Recently, Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet has tried, in clear yet temperate language, to reopen in Canada discussion of abortion. It is heartening to hear any of the Canadian prelates speaking about this or any other moral issue. That is because Canada (and here I should affirm our love for the people of that country, where my family and I spend every summer) suffers several impediments to discussion that do not apply in the United States. For one thing, if religious people in America think that the television media and the newspapers and the gray old weeklies like Time are against them, that is nothing compared to the homogeneous secularism of the media in Canada. Government in Canada keeps strict watch over what sorts of people are granted broadcast licenses, and what sorts of programs will be aired. The result is that there basically is no such thing as talk radio north of the border; only a few innocuous shows here and there, but that is it. It took many years for EWTN to win permission by Ottawa to be placed on the docket for cable television. For a while, the bitter jest was that EWTN was broadcast everywhere in the world but in Red China and Canada. Religious programming on the major networks is minimal -- the ineffectual and oh-so-gingerly feminist 100 Huntley Street comes to mind. Whatever one may think of the virtues and vices of Fox News, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, the Rush Limbaugh show, the Drudge Report, the Heritage Foundation, and Christian radio, the fact is that in Canada such countervailing voices, whether so-called conservative, genuinely conservative, or religious, are not to be heard.
Canadians also suffer under their relatively new Charter of Rights, and the presumptuous interpretations of said Charter by their supreme court. Someone should -- who knows, perhaps someone already has done it -- hold up for Burkean analysis this ill-conceived and amnesiac document for empowering the central government or, worse, unelected courts, ostensibly to protect individual rights, but actually to enshrine a view of the individual as radically independent of culture, the family, the community, and any moral law whatsoever regarding sexuality. As for the Catholic Church in Canada, it long ago made a devil's bargain with the government, accepting federal money while at the same time capitulating to increasingly intrusive federal regulations and court decisions. In some parts of Canada -- Nova Scotia, for example -- there are no Catholic schools at all. Like the American bishops with their Land O' Lakes hedging and footdragging, Canadian prelates had their own treacherous meeting after Humanae Vitae, at Winnipeg. The liturgical devastators who spoiled whole dioceses in America seem to have been especially busy north of the border, so that in many places, as I am told by sympathetic priests, it is simply impossible to find a parish where, for instance, genuine hymns are sung, or the feasts of the liturgical year are celebrated with appropriate attention.
Anyway, Cardinal Ouellet made his temperate remarks about abortion. The media erupted in outrage. Then ensued something that was disappointing and entirely predictable. Other Church officials straightaway tried to explain what the Cardinal meant and did not mean, and fell over themselves to reassure people that they understood the "tragedy" of abortion, the anguish suffered by women who face an unwanted child, and so forth. They gave the ballgame away -- one fellow even implying that, in conscience, women cannot be held accountable for abortion when abortion is the only choice available.
It is enough to make one tear one's hair out for frustration. Let us be clear about a couple of things. Canada is a great welfare state. All kinds of support, public and private, is available for unwed mothers. Partly as a result of this generosity, unwed mothers are everywhere. In Cardinal Ouellet's province of Quebec, more than half of all children are born out of wedlock. The rate in the rest of Canada is not too far behind.
What "tragedy" can we be talking about here? What none of the churchmen mention is that fornication is simply a way of life in Canada. Why is Tiffany pregnant? Because Tiffany has been shacking up with her boyfriend for two years. Why is Ashley pregnant? Because she went home with a boy after a party once too often. This is not the stuff of tragedy, but of old-fashioned selfishness, irresponsibility, and lust. It's not as if a Canadian woman is walking one day down Dominion Street and, ping! she finds herself with child. Last time I checked, people have to take off their clothes to make a baby.
Ah, but of course the joker here is contraception. People are supposed to be protected from the natural consequences of their actions. And when the pill does not work (and, given enough time, it will eventually fail), then abortion is the backup. Imagine a device in a car that limits speed to thirty miles an hour. I wish to get drunk, and to drive home, and so I do the "responsible" thing, which is to turn on the speed-limiting device. That way, I won't be quite so likely to wrap my car around a tree. Now who would say, if I total my car anyway, that I was involved in something wholly accidental? Wouldn't people say to me, "If you did not want to total your car, you should not have been drunk behind the wheel?" What none of the prelates want to say is yet the most obvious thing of all to say: "If you did not want a child, why were you having sexual intercourse? Why did you take your clothes off? That was not accidental, but deliberate." What then will be the excuse? "I did it because it felt good." "I did it because I could never keep my boyfriend" -- or girlfriend! -- "if I didn't." "I did it because everybody does it, and it's no big deal." "I did it because I was in love." And for these lame reasons, we are to excuse the offense against prudence, against the proper use of one's sex, and against charity toward the child -- who will grow up without the married mother and father he deserves.
And what is supposed to happen -- where is the tragedy -- if the child is brought to term? Again, we are talking about a welfare state here, and one in which there is absolutely no social stigma remaining for bearing a child out of wedlock. "I will have to quit school for a while." "I will have to quit my job, and my boyfriend will have to work nights." "I will have to go home and live with my mother, and we don't get along." We are not talking about matters of life and death, but of preferences and conveniences and delayed or discarded plans. I am not saying that it is easy to take care of a baby, particularly when one is not married. All I am saying is that to call such things "tragic" is to stretch the word beyond all usefulness. The prelates should say to their charges, "If you do not wish to bear a child, you should not be doing what makes women pregnant." And, "Fornication violates the moral law." Indeed, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is gravely sinful. Which means, barring invincible ignorance, and other spiritual conditions known only to God, those who die unrepentant of the evil will take their sweating places alongside those sodomite priests we all pretend to be so scandalized by. Imagine the outcry if the Cardinal had said that.