Please forgive me if I sound confused. It seems like only yesterday when everybody warned that if Stephen Harper and his Conservatives got elected, he would reopen the abortion debate. It was hidden in his agenda. If he had his way, we'd be going back to the bad old days of back alleys and coat hangers.
We did elect him, and he never did go there. But Justin Trudeau did. The man who promised he would never dictate party policy or keep Liberal MPs on a leash has come out as an abortion absolutist. He is pro-choice, no exceptions, period, and anyone who disagrees won't be welcome in the party. "It is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body," he declared last week.
And here I thought the Liberals were the tolerant and diverse ones.
What drives me nuts about this issue is that it's been captured by extremists on both sides. They're not interested in rational discussion, because their positions are a form of social signalling. The 20,000-strong pro-life crowd who show up every year on Parliament Hill use it as a way to profess their religious faith. Mr. Trudeau (and the NDP's Thomas Mulcair) use it as a way to tell us they are champions of women's rights. (They're also hoping they can get nervous urbanites to believe that only they stand between us and a debilitating U.S.-style abortion war.)
In fact, the far extremes of the abortion debate (it should never be allowed versus it should always be allowed under any circumstances) are positions held by next to no one. A strong majority of Canadians are moderates. They're fine with early-term abortion but not fine with late-term abortion (after 24 weeks), unless the mother's health is endangered or the fetus has serious anomalies. (The territory in between is contested, and no doubt always will be.) They strongly disapprove of sex selection, a practice that some ethnic communities have brought with them.
What do Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair have to say about these important exceptions to a woman's right to choose? Nothing. That's because their purpose is signalling, not nuance or debate.
Fortunately, the medical community reflects the broadly held consensus view, which means that in the absence of a law, the regulatory regime we have in place probably reflects the kind of law we'd have, if we had one. The reason we don't have one is that for 26 years, our federal legislators have been too cowardly (or wise) to touch the subject.
But the idea that governments shouldn't legislate abortion, as Mr. Trudeau asserts, is downright idiotic. Abortion is legislated nearly everywhere; even civilized countries impose restrictions. In Germany, it's available in the first trimester, but only after a woman receives state counselling that encourages her to carry her pregnancy to term. After that, it's available only on grounds of medical necessity, and the state doesn't pay unless the woman is too poor to afford it. In Sweden, abortion is entirely legal for the first 18 weeks of pregnancy, but after that, it must be justified on medical grounds. Are these countries backward and barbaric? Someone should ask Mr. Trudeau.
Personally, I'm pro-choice, with some limits. I respect people whose limits are different from my own. I do have problems with people who try to frame all limits on abortion as an attack on women's freedom. And I don't especially like leaders who can't tolerate dissent on issues as profound and personal as this one.
But that's the way liberal progressivism is going these days. It's become as intolerant and doctrinaire as any fundamentalist cult. So someone wants to attend a private Christian law school that is not 100-per-cent in favour of gay marriage? Sorry! She can't be a lawyer in this province. Is global warming a problem we probably can't do much about? If that's what you think, get ready to be roasted at the stake. Worried that legalizing pot might have some downsides? Better keep it to yourself, or people might mistake you for One of Them.
Forget nuance. Orthodoxy has no room for that.