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What I Learned From Henry Morgentaler | Carl E. Olson | Ignatius Insight | July 8, 2008

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I am thankful that I was not in the same room as Henry Morgentaler, recently awarded the Order of Canada, until several years after I was safely delivered from my mother's womb. After all, when you get right down to it (and it doesn't take much time or effort), Dr. Morgentaler seems to have one driving obsession in life: to end the lives of others, specifically, those most in need of protection-- babies in the womb. Some, such as Senator Obama, call it "reproductive justice," and many flit around the semantic edges with talk of "women's rights." But abortion, the love of Morgentaler's long life (he is now 85), is simply the taking of the life of an unborn, innocent child. You know it. I know it. And he knows it.

In case you aren't familiar with Morgentaler, here's a brief overview: he is a physician turned "activist" who spent twenty years (c. 1968-1988) performing thousands of illegal abortions in Canada until a 1988 ruling ended nearly all restrictions on abortion in Canada. Canada now has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, and there are 30 abortions to every 100 births (a rate slightly higher than that in the United States). Morgentaler operates six abortion clinics in Canada that reportedly take in about $11 million a year. He describes himself as a "humanist" and he is an avowed atheist. And he is obsessed with abortion.

Yes, I already said it once. But it bears repeating, especially when that obsession is recognized, lauded, and applauded by the Canadian government, as though it is somehow a great service to humanity to kill other human beings. From the Globe and Mail report:

He was awarded "for his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organization," the Governor General said in a press release. ...

Liberal deputy House leader Marlene Jennings said she expects there will be criticism, but expressed her support for the announcement.

"I'm sure that there are those of all political stripes who will not be pleased, who would like to see constraints on a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body, but I think it's a wonderful day for Canadian women and for women's rights," she said.

Ah yes, the women. But what of the unborn baby girls who will never grow to be women because their rights aren't just ignored, but torn to pieces? According to Morgentaler, it is better for them that they were aborted than born. "Abortion," he insists, "saves children from bad homes and bad lives."

I know he believes that, because I heard him say it. And I listened while people applauded. I've rarely been so thoroughly riveted and sickened at the same time.

January 29, 1991. I was in my second year at Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Caronport, Saskatchewan, about three hours south of Saskatoon. A large group of us drove up to the University of Saskatoon to watch a debate between Dr. Morgentaler and Dr. William Lane Craig, an Evangelical philosopher and theologian. The debate was on "Secular Humanism vs. Christianity." At the time I knew very little about either man. I had an interest in apologetics, but had also found myself, in my two years at BBC, often questioning some of the central beliefs of Christianity, especially the existence of God. I was eager to hear the debate and to evaluate the respective arguments of each man.

It became obvious very quickly that Craig was an excellent debater and a sharp thinker who took the debate seriously, while Morgentaler was not a good debater (nor, I thought, a good thinker), but was there to deliver two basic messages: Christianity is superstitious stupidity and abortion is wonderful. He was, in other words, a very good promoter: of himself and his religious-like devotion to abortion. The contrast was striking, especially since Craig would often articulate Morgentaler's arguments for him--far better than Morgentaler could do for himself. But Morgentaler couldn't care less; his disdain for Christianity was such that he could hardly be bothered to address Craig's arguments with anything more than clichés and dismissive huffs.

I still have my notes from the debate, and here are some of Morgentaler's basic "arguments"/statements:

Christians are people who are afraid to question their childhood faith. They have little or no interest in truth. (This rang hollow to me since I had been spending a lot of time--at Bible college!--questioning nearly every aspect of my childhood faith.)

There is no proof for the existence of God. Therefore, he doesn't exist. "God is the projection of an infantile mind." Atheism doesn't need to be proven since it is obviously true. Humanism is not "true" or "untrue"; it is an "attitude," an approach to life. (Craig ably shredded this in about five minutes.)

Scientific knowledge is the only truth that can be trusted. It should be the basis for morality, not something derived from a two-thousand-year-old "agricultural society." (An interesting thing to say in the middle of Saskatchewan.)

