With two out of three Canadians agreeing with Dr. Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada, it's getting awfully difficult to condemn his nomination on the basis that he's one of Canada's most divisive public figures. It is obvious from the poll that this is no longer the case.
This week, an Ipsos Reid/Canwest News Service poll showed that 65 per cent of Canadians supported honouring Morgentaler, including a majority in every province. Any government would be ecstatic if it got such a rate of approval.
On the issue of the right to abortion, such numbers point to a major disconnect between voters and Stephen Harper when he disassociated his government from the award and a number of his MPs condemned it. The poll numbers also confirm that National Assembly members got it right this spring when they adopted a motion urging Ottawa not to pass Bill C-484. Introduced by a Tory MP, it could lend a new legal status to fetuses.
The National Assembly motion said: "That the National Assembly recalls the social consensus that exists within Quebec society regarding women's right to choose whether to carry to term or terminate a pregnancy."
According to Ipsos Reid, support for Morgentaler's award rose to 68 per cent among women who are first and foremost concerned about the right to legal and safe abortions. Support from those under 35 stood at 70 per cent. Chances are they see it as a basic, acquired right.
In yesterday's Le Devoir, Ipsos Reid vice-president John Wright observed that in the provinces where support was weaker - the Prairies and Atlantic Canada - "we notice that these are areas where religion is more prevalent."
This seems to be the common trait that binds most abortion opponents. While some private citizens expressed their dismay over Morgentaler's award through the media, the most vocal remain religiously fervent and ultra-conservative so-called pro-life lobbies that are mostly anti-freedom of choice for women.
As for the Catholic Church, it soldiers on against the right to abortion, contraception and sex education. It asked the governor-general to deny Morgentaler his award. In the National Post, Father Raymond J. De Souza, whose views mirror those of the Vatican, went after Raymond Gravel, a Catholic priest and federal Bloc MP. In Le Devoir, Gravel had expressed a more balanced and empathetic view of the issue compared with that of the Vatican.
De Souza's reply displayed the kind of dogmatic and nasty attitude against women's equality rights, including the right to abortion, which has turned so many Catholics into non-practising ones. Bemoaning how complicated it would be to have Gravel expelled from the priesthood or the church itself, De Souza called Gravel a "crackpot," a "thoroughly disingenuous man," a "reliable source of anti-Catholic dissent," a "poseur," a man of "scandalous behaviour" who "betrays both his faith and his office."
So the Morgentaler controversy serves as one more reminder of how impervious most major organized religions remain to women's rights ,within their own organizations and the larger society. The Church of England is the exception to the rule, with its more progressive leaders now risking a schism in the church over the ordination of female bishops.
So it's no surprise that the strongest opposition to women's right to abortion comes from smaller faith-based lobbies such as the Campaign Life Coalition. It has many times branded Morgentaler as a "baby killer." In 2005, the coalition issued a press release branding their opponents as the "usual crowd of homosexual, radical feminist, pro-abortion, international socialist thugs."
There's no question that these lobbies and churches have the right to express their views. The good news is that the Ipsos Reid poll confirms that a good majority of Canadians don't share them and that these small yet vocal lobbies, even if they find support within Harper's government, are more and more in the minority.
This could explain why the Campaign Life Coalition is cash-strapped. It has posted on its website an "urgent appeal" for donations. Its president, Jim Hughes, writes that although he has "been told time and again that we should never worry about money when we're doing God's work," he had "no choice but to arrange to borrow $100,000 from one of our dedicated supporters."
What a pity.
It's hard to call Morgentaler controversial when most agree with him
Poll shows 65 per cent support his award, indicating it's just the religious right against it