Five Questions for Barbara Kay

by Jonathon Van Maren

File 2440

Barbara Kay of the National Post is a rare kind of columnist—a pro-choice writer who is willing to discuss abortion rationally. Kay, who is the author of several books and has been a weekly columnist for the National Post since 2003, has drawn the ire of Canada’s abortion extremists numerous times for writing columns examining the medical risks of abortion as well as suggesting that abortion, currently legal in Canada throughout all nine months of pregnancy, be better regulated. Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to discuss the issue with her for about a half hour for my radio program, The Bridgehead.

JVM: For a columnist who considers herself pro-choice, you've dedicated a significant number of words to the abortion issue.  Why is that?

BK: Well, although I believe that abortion should be legal and although I did not come to this issue from a religious perspective, I do feel that the lack of an abortion law, the lack of any regulation, the vacuum in this issue, we have that because of ideology and not for any reason that has to do with the procedure itself. This is, for me, a public health issue, as well as an emotional, and a psychological, and a moral issue. I find it unethical to allow women to be undergoing a procedure that can have consequences in their life without informed consent to it, simply on the basis that you don't want to prevent them taking this decision because it doesn't look good for your movement or it doesn't look good for your ideology.  And women say to themselves, “I'd like a little more balance in the information I'm getting about this procedure, and I'd like to hear from all sides, and I'll make the decision based on what's good for me.”  People in the pro-choice movement want the women to make a decision that is good for their movement, and when ideology enters the picture, and women's health or potential health consequences are being ignored so that the numbers look good, or so that, God forbid, the woman should do something the slightest bit inconvenient to her, and make it look as though she cares more about the unborn child than she does about herself, this doesn't look good for their movement.  That bothers me a great deal.  I don't like ideology in any case.  I think the promotion of action based in ideology rather than simply examining situations and making informed decisions on the basis of what you consider to be right or wrong, but we're talking about public policy, of course.  I'm not talking about in your personal life.  You know, you may make decisions based on all kinds of religious or ideological reasons.  We're talking about public policy here.  And ideology should not be guiding public policy. 

JVM: As a pro-lifer, I don’t use the “abortion causes breast cancer” argument. I'm not opposed to abortion because it causes breast cancer; I'm opposed to abortion because it ends the life of a human being. But there's something about that breast cancer argument that seems to really, really anger pro-choice people, for a reason that has always sort of eluded me, and I notice that you wrote about this abortion/breast cancer link in I think your most recent column on abortion, “Hard Truths About Abortion.”  What sort of reaction did you get to that column?

BK: Well, I didn't get tremendous feedback in my email. In fact, the reason I don't anymore is because the feminists, or the hard-core pro-choicers, don't even read me.  I mean, they – on Twitter, I got some very negative reaction on Twitter.  They just say, “She must be insane.” I mean, it's so far off their radar to consider that women should be warned about this kind of thing, and that it should it any way interferes with their choice. That anybody suggests that to them is anti-woman. You know, I get remarks on Twitter like, “Why does Barbara Kay hate women so much?” I have no answer for that. I think I care about women. That's why I want to see them have informed consent before they do this, so I don't think I'm the one that hates women.  I think that these ideologues think of women as kind of objects. You know, statistics, people that are simply part of the bigger picture of a moving revolution forward.  You know, they're kind of pawns in a game of the feminist revolution. 

JVM: That's always been sort of mysterious to me. If we don't ascribe deliberately insidious motives to people like Joyce Arthur, and some of them, I think, do have more insidious motives, and some do not, why would they be taking such an extreme line, as opposed to the positions of people like Naomi Wolf? If you look at it, abortion is going to have an impact.  You're interrupting a natural process.  So whether or not you morally oppose or morally support that procedure, there's going to be some sort of natural reaction to the actions you're undertaking, so it seems to me sort of bizarre and absurd that they would deny that there are at least some bare minimum consequences to that action. 

BK: Well I agree with you, and it's seems to me that if it were any other kind of surgical intervention, and you said to them, “I understand they're doing appendectomies without mentioning the fact that, you know, it tends to put on weight after – you know, something as stupid – or cosmetic surgery.  When you get cosmetic surgery, for example, if you're getting a facelift, what you say to the doctor is “What are the risks?” …They'll say, “Well there's a slight risk that it will paralyse the nerves in your cheek.  And you may have some numbness there, permanently or temporarily.”  Well, fine, that's ok, I'm glad I know that risk, but the risk is very, very tiny, and you either go ahead, or you don't.  And I think they would say that was a fair risk to know, because it has to do with your own person, your own looks, your own well-being. But the fact that they don't want women to know about risks that are associated with abortion, it strikes me as – I can't explain it in any other way except to say that ideology is more important to them than women's health. So who hates women?  I don't know, but it doesn't seem like it's me. 

JVM: A point I've often made is that people do not support Joyce Arthur's take-no-prisoners, all-abortions-are-good position.  I'm a pro-lifer as I said, and I'm in full recognition that a minority of Canadians supports my view too, which is why I believe we need to get out and have discussions with people, have debates, present science, and try to sway people.

BK: Yeah, we have to bridge the gap, because together, I think it's better to make alliances with people who don't agree with you totally but do agree with you partially, because you need alliances. I mean, there's a part of the population that believes that abortion is always wrong.  So they're not going to make any headway if they don't make alliances with people like me, who believe we need strong regulations.  

JVM: I'm interested in your perspective as a journalist, because you've been watching this debate for quite a few years longer than I have, of course. You know the discussion on abortion in Canada does seem to have ramped up in recent years, from writers such as yourself and many others in newspapers across Canada, to MPs such as Stephen Woodworth, Mark Warawa, and most recently Maurice Vellacott that have really been sparking a discussion in Parliament, and while none of those motions resulted in laws, they do keep that discussion alive, to a number of pro-life groups that are emerging with new strategies on the scene in recent years.  Do you think Canada is reaching a place where we finally can actually have a mature, polite discussion on this issue?

BK: Well, looking back over what you could say ten years ago, and what you can say today, I would say we've made some progress… I noticed that the most strident voices have kind of quieted down, and I think the issue that really makes them the most uncomfortable is sex-selection.  Because they used to say a woman should be able to have an abortion for any reason, but when they used to say it, they meant “I can't afford it right now,” or “My boyfriend and I split up,” or all the usual reasons which make sense to a Western mind.  But this came out of left field, that we have thousands of thousands of immigrants from South Asian countries, Pakistan, India, and other countries where a female life just does not have the same respect as a male life, and where the idea of aborting a child because of its sex seems very natural, because you don't want to have ten children, you want to have two. You want to make sure at least one, possibly, you know, hopefully two is going to be a boy. So even amongst educated people from South Asia you often have this attitude, “Well I only want one or two children, because I am educated and I want to have a career, and that, so to please my husband and his family, one of them has to be a boy.”  So it's not that it’s done out of ignorance. It's often the most liberated, supposedly liberated women from these cultures that are often the culprits.  So that hit them out of left field, because what are they saying? It's okay to have an abortion for any reason, including the reason that you feel women are inferior to men.  That's a toughie.  You got to have cognitive dissonance to approve of both those statements.  You can't bridge it very well, and I think it has muted the outcry of “How dare you talk about these things?” and has made it easier to get a bit of a discussion going without the hysteria you used to get ten or fifteen years ago. 

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