Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2008
Catholics speak out against award for abortionist
Order of Canada for Morgentaler sparks 'revulsion'
By WCR news services
Fr. Lucien Larre (1989)
"We Catholic Christians have to affirm life," he said. "We can't stand by when things like this happen."
Prendergast also criticized the intrusion of the "secularist viewpoint into the courts and public domain," saying he hoped Prime Minister Stephen Harper would do something about the award.
Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said, "We are shocked and disappointed that our nation's highest civilian honour would be granted to its best-known champion of the culture of death."
Were Morgentaler's views not widespread, McGarry said, Canada's population would now be several million larger, nor would sex selection abortions be taking place in some communities.
The Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women's League have also opposed the award to Morgentaler.
The Knights called on their members to write to the prime minister, governor-general, members of Parliament and members of the Order of Canada advisory council to "express their revulsion."
In reaction to the widespread condemnations, Harper tried to distance his government from the decision.
"It's not a decision of the Government of Canada," Harper said July 2. "That said, I guess my preference, to be frank, would be to see the Order of Canada be something that unifies, that brings Canadians together."
Morgentaler, now 85, lashed out at his critics July 2 during a press conference at his Toronto clinic.
"The controversy or negative opinions come from the usual sources: the Catholic Church, the fundamentalists, the women who are usually against women's rights, and that's not really surprising."
Morgentaler claimed that 80 per cent of Canadians are "in favour of women having access to safe abortions."
However, recent opinion polls show that most Canadians have deep concerns about the lack of any legal restrictions on abortion.
An Environics research group poll from 2004 reported that 68 per cent of Canadians favour some restrictions, 33 per cent say life should be protected from the moment of conception, and 73 per cent support mandatory counselling before an abortion.
The decision also sparked a backlash against the Order of Canada itself.
Father Lucien Larre of Port Coquitlam, B.C., has returned his Order of Canada to the governor general, saying the award should be "reserved for people who can be models or be inspiring for a majority of Canadians."
On July 8, representatives of the Madonna House apostolate based in Combermere, Ont., returned the Order of Canada medal and citation awarded to their founder, Catherine Doherty, to Rideau Hall.
They said they didn't want to be on the same list as an abortionist. Before her death in 1985, Doherty told Madonna House members that the award belonged to all of them.
"Dr. Morgentaler is a very public and symbolic figure. We were moved in conscience to make a public gesture of disappointment and sadness for our country," said Susanne Stubbs of Madonna House.
Ethicist Margaret Somerville, the founding director of McGill University's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said that even for those who think abortion should be allowed in some circumstances, it is "terrible to say it's a non-issue."
Somerville recalled asking him during a television taping last year whether he would perform an abortion on a healthy woman carrying a healthy 26-week-old unborn baby. "To my absolute amazement, he said, 'No, I wouldn't do that abortion.'"
While some of the reaction has described Morgentaler as "evil" and called him a "baby-killer," Somerville makes a distinction between the man and the work he's done, which she called "profoundly wrong."
"I don't think he's an evil person, I really don't," she said.
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