News Round-up - mid-April 2021

In this news round-up, we discuss Prince Philip's death, Bill C-233 on sex-selective abortion, and the impending federal budget.

As Ontario’s lockdown gets worse, the news cycle is heating up in Canada and abroad. There’s lots to look into! Today I want to highlight just three pieces that I think matter from a worldview perspective.

Prince Philip Passes At 99

The first one is the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth, who passed away at age 99. His funeral was on Saturday.

Philip was born in Greece into the Greek and Danish royal families, and he was actually related to Elizabeth. They were third cousins, both being great, great grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Philip and Elizabeth met in 1939, when he was 18 years old and she was 13; and they were engaged in 1946 and married in 1947, which is to say that their marriage lasted 74 years. Speaking of him in the Diamond Jubilee of her kingdom in 2012, the Queen said that he was her “constant strength and guide.” Upon his death, she is remarked to have said he left “a huge void in her life.”

Philip was not the King due to the way the British monarchy succession rules work. Instead, he had the title of Duke of Edinburgh, having given up his Greek and Danish royal claims when he married the Queen. His funeral in England, like the ceremony in his honour here in Canada, were necessarily scaled down due to the pandemic, but he was once again acknowledge as a man of service and loyalty to the Queen and the Crown.

Philip wasn’t immune to past and present controversies of the Crown, including the recent turmoil resulting from Harry and Meghan giving up their royal duties, and their subsequent interview with Oprah Winfrey. Modern societies continue to question the role of monarchy in modern times. Recent news on this include Barbardos' decision to remove the Queen as their head of state, planned to complete in November this year.

This brings to mind a matter I’ve had heard acquaintances voice: what is the relationship between Christianity’s kingdom images, and earthly kingdoms? Is King Jesus a hard sell to a world that disregards monarchy? I won’t expand on this today, but I like the topic enough that I’ll devote a full upcoming episode to answer these and other questions about kingdoms. For now, simply in terms of what I can only imagine is to lose a lifelong companion, I’ll say that my condolences and prayers go to the Queen.

Bill C-233 (Sex-Selective Abortion)

Moving on to Canadian politics, Bill C-233 was discussed in Parliament this week. This bill was introduced by Conservative Yorkton-Melville MP Cathay Wagantall. It’s a private member bill that seeks to amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence for a medical practitioner to perform an abortion knowing that it’s sought only on the grounds of the child’s genetic sex. Abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy since 1988’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the R versus Morgentaler case. Bill C-233 had its second reading in the House of Commons last Wednesday, and two things were interesting to me.

The first one is that it is unusual to see this topic debated in Parliament. Not that this is a new topic. Late Conservative Langley MP Mike WArawa tried to table a similar bill almost a decade ago, but he was prevented from doing so by Stephen Harper. The question of whether party leaders will allow members to table bills on abortion, or allow MPs to vote their conscience freely in these matters, is very prominent in election cycles.

The second thing I found interesting was that the discussion around the bill was entirely focused on gender. Only female MPs participated in the discussion, which has become common when discussing abortion especially in politics. As recently as 2015, politicians like Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden would use a line about how they were personally opposed to abortion from their belief system, but couldn’t impose these views on others. In recent years, this line has fallen out of favor. These days, male politicians prefer to say that this is a matter for women. It’s a popular refrain, but ultimately a fallacious argument. Logical propositions and debates have no gender. In fact, in Canada, like in the US and many other countries, it was majority-male Supreme Courts that struck down prohibitions on abortion.

Last Wednesday’s arguments revolved around women rights and gender-based discrimination, on both ends of the debate. The bill is pitched as seeking to prevent discrimination against unborn girls, whereas opponents claim that it discriminates against women, and particularly against certain ethnic or cultural minorities.

Why Won’t the Abortion Debate Die?

The bill will continue its process through Parliament, but it is extremely unlikely that it will pass. And if you have progressive views, you may ask yourself: why won’t this go away? Why is this topic still being debated, 33 years after R versus Morgentaler? Why won’t social conservatives give up on this?