Christianity is bad because it tells us that we are guilty and sinful. It glorifies suffering. It is violent and hateful. It is the cause of many great crimes and wars. It is "enticing" but "irrational." It is "unsupported by any shred of evidence" and is marked by "bigotry, intolerance...and blind faith impervious to reason..." (In other words, it's bad to tell people they are bad. Unless they are Christian, in which case you have a moral obligation to tell them they are bad. Very logical.)

• Abortion is for the women; it is helpful to them, whereas Christians aren't concerned about women. "Abortion saves children from bad homes and bad lives." (To which Craig gave the seemingly obvious response: "To save a child from abuse by killing it is ridiculous.")

"I don't believe in absolutes." (This was in the question and answer session, after an hour or so of making one absolute statement after another.)

Morgentaler and his "arguments" fit well with the so-called "new atheists," whose polemics are not, as many have noted, new at all; they are more like the corrupted, disfigured offspring of the popular atheism of the early 20th century. It is the sort of shallow, angry atheism described by Henri de Lubac in The Drama of Atheist Humanism (Ignatius, 1995), which is entirely negative in character: "it does not represent a living force, since it is manifestly incapable of replacing what it destroys..." (p. 11). What struck me in listening to Morgentaler seventeen years ago was that he offered no meaningful substitute for Christianity; he promised that life would be better, more enjoyable, and more free once Christianity passed away, but it was hardly clear why or how that would be the case. Apparently we were supposed to accept his assertions with blind faith!

Unlike some abortionists, Morgentaler is quite forward and open about what he is trying to do. For example, on his clinics' website, he argues that the abortion of unwanted children is important and necessary because it reduces the rate of violent crime:

Children who are given love and affection, good nurturing and a nice supportive home atmosphere usually grow up to become caring, emotionally responsible members of the community. They care about others because they have been well cared for. Children who have been deprived of love and good care, who have been neglected or abused, suffer tremendous emotional harm which may cause mental illness and difficulty in living and an inner rage which eventually erupts in violence when they become adolescents and adults.

Most of the serial killers were neglected and abused children, deprived of love. Both Hitler and Stalin were cruelly beaten by their fathers and carried so much hate in their hearts that when they attained power they caused millions of people to die without remorse. It is accepted wisdom that prevention is better than a cure. To prevent the birth of unwanted children by family planning, birth control and abortion is preventative medicine, preventing psychiatry and prevention of violent crime.

I predicted a decline in crime and mental illness 30 years ago when I started my campaign to make abortion in Canada legal and safe. It took a long time for this prediction to come true. I expect that things will get better as more and more children are born into families that want and desire them, and receive them with joy and anticipation.

The "logic" used here is perverse: because men like Hitler and Stalin killed millions of innocent people, we must do all we can to kill potential Hitlers and Stalins before they are born or have committed any acts whatsoever. The deeper problem, however, is that Morgentaler's view of humanity is not just mechanistic, but fatalist. There are plenty of people raised in loving homes who end up committing horrible crimes, just as there are many people raised in abusive homes who overcome their upbringing and are loving, non-violent people. Trying to play God in such a way results in actions that are godless and Hitler-like: killing innocent people based on a "logical" belief that is, in reality, based in an irrational "us vs. them" mentality. Hitler believed that Jews (and Christians) were ruining the world, so he set out to destroy them. Morgentaler believes that children born into certain homes will ruin society, so he seeks to destroy them.

The sick, sad irony is that Morgentaler, who is Jewish, spent time in Auschwitz as a young man; his father was killed by the Gestapo. Is this, in some way, the dark source of his efforts to eradicate those who are deemed "unwanted" and may end up in abuse, violent homes? Does he think that his abortion clinics will save us from a future Hitler? It seems so.

