Recently Dr Henry Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada, which is the highest civilian honor Canada awards, recognizing "a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation."

Today I read an editorial in The Calgary Herald titled Morgentaler deserves Order of Canada by Catherine Ford, ostensibly about the award, but in practice a summary defense of abortion. Let's examine her arguments to see whether they make sense.

(Click below for my commentary; it's a bit long to put on the blog's front page)

For [ensuring the rights of Canadian women to safe and legal abortions] alone — for the right of all women to be regarded as capable of making a decision whether to bear children — Morgentaler not only merits the Order of Canada, he deserves whatever accolades Canadian women can bestow upon him.

The weasel-wording of the underlined portion obscures that abortion has nothing to do with "the right of all women to be regarded as capable of making a decision whether to bear children." Certainly both sides of the issue agree that women should have the right to choose whether they will "bear children." A woman certainly should choose whether they become pregnant or not; we are talking here however about abortion.

We owe him our gratitude for his unswerving commitment to the cause of women's health.

Except, of course, for the health of all of the would-be women who were aborted. Death is usually considered less healthy than life.

Few other men have fought so vigorously and so single-mindedly for so long on a principle.

I hope that this statement is referring to the pro-choice abortion issue only, because as a blanket statement about the male gender it is either profoundly prejudiced or shockingly ignorant.

That principle is simple: All women should have the right of control over their own bodies.

I agree 100%. Women should have control over their own bodies. Again, few, if any, would disagree. And again the real question is obfuscated: Is the unborn merely a part of the woman's body, like a hand or a lung?

This puts the burden of responsibility — the consequences of any decision — squarely on a woman's shoulders. That is where it belongs. It is her responsibility to make the decisions about reproduction.

I agree that, in one sense, the consequences of the decision fall "squarely on a woman's shoulders." That's the nature of ethical decisions. But all of our laws are based upon ethics; stealing is against the law because it is wrong to steal.

In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing law on abortion, ruling it unconstitutional. Madam Justice Bertha Wilson said a woman's decision to have an abortion "deeply reflects the way the woman thinks about herself and her relationship to others and to society at large. It is not just a medical decision; it is a profound social and ethical one as well."

I'm glad that we recognize that the issue of abortion is multifaceted; it is not just a logical conundrum, it is also a social and ethical issue.

It is also, she wrote, almost impossible for a man to contemplate the dilemma of a pregnant woman thinking about abortion. Pregnancy remains outside any man's personal experience and, wrote Wilson, "he can relate to it only by objectifying it, thereby eliminating the subjective elements of the female psyche, which are at the heart of the dilemma."

While recognizing that it is impossible for a man to truly emphasize with a woman regarding the emotional issues involved with pregnancy, the insinuation that a man can then have no voice regarding such issues is a non-sequitur. Clearly according to the author of the article a man can have a right view on abortion, since she agrees with Dr Morgentaler and applauds him for his view. Dismissal of a viewpoint based on its source (the genetic fallacy) is prejudiced, unfair, and unhelpful.

Those who do not approve or condone abortion are free not to have one. What they are not free to do is insist, because of their personal beliefs, abortion should not be available for a variety of reasons.

Let's do a simple search-and-replace on these statements: Those who do not approve or condone murder are free not to murder anyone. What they are not free to do is insist, because of their personal beliefs, murder should not be available for a variety of reasons. Do you see why this sort of argument doesn't work? Pro-life advocates do not argue that since they have a personal feeling that abortion is wrong "for them" that everyone else should change their own personal beliefs to cohere with theirs. The argument is that abortion is objectively wrong for everyone.

There are always a variety of reasons. Abortion for rape or incest might be permitted.

First we should note that, in any ethical issue (as the author has admitted the abortion issue is) there will be hard cases that are difficult to decide. However, the existence of such potentially morally ambiguous cases should not prevent us from deciding a general rule in the vast majority of cases. (Approximately 1% women cite rape as a reason for having an abortion, while less than 0.5% cite incest.) Moreover, the fact that certain unborn children may be unwanted (perhaps even for valid reasons) should not be enough to take their lives; the homeless or sick are often unwanted and burdens, but does that give us the right to take their lives?

But perhaps the author of the article is merely arguing for abortion in these few difficult cases like rape and incest?

One abortion — everyone should be allowed one "mistake" — could be considered acceptable.

Apparently not. Everyone should get one "oopsie". Not only is this sort of attitude entirely cavalier towards the emotional issues involved with having an abortion (including all of the studies that have shown the extreme emotional distress often suffered by women who have abortions) but also demonstrates that she is arguing for abortion on demand regardless of the reasons why a woman wants to have one. Why then bring up the issue of rape and incest?

It is an absolute within the bounds of standard medical practice, as set by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in each province.

I'm not exactly sure what this ambiguous statement means. Medically, there is little debate that life begins at conception, as Dr Landrum Shettles, the first scientist who successfully achieved conception in a test tube, notes that conception not only confers but "defines" life. The unborn is, in fact, genetically distinct from its parents and is a separate human entity. (It has human parents after all so it is thus human.) I'm not sure it's within the bounds of standard medical practice to kill human beings that we don't particularly like.

He ensured our right and, indeed, our privilege, to make up our own minds about pregnancy — to be unfettered by the opinions of others or the pressures of society.