Steinbach’s Life Hike 2019

From Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale 1985
(Folio Society edition, illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
June 4, 2019
Steinbach’s Life Hike 2019
Last Saturday I was a part of Steinbach’s annual Life Hike in which about 1200 people peacefully demonstrated their concern over Canada’s lack of restrictions on abortion. [Steinbach is located in Manitoba, Canada, and has a population of 16,000.] Canada has no law on abortionand thus legally permits the killing of an unborn child at any stage of pregnancy.
At the Life Hike, I noticed a handful of counter-protesters (who, I later learned, had traveled to Steinbach from elsewhere). Several of the counter-protesters wore costumes from the television version of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 story The Handmaid’s Tale and they all carried placards bearing messages.
CBC Manitoba reported (accurately) that Steinbach’s pro-life folks would like to have a civil discussion/debate about abortion, whereas the counter-protesters are not open to such debate and would rather (in their words) “just speak out, be loud, smack it down.” And: “We’re not going to open this conversation.”
Because the counter-protesters have in fact entered the conversation by showing up at the Life Hike wielding placards that communicated “pro-choice” messages, I would like to respond thoughtfully to each of those messages. In other words, I would like to continue the conversation that, contrary to their protestations, the counter-protesters initiated.
I will list the placards’ messages that I noticed (perhaps there were more) and then I will assess them (the numbering is mine). 

  • Placard 1: The Handmaid’s Tale is not a manual. – Margaret Atwood.
  • Placard 2: Forced pregnancy kills.
  • Placard 3: Sex is not consent to impregnate. It takes two. But only one dies on a back alley abortion table. Pro-choice saves lives.
  • Placard 4: You trust God but not a doctor? Who is the dinosaur now?
  • Placard 5: If I wanted government in my womb, I’d f*#k an MP.

Placard 1: The Handmaid’s Tale is not a manual. – Margaret Atwood.
Assessment: Yes, this is true. Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel—i.e., a work of fiction—that depicts a dystopian, totalitarian future in which fertile women are forced to get pregnant so humankind can continue. So, yes, The Handmaid’s Tale is not a manual.
What is more, I am confident that all of the people at the Life Hike would not take Atwood’s book as a manual. No pro-life person that I have ever met thinks that fertile women should be forced to get pregnant!
The placard’s message, in other words, misrepresents the pro-life movement by suggesting that pro-life proponents want fertile women to be forced to get pregnant. But pro-life proponents do not want this at all.
Placard 2: Forced pregnancy kills.
Assessment: First, nobody in the pro-life movement is forcing or wants to force anyone to get pregnant. Second, most/all normal pregnancies don’t kill anyone. Third, I’m pretty sure that all pro-lifers would allow for abortion if continued pregnancy actually threatens the life of the mother. Fourth, the incidence of life-threatening pregnancies is very, very low.
Placard 3: Sex is not consent to impregnate. It takes two. But only one dies on a back alley abortion table. Pro-choice saves lives.
Assessment: First, consent to sex (whether condoms or other forms of contraception are used or not) involves consent to risking the outcome, which is to risk—and thereby invite—pregnancy. Saying no to or “disinviting” the deliberately risked outcome (we KNOW contraception isn’t 100% foolproof) is like gambling at Las Vegas and demanding one’s money back after losing it. Taking a risk entails taking responsibility for that risk.
Second, to justify abortion generally by the specter of “back alley” abortions is weird. Back alley abortions are those abortions performed illegally by qualified or unqualified abortionists, usually in a less than sanitary environment. Outlawing abortion might increase the incidence of back alley abortions (but maybe not, as I argue below). Significantly, however, we must ask: Does the killing of an innocent human being by a possibly inefficient killer in an unsanitary environment justify the killing of other innocent human beings by expert killers in a sanitary environment? The answer is, of course, no.
Although the situation of a desperate woman seeking a back alley abortion is terrible and sad—and in need of a life-enhancing solution for mother AND child—we must remember that balking at outlawing abortion for fear of promoting back alley abortions is to suggest legitimacy to the argument that we should legalize killing to reduce the incidence of back alley murders.
Third, as Fordham University ethicist Charles Camosy argues in his book Beyond the Abortion Wars (2015), the criminalization of abortion in general need not lead to increased deaths of women due to illegal “back alley” abortions. Why not? Because abortion has become a relatively safe procedure (due to advanced medical technology) and there is evidence that previous high estimates of “back alley” abortions were fabricated (as admitted by ex-abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of the National Abortion Right and Action League). Moreover, because law serves as a teacher, public policy restrictions on abortion can encourage a culture in which not only pre-natal children are protected but also desperate women seeking abortion are helped.
Fourth, being “pro-choice” on abortion does not save the lives of those who are aborted.
Fifth, there is evidence that abortion also has health complications for many women (see the documentary Hush).
Placard 4: You trust God but not a doctor? Who is the dinosaur now?
Assessment: First, some clarifications. Slogans are sometimes difficult to interpret, but I suspect this is an attempt to smear Steinbach residents as silly backward country hicks (“dinosaurs”) who, like the residents of Dayton, Tennessee, as portrayed in the (inaccurate) movie Inherit the Wind depicting the 1925 Scopes trial, were closed-minded anti-evolutionists, i.e., dogmatic foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalists who don’t trust science but instead trust a literal reading of Genesis. (In this trial, sometimes known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” a biology teacher named John Thomas Scopes allegedly broke the law banning the teaching of evolution in high school. Scopes lost in the trial, but evolution won the day. For a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation of the trial, which shows the mythical nature of the popular movie Inherit the Wind, see Edward J. Larson’s book Summer for the Gods.)
I think the attempt to smear Steinbach residents as hicks or dinosaurs fails.
First, many pro-lifers who are Christians are open to non-literal readings of Genesis and are open to evolutionary theory (without atheist assumptions) insofar as actual evidence supports it.
Second, not all pro-lifers are Christians or even believers in God. Witness organizations such as Secular Pro-Life and Pro-Life Humanists.
Third, whether one trusts in God or not, science and good reasoning show that human life begins at conception—and many doctors believe this, too.
In other words, the placard’s slogan misrepresents pro-lifers and is, frankly, silly.
Placard 5: If I wanted government in my womb, I’d f*#k an MP
Assessment: This placard’s message is silly, too. It’s also rude. And crude. In fact, it’s an embarrassment to intelligent public discourse. It’s also an insult to our local Member of Parliament and his family, not to mention the rest of the participants in the Life Hike, including children.
At risk of fanning foolishness by giving it serious attention, consider this as food for thought: If one doesn’t want anyone in one’s womb, then maybe one shouldn’t engage in an activity that invites them. (And, for additional thought, please reread the first point of my above reply to placard 3.)
Surely, a major reason for the existence of good government is to protect the lives of innocent people, including children. In the discussion about abortion—which ends the life of a preborn child—let’s keep the focus of the discussion on that, without getting rude and crude. In Canada, there is no law protecting children who can be aborted—killed—right up to the moment of birth.
If this isn’t troubling, maybe some perspective is needed.
Consider this: Every year in Canada about 100,000 unborn children are killed by abortion.