Recently I was e-mailing with a friend from my Briercrest days who I had not communicated with for many years. In catching up, I of course spoke of my children, who are adopted. She mentioned that in Canada (she lives in New Brunswick) it is very difficult to adopt, and that she has friends who have been waiting for over ten years to adopt a child. I was stunned. But, sure enough, that seems to be the case. I certainly don't know all of the inner workings of adoption in Canada, but I have to wonder: if Morgentaler is so concerned that children be raised in happy homes, and if he really does care about women and mothers, why doesn't he start up some adoption agencies? After all, it would decrease abortion, it would spare women the emotional anguish and pain caused by abortion, and it would bring joy to couples who want to have children but are unable to by natural means. Isn't that something a true humanitarian would do? Wouldn't that create a more humane society?

The questions, needless to say, are rhetorical. We cannot underestimate what evil does to a soul and to a mind. And what Morgentaler has been doing all these years is evil. Thankfully, it appears that many Canadians recognize that he is not worthy of the praise and respect accorded him by the Canadian government. National Post columnist Barbara Kay, in a July 2nd column, wrote:

Given the determination to override Canadians' clearly expressed will -- 92% of respondents to a recent Web-based poll opposed the honour going to Dr. Morgentaler -- we must conclude that the committee, or those who prevailed over committee dissenters, believe it is their right to exploit the award as a validation of their own ideological bent rather than its intended purpose of recognizing those whose achievements will inspire others to like achievement.

Dr. Morgentaler was not rewarded for revitalizing cities, or entrepreneurial innovation, or combatting disease, or aesthetic originality, creative accomplishments we can all applaud as nation-building acts. He was rewarded for remorseless extremism in a morally dubious cause. He did not originate the idea that abortion should be legally available to women, he simply bulldozed it past acceptable limits.

The question to ask about any Order honouree is: Has he or she made Canada a better country? Without Dr. Morgentaler, Canadian women would have ended up with reasonable, if not unfettered, access to abortion, as have women in all Western nations. With him, we have abdicated all moral responsibility for even discussing the idea that the unborn have rights, let alone protecting them.

Meanwhile, I can thank Morgentaler for one thing: helping a 21-year-old Christian better appreciate why it is more logical, more humane, and more moral to be a Christian rather than an abortion-loving, God-denying, Christian-bashing secular humanist.

Related links:

Here is an mp3 file of one of the Craig-Morgentaler debates. It's not the one I attended, but is, I think, from the same 1991 tour.
"God Is Not Dead Yet," by Dr. William Lane Craig (July 3, 2008. Christianity Today). A good introduction to Dr. Craig's writing and thought.
"Morgentaler's shallow victory," by Father Raymond J. de Souza, (July 7, 2008. National Post).
"How Morgentaler exposed the chasm between elites and the rest of Canada," by David Warren (July 6, 2008. The Ottawa Citizen).
"Morgentaler: A Man With a History of Thumbing His Nose at the People of Canada," by Ted Gerk (July 7, 2008. LifeSiteNews.com). An account of how, in 1973, Morgentaler performed an illegal abortion on Mother's Day on national television, daring officials to prosecute him.
"Bishops: What "Achievements" of Morgentaler's are Being Recognized?", by Tim Waggoner (July 7, 2008. LifeSiteNews.com).

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:

The Case Against Abortion | An Interview with Dr. Francis Beckwith, author of Defending Life
What Is "Legal"? On Abortion, Democracy, and Catholic Politicians | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Illusion of Freedom Separated from Moral Virtue | Raymond L. Dennehy
What Is Catholic Social Teaching? | Mark Brumley
Introduction to Three Approaches to Abortion | Peter Kreeft
Some Atrocities are Worse than Others | Mary Beth Bonacci
Professor Dawkins and the Origins of Religion | Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P. | From God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins
Dawkins' Delusions | An interview with Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P.
Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Ratzinger
Atheism and the Purely "Human" Ethic | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Is Religion Evil? Secularism's Pride and Irrational Prejudice | Carl E. Olson
A Short Introduction to Atheism | Carl E. Olson
The Source of Certitude | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Deadly Architects | An Interview with Donald De Marco & Benjamin Wiker

Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.

He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, their three children, two cats, and far too many books and CDs. Visit his personal web site (now undergoing a major overhaul) at www.carl-olson.com.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


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