Above: 100,000 pink and blue flags planted around Parliament Hill in Ottawa to represent the 100,000 infants who are killed every year by abortion in Canada. (Source)
The topic of abortion has flared up again recently in Canadian political discourse, thanks to a controversial move by the Trudeau government to force Canadian charities applying for the Canada Summer Jobs program to respect “reproductive rights.” As Brian Platt of the National Post points out, “hundreds of churches, charities, day camps and other religious organizations who hire students for summer programming are upset about the attestation, saying they feel like they’re being forced to sign a statement that goes against their beliefs.”
Several commentators have quickly pointed out the inherent problems with this move. For example, David Millard Haskell of the CBC has pointed out that this is a betrayal of Canada’s commitment to freedom of conscience, and that contrary to Trudeau, abortion is not a right guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.* In a similar vein, Derek Ross of the Montreal Gazette has argued that the government must remain religiously neutral, and not force its worldview on churches and charities, stating: “We should all be deeply concerned when state actors insist that private citizens support their philosophical worldview — or any particular worldview, for that matter — as a precondition to equal treatment.”
While I am certainly concerned about Trudeau’s breach of conscience rights, I can’t say I’m surprised at what he has done. While we may lament the idea of the state enforcing a particular worldview at the expense of others, the fact of the matter is that that is what states do whenever they pass any law. If the state criminalizes theft, or murder, or perjury, that is because the state operates out of a worldview that says these things are morally wrong. The same applies to abortion. Either abortion is a “reproductive right” (as Trudeau calls it), or it is the termination of a living human person (as opponents of abortion would assert). There is no stable middle ground between these two positions. One side must inevitably prevail over the other, and whichever side the state comes down on in that debate will determine what kinds of laws it passes.
In other words, you cannot not legislate morality. In fact, morality is really the only thing you can legislate.
This just reflects a deeper malaise in political discourse, both in Canada and elsewhere. Most political pundits are simply not self-conscious of the worldview they are operating out of, and they take their stance for granted without thinking through the reasoning behind it or its implications. This often leads to mutually incompatible positions, such as claiming to respect religious freedom, while curtailing that same freedom when it violates some aspect of Secular Humanist orthodoxy. These pundits are perfectly happy to, as the Charter puts it, “recognize the supremacy of God,” but only insofar as the god being recognized does not make any inconvenient moral demands of us (such as acknowledging the dignity and worth of an unborn person). They shall make an altar to an unknown god, but forbid us from identifying who he is.
Haskell and Ross are both correct in saying that Trudeau’s move violates the Charter rights of people of conscience (under the pretense of defending Charter rights), and for that reason, people of conscience must stand up for their rights. At the same time, they ought to be aware of and point out the fundamental inconsistencies in the philosophical presuppositions behind such moves, lest similar breaches of conscience occur again in the near future, as will inevitably happen if the present trends of polarization and inability to understand the other in political discourse continue unabated.
* – For those unacquainted with Canadian civics, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the Canadian equivalent of the Bill of Rights. It was enacted in the Constitution Act of 1982, and acts as a summary of all the rights that are guaranteed to all citizens under Canadian federal law. The full text of the Charter may be found at http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html.