The significance of this number may be difficult to grasp, so think about the gun control discussion. Compare the abortion number to the number of homicides that occur yearly in Canada.

Here are the most recent numbers from Statistics Canada for homicides, where “homicide” includes murder, manslaughter, and infanticide, whether a gun is used or not:
o   Year 2013: homicides 509
o   Year 2014: homicides 522
o   Year 2015: homicides 609
o   Year 2016: homicides 612
o   Year 2017: homicides 660
That’s about 580 homicides per year versus about 100,000 unborn children destroyed per year. In other words, approximately 0.6 percent of killings in Canada are due to homicide, and approximately 99.4 percent are due to abortion.
Yes, there are tough cases that might justify abortion. For examples, rape, incest, threats to the life of the mother.
But these tough cases account for a very small percentage of the total abortions. Ethicist Charles Camosy, in his (previously mentioned) book Beyond the Abortion Wars, says the tough cases amount to 2 percent of the total cases. I’ve heard others report that it might be 5 percent. Whether 2 or 5 percent, it’s a small percentage. That means an awful lot of cases are due to social problems.
But, surely, social problems require social solutions, not the killing of children.
This is why over 1200 people showed up at Steinbach’s Life Hike.
Conclusion: I hope my above assessments further the public discussion/debate on abortion in a respectful intelligent manner.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College and will be, at the end of June, retired.

Note to critics: Before commenting, please read at least a few of my previous columns. Thanks.

Past APOLOGIA columns concerning abortion, for additional reading and study:

o  Shout your abortion? September 6, 2018

o   Planned Parenthood is a scam, May 31, 2018
o   Abortion and the hard cases, March 22, 2018
o   Reproductive freedom versus abortion, March 8, 2018
o   Aborting Trudeau’s (other) abortion argument, January 30, 2018                  
o   Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle, January 18, 2018
o   About my abortion columns, October 26, 2017
o   Resisting the Culture of Death, October 11, 2017
o   Ideological investigative journalism, February 16, 2017
o   Abortion, February 2, 2017
o   About outlawing abortions, November 24, 2016
o   Untangling abortion arguments, November 9, 2016
o   We need an abortion law, October 12, 2016
o   Beyond the abortion wars, August 8, 2016
o   We need an abortion law, September 3, 2015
o   We need an abortion law, May 29, 2014
o   Aborting the least of these, May 15, 2014
o   Euphemisms: The good, the bad, and the ugly, March 28, 2013
o   Reflections on Motions 312 and 408, October 4, 2012
o   Is the fetus a human being? May 10, 2012
o   Abortion in the news (part 2), November 9, 2011
o   Abortion in the news (part 1), October 20, 2011
o   On abortion, again, October 16, 2008
o   Acorns and oak trees…and abortion, October 2, 2008
o   Aborting an abortion argument, September 18, 2008
o   Morgentaler’s abortion of logic, September 4, 2008 
Past Winnipeg Sun columns concerning abortion, for additional reading and study:
o   Perspective needed on abortion, March 10, 2018
o   About outlawing abortions, January 7, 2017
Past Political Animal Magazine articles concerning abortion, for additional reading and study:

Academic articles concerning abortion, for even more reading and study:

For support for crisis pregnancy:

o  Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg

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