And here’s my opinion. I think there are two fundamental reasons for that. The first one is that from a legal perspective, abortion is not a closed matter in Canada Despite what some think, there is no fundamental right to abortion. This is something that even high profile politicians and intellectuals get wrong from time to time. There is no Charter right to abortion. What R v Morgentaler did was find that restrictions over abortion were unconstitutional – deemed a violation of women’s liberty rights under Charter Section 7. Bertha Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the only female justice at the time of R vs Morgentaler. In her assenting opinion, she stated that the individual’s conscience in the decision of abortion ranked higher than the state’s; but also, that the state had an interest in protecting the new life in the womb, rooted in Section 1 of the Charter. The ruling didn’t specify at what stage of development this happened.

You could argue that this was her particular opinion; that yours and mine may DIffer in a number of ways from hers. Regardless, this is the legal opinion of a Supreme Court of Canada justice in a case about abortion, and it defines the legal state of the matter in this country at the moment. And as you see, it’s not clearly cut. We covered this tension between rights “Whose Right is it Anyway?” (article, podcast), where I used euthanasia and Bill C7 to illustrate the process by which existing rights are re-interpreted and expanded to cover modern concerns. This process applies equally to abortion.

The second reason why this topic won’t go away, and it’s a more meaningful reason, is that abortion is inherently a morally grey area. Assenting in R v Morgentaler, Justice Wilson wrote: “the decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision.” And it has to be that way, because in a public policy and social setting, there’s nothing else to appeal to in this case.

We could think of science, but as others we’ve discussed before, this matter is just another example of science being able to shed light in its area of expertise, but not being able to answer moral questions. Scientifically, there’s no doubt that the unborn is, from inception, a human being. Distinct from the mother, with unique DNA, and potentially different gender and blood type. Fully capable of sustaining life – of consuming nutrients and oxygen to drive self-growth into subsequent stages of development; attributes that no arbitrary clump of cells possess.

Therefore, the only remaining question is intrinsically moral. Under what circumstances is it right to deny a human being the fundamental right to live based on arbitrary conditions, like size, age, location, or stage of development, for the sake of protecting someone else’s rights? And if the answer isn’t “none”, it intrinsically implies a tradeoff, a compromise. It’s not black and white, and not a “done deal”.

Progressive intellectuals understand this, and it’s why they fight hard and sometimes angrily about this. It’s why they keep asking politicians to not even allow these debates to come up in Parliament. It’s precisely because this is not a settled matter. Public sentiment around it will inevitably fluctuate over time.

Therefore, if you lean progressive on these ideas, I would humbly suggest you to prepare for this discussion to drag on for quite a few years to come

The Federal Budget

Coming to an end here, I would like to talk a little bit about the federal budget. As we know, the federal government is expected to deliver its first budget in two years on April 19 To that effect, key cabinet members have approached several entities, like opposition party leaders and business and banking leaders, to get feedback and to socialize priorities in advance. Several other sectors of the economy have publicly voiced their concerns and hopes around the budget.

In normal times, the introduction of a federal budget amounts to a motion of confidence, which is often risky for a minority government. However, as several pundits have observed, no opposition party wants the political liability linked with triggering an election in the midst of a pandemic; which coupled with the solid advantage that opinion polls are giving to Liberals at the moment, essentially make the budget more akin to a majority government bill. I still expect the debate around it to be acrimonious and intense. It certainly should be of utmost interest and importance.

Much of what is expected at this point was hinted at in last fall’s Economic Statement, where the government outlined plans to spend significant amounts of stimulus money on greatly expanded child care and early learning, green energy projects, and measures to reduce inequality. We explored some of these themes when we discussed the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” proposal (article, podcast) – without conspiracy theories. Next week, we’ll probably spend some more time reviewing the budget’s main points, and the ensuing debate, from a worldview perspective.

There is much much more going on in the world right now, but this is what I wanted to focus on today. We’ll be back with more commentary on relevant news from a Christian standpoint next week.

Published: April 19, 2021