Letter to the Editor: February 9

A recent Journal article claimed that “Agreeing your organization respects reproductive rights isn’t equal to a pro-choice opinion;” that the required attestation doesn’t threaten individual beliefs.

But “reproductive rights” means access to abortion. The Prime Minister himself said as much; the government which introduced the attestation understands it
as pro-choice.

They claims to target only activities, not beliefs or values. But freedom to believe means little without the freedom to act on beliefs. Would banning the hijab not interfere with the beliefs of Muslims? Are the beliefs of pro-life organizations not threatened, if they are disqualified from funding for acting on those beliefs? According to a recent poll, two-thirds of Canadians oppose third-trimester abortions; 23 per cent think life should be protected from the moment of conception. No wonder hundreds of eligible organizations think the attestation threatens their beliefs.

If the government required applicants to tick a box saying that they respected Charter rights or values, pro-life groups would have no complaints. The Morgentaler case, which struck down Canada’s last abortion law, merely found the 1969 abortion regime, with its inequalities of access and onerous delays, to be unconstitutional; even the proudly feminist Justice Wilson did not find that restrictions on abortion as such violated the Charter.

The absence of any legal restriction on abortion in Canada – in which we resemble only North Korea and China – is the result of politicians’ aversion to controversial debates, not of anything in the Charter. Groups that might wish to remedy this absence can hardly be said not to respect Charter rights.

Pro-lifers believe they are defending the most fundamental right in the Charter — the Section 7 right to life. Scientific
consensus suggests that a human life is present from the moment of conception; abortion, then, takes a human life. If our legal definition of human
life were based on contemporary science, rather than a 400-year-old misconception, abortion itself would be a flagrant violation of Section 7.

Far from violating Charter rights — more than merely respecting them — pro-life groups believe they are working to promote them. And working within the law to spread their understanding of the right to life is not remotely contrary to the Charter.

That pro-life groups reject the Charter’s rights and values is demonstrably false. To state that the attestation does not interfere with individual beliefs is to ignore the many voices of Canadians — often women, recent immigrants, members of religious or ethnic minorities — who claim it interferes with theirs.

To withhold funding from groups on the basis of their pro-life beliefs is not a simple insistence that basic rights be respected; it is an attempt to influence opinion on a debatable issue, and to reward agreement with the governing party. 

Rafe Fernandez, Law '18

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