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Tuesday
Aug142012

In Fairness to the EFC – Abortion and the question of gestational limits

By Don Hutchinson

You may have seen the Survey of pro-life groups on gestational limits and incrementalism piece that was published by The Interim (self-described as “Canada’s life and family issues newspaper”) and reprinted by LifeSiteNews (self-described as “a non-profit Internet service dedicated to issues of culture, life and family”). The Interim also published this editorial on the issue in which it is noted, “For decades, the pro-life movement has experienced division; sometimes over strategy, sometimes over principles” and “People of goodwill can differ over tactics and strategy, but on principles it becomes more difficult to countenance disagreement,” following which the editorial writers go on to state their position opposing initiatives that might support gestational limits on abortion.

It’s editorial comment in both the article and the editorial that put the EFC in similar position to a piece I wrote a few weeks ago in which I stated, “to be fair, at least to me, here’s the full text of my remarks …

Media (whether print/internet like The Interim or blog/internet like LifeSiteNews) understandably arrange comments to fit their story. The privilege of blogging myself provides the opportunity to offer context when and if I think it might be helpful in regard to my own comments. So, to be fair, at least to me (and the EFC) here’s the context.

A writer at The Interim sent this request:

The Interim, Canada’s pro-life, pro-family newspaper, is conducting a survey of pro-life and religious groups on support for incremental strategies to reduce abortion. I would appreciate talking to someone at the EFC or having this survey responded to as soon as possible.

1)      Does your organization support incremental measures to reduce abortion and if so, what kinds of incremental measures.

2)      Do you support gestational limits* on abortion. Would you like to state why?  (* for the purpose of this survey, gestational limits means restricting abortion after a certain point, whether by trimester or some other time period.) 

We request that explanations be limited to 1-3 sentences.

Here was the EFC reply:

Following is our response, confined to the 3 sentences requested:

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has consistently affirmed the inestimable worth of human life from conception, as a special act of God’s creation. Recognizing that in Canada human life in the womb has been legally being terminated without limits after the point of conception until the moment of birth since 1988, the EFC has supported legislative and other legal initiatives that oppose the destruction of human life in the womb. The EFC remains prepared to engage the debate about appropriate initiatives that will protect lives in the womb, even though such initiatives might not protect all lives that we believe are deserving of protection.

The Interim will be aware of current conversations on this very issue. The EFC is not prepared to provide further comment in this forum in light of our commitment to continuing participation in the conversations on this point that are taking place among the leadership of several of Canada’s national pro-life organizations.

At no point in the exchange did we provide the simple “yes” or “no” answer to either question about incremental or gestational limits. This was added by the editors and attributed to me in the article that was published.

Here’s why the EFC did not give a simple answer.

The other groups quoted in the article are “special interest groups,” none of which are the representative voice of an “official” pro-life position. As noted in The Interim editorial, “For decades, the pro-life movement has experienced division; sometimes over strategy, sometimes over principles,” i.e. there are several groups and individuals with different positions on strategy and different understandings of the relevant principles to be applied; and, in fact, the application of those principles.

Special interest groups are organized by individuals with an idea, frequently on a matter of public policy, and then support is sought from others based on the initiative or initiatives of the group. These organizations are valuable and valued in informing public opinion and elected officials in pursuit of policies for good government. Many special interest groups – in this instance I think all of those who responded to The Interim other than the Christian Heritage Party – are not-for-profit action oriented organizations that are not financially or otherwise accountable to anyone other than their financial supporters, whose loss of support might curtail activities. The political party respondent is a not-for-profit required to provide financial reporting.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is different. The EFC is not a special interest group. The EFC is a national association that is accountable to its affiliates and board of directors. As an association, the EFC has 40 denominational affiliates (one of which is the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the country) whose membership comprise about half of Canada’s identified Evangelical population (about 4 million Canadians). The leaders of those affiliates inform the EFC’s position on public policy issues through recognition of the biblical principles for engagement. In the case of protecting the child in the womb, the EFC years ago adopted a Declaration on Human Life that articulates the principles that EFC staff apply in situations like this. The EFC is also a registered charity, established for the advancement of the Gospel; promoting biblical principles on matters of law and public policy in our “political” engagement. As a registered charity, the EFC files with the Canada Revenue Agency a public accounting for our revenues and expenditures and is constrained to engaging in political activity only when it is ancillary/supplementary/complementary to our charitable purposes.

