foster life.
I don’t agree, I’d give mine back pronto. (If I had one.) But I see his point—Canada is a great country, and if we have such honours then they might as well be peopled by great men (and women). (Put your knickers back on, my feminist friends, it’s a turn of phrase).
Morgentaler should be the one to go. In due time, I believe he’ll be removed, as we hang our heads and reassess a time in Canadian history where we did not make room, we had no time–for those we chose to call “unwanted”.