LETTER: MP muzzled by his own party over gender-selective abortion issue

Women need to make a fully informed choice for themselves.

An open letter to Abbotsford MP Ed Fast:

While what I am about to say could be viewed as strong, even harsh, it has nothing to do with you personally. I have high regard for your work ethic, your values, what you have accomplished as trade minister, and your personal moral courage.

As you can probably guess from knowing me as a supportive constituent and former school trustee colleague, I am very concerned about the way that Mark Warawa has been slapped around by his own party. His treatment with regard to his Motion 408, and the subsequent muzzling he has received in the House itself, is shabby to say the least.

I don’t personally believe that the way to bring down the abortion rate is primarily via the political route (see attached lecture). All sides of the abortion debate agree that most women who have crisis pregnancies and resort to abortion do so for reasons other than their own. What women need most in such situations is not a blanket law, but rather full information, emotional support, and tangible help. But as long as public leaders are muzzled, and genuine debate is discouraged (if not forbidden), camps will remain polarized at the expense of the information that women need to make a fully informed choice for themselves.

As for Mark’s motion, I have these observations:

1.    The first MP I ever heard speak to the issue of gender-selective abortions in the House was Ujjal Dosanjh (http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/gendergap/selecting-gender.html), former Liberal Health Minister and NDP premier of BC. The motion is hardly original to Warawa or the Conservative Party.

2.    Issues such as these – not only Warawa’s motion but Stephen Woodworth’s and others – are routinely debated both in the U.S. and British legislatures without being deemed inappropriate, unvotable, or disloyal to one’s leader. My heavens, Vice-President Joe Biden’s personal position on abortion, stated publicly in the vice-presidential debate, is completely at odds with that of President Obama.

3.    It would be easy for Mr. Harper (whose control freakiness makes two notable control artists like Chretien and Trudeau look laissez-faire by comparison) to say that he’s just being true to his Reform Party roots; i.e., not taking a position on moral (or, socially conservative) issues as a party but letting the people decide. The two obvious difficulties with this are: a. I have not yet seen a reputable poll of the people that does not overwhelmingly support Motion 408, or more broadly, does not favour restrictions placed on abortion on demand; and, b. Harper takes socially conservative positions on other issues, such as the death penalty and the penal system, and in the latter case has thrown enormous amounts of money at it despite evidence that he is flogging, if not a dead horse, one of advanced age.

4.    There seems to be some idea in political circles that loyalty to the leader is paramount, trumping the most heartfelt, principled, and moral positions of followers. I can’t imagine that anyone would expect such loyalty in any other sphere except politics. It runs counter to all we prize in liberal western countries regarding individual human rights. But when a person spends enough time in Ottawa, s/he begins to confuse that city with the real world, and begins to think that we regular folk think and act like politicians, bureaucrats, and the media do in the capital. What else can explain the appalling behaviour of otherwise grown adults in Question Period, or the ridiculous sweeping statements that politicians are always making that a former professor like myself would never permit an undergrad to get away with in a term paper.

5.    Add to this that the leader spends most of his/her time with handpicked advisors of the same mind, caucus members jockeying for promotions, cabinet members hoping to avoid demotions, and various lobbyist and other sycophants wanting favourable results. When seldom is heard a discouraging word (except from the hated Opposition and unfriendly reporters – and what do they know?), a leader can begin to think that s/he knows more than anyone else, no one has the big picture like they do, and that s/he deserves to be followed despite the deepest moral qualms of his/her followers. That this is transparently false to those of us outside that great Group Think circle simply does not penetrate. And the longer one is in power, the more invulnerable one feels.

Political leaders of the past have mistakenly felt that they could run roughshod over the beliefs of their followers and always survive – I think of John Diefenbaker, Jean Chretien, and here in B.C., Glen Clark. But the time finally came when followers became deserters, and the Wise One fell. It would be a supreme irony if an issue regarding the unborn child, the issue that your leader said would never be raised by his government, would be his coup de grace.

John R. Sutherland