In short, the EFC is not directive of our constituency in stating positions on issues, but may be directional in our efforts based on how we have been directed by principles on which there is an expressed measure of agreement among the leaders of our affiliate base. In the Catholic context, this would be similar to the associations or conferences of Bishops being constrained by the stated positions of the Catholic Church. Of course, some might disagree, but the “official” position remains.

Thus, the reply states:

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has consistently affirmed the inestimable worth of human life from conception, as a special act of God’s creation.

The base principles themselves are stated on the EFC’s website. The EFC does not support concepts or legislative initiatives publicly unless they align with the biblical principles in issue. Thus, the second sentence in our reply:

Recognizing that in Canada human life in the womb has been legally being terminated without limits after the point of conception until the moment of birth since 1988, the EFC has supported legislative and other legal initiatives that oppose the destruction of human life in the womb.

This does not state that we have supported ‘all’ initiatives. However we have supported some key initiatives. I mention two on which the EFC and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) were in agreement.  (I don’t speak for the CCCB, but note that both the EFC and CCCB function with the imperative to advance the Gospel, engaging on public policy based on biblical principles as espoused by “the Church” and not as special interest groups with a specified political agenda.) Both supported Bill C-43, the Mulroney government proposal that died on a tie vote at third reading in the Senate. And both supported a private members’ bill introduced by Liberal MP Paul Steckle in 2006 that did propose a gestational limit on abortion. The bill was not supported out of desperation – as has been suggested as a possible motive elsewhere – but based on biblical principles, application of those principles and evaluation of the specific legislative proposal that was being introduced.

Each legislative or policy opportunity is unique and must be evaluated based on applicable principles. Thus, the third sentence:

The EFC remains prepared to engage the debate about appropriate initiatives that will protect lives in the womb, even though such initiatives might not protect all lives that we believe are deserving of protection.

As stated in The Interim editorial, “People of goodwill can differ over tactics and strategy.” However, I differ from the next part of that statement, “but on principles it becomes more difficult to countenance disagreement.” People of goodwill can arrive at different conclusions as to the principles concerned and their application, especially when those principles are based in theological exposition of the Scriptures, or commentary on the Scriptures. Exhibit “A,” if you will, is our own large international Christian community that has divided into multiple denominations because of differences in understanding of principle and application. Nonetheless, the Church remains a single community, as the apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the church at Rome (Romans 12:3-5):

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

This informed the final note in response to the request from The Interim:

The Interim will be aware of current conversations on this very issue. The EFC is not prepared to provide further comment in this forum in light of our commitment to continuing participation in the conversations on this point that are taking place among the leadership of several of Canada’s national pro-life organizations.

Canada’s current law (or lack of law – a position that is itself disputed in the pro-life community) in regard to abortion legally protects and authorizes abortion from fertilization until completion of the birthing process. Children are being aborted without any form of limitation or restraint because a legislated law permits it and a judge made law does not restrict it (Criminal Code of Canada, s. 223 and the common law – or judge made law – as found in the decision of R. v. Morgentaler 1988). There is a need to discuss and act on protecting the lives of children in the womb. I, and the EFC, want to be part of that conversation.

We have societally been witness in a number of settings to the time required to build relationships because, as it has been said, leaders often gather with an intent to express their position but a blind spot to listening to the positions expressed by others. There is great value in listening, with an understanding that we might or might not find agreement on tactics, strategy or principle. For the conversation to be beneficial, however, we must accept a basic underlying principle of both Christianity and democracy: to treat one another with respect; even when we might conclude the discussion simply having to agree to disagree.

 

 

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