There’s been much debate recently concerning politicians who claim to be pro-life but yet promise, hand-on-heart, that they will not do anything about the abortion issue whatsoever should those ex-utero voters they are appealing to decide to propel them to power. I am not making sweeping accusations of hypocrisy here. Many of these politicians are actually sincere in their pro-life beliefs: They have voted for motions and legislation when the opportunities arose, they are willing (to some degree or another) to articulate their pro-life position, and they genuinely sympathize with the pro-life cause. But in spite of all of this, whenever they begin to tread the path towards power, they suddenly begin to assure everyone that they are only personally pro-life, but that they would never do anything so insane or unthinkable as to actually broach this issue politically.

Now, I understand why politicians do this. The majority of Canadians support abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, and the dwindling abortion movement has waged a scorched-earth campaign against anyone who so much as mentions that babies in the womb kick. Stephen Harper was not wrong when he stated that it is the task of the pro-life movement to shift the culture on this issue before politicians have a mandate to begin legislating on that emerging consensus. That responsibility lies on us, not on the politicians. But that being said, there are a few reasons I am suspicious of claims that they will follow the culture once it begins heading in the right direction.

The first reason is that the majority of Canadians already want some protection for children in the womb. A public consensus already exists, for example, on third-trimester abortion: Canadians are against it and would be supportive of legislation restricting it. According to the lobby group We Need A Law:

According to a June 2012 survey commissioned by Postmedia News and Global TV as well as several Abacus Data polls taken in 2011, the majority of Canadians (60%) believe that the life of the unborn should be protected at some point during the pregnancy. Also, an Environics poll in 2011, found that when asked specifically when they’d like to see abortion illegal, 77% of respondents answered with, “in the last three months.” As for sex-selective abortions, a 2011 Environics poll indicated that 92% of Canadians think it should be illegal. Clearly Canadians want a law restricting abortion.

If the argument that politicians can only legislate where a consensus exists is being made by such politicians in good faith, then why are they not making any attempts to legislate where that consensus does exist? Over 90% of Canadians would support legislation against sex-selective abortion. Is there anything else that such a massive plurality of Canadians is in agreement on? If pro-life politicians will not even consider legislation that an overwhelming majority of Canadians would support, why should we believe them when they tell us that we simply need more Canadians on board? Would tipping the percentage of Canadians who support a late-term abortion ban from 77% to 80% do the trick? Or increasing the number of Canadians who oppose sex-selection abortion from 92% to 95% of the population?

Obviously, fear of touching the issue altogether plays a significant role in the feeble excuses we hear for inaction. But that brings us to another point: politicians generally seem either incapable or unwilling to seize the moral high ground on this issue. They will not point out, for example, that restricting abortion in the third-trimester is not the purview of crazy right-wing radicals. It would simply be following the example of nearly every other nation on earth—and not doing so continues to ensure that our abortion-at-any-time feticide free-for-all places us in the distinguished company of North Korea and China. Proposing legislation on abortion is not “unCanadian” or “religious extremism.” It is taking the British, or French, or German, or Israeli approach to the issue. The fact that pro-life politicians consistently allow Canada’s abortion fringe radicals to define the parameters of this issue is one of the reasons that the abortion issue only remains toxic for the pro-life side rather than the pro-choice side, and why those pushing for restrictions are portrayed as the extremists in defiance of international reality. Until politicians are willing to counter the lies and misrepresentations pumped out by Canada’s withering pro-choice movement, abortion activists will continue to own this issue politically.

Imagine if a pro-life politician were to respond to the hysterical fearmongering by pro-abortion politicians by describing a late-term abortion procedure—in London, Ontario, for example, Dr. Fraser Fellows kills late-term babies past 20 weeks’ gestation by clamping tools on their limbs and twisting them off so they hemorrhage to death prior to exiting the womb—and asking them to defend it. Suddenly, the language of human rights would be put into battle against the suddenly feeble-sounding appeals to “reproductive rights,” and it would be the abortion activists who are on the defensive. It is not surprising to me that abortion activists consistently lie about the procedure they champion, but it is staggering to me that pro-life politicians almost universally let them get away with it. We are not losing the abortion debate in political circles, we are forfeiting it.

The second reason that pro-life politicians consistently do damage to the pro-life cause is that they almost always characterize their pro-life views as subjective ones. For example, politicians often make statements such as: “I am pro-life because I believe life begins at conception.” But the simple fact is that whether or not you believe life begins at conception is irrelevant. Life does begin at conception, and there is an iron-clad scientific consensus to back this up. To cite only one of many examples, Keith L. Moore’s embryology textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology states that, “Human development begins at fertilization, when a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte to form a single cell, a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” 

Imagine if pro-life politicians highlighted the scientific evidence rather than appealing to their ethical or religious beliefs, and proposed abortion legislation as science-based public policy. So far, that hasn’t been attempted in any significant way, which allows the abortion activists to insist that pro-life politicians would like to force their religious beliefs on women, rather than attempting to restrict the barbarism inflicted by the abortion industry on real human beings who are being ignored by our political class. The pro-life case has not been articulated and rejected, it has simply not been articulated. This has to change before we can reasonably expect the nature of the debate to change.

A final thought: Pro-life Canadians should not expect much from our pro-life politicians. To get results, we will need to demand them. Even those politicians who are genuinely pro-life will, when faced with the inevitable conflict that will arise from bringing up the issue, decide that this is an issue for another day. Pro-lifers must realize that there is never going to be a “right time” to bring up abortion legislation, because there is never a “right time” for a politician to ignite a firestorm of opposition over a controversial issue. Barring a pro-life politician who embraces the example of William Wilberforce, we will have to recognize that the political arm of the pro-life movement needs to function like a lobby group that demands results, rather than simply elects those politicians who have the right values in hopes that they will exercise them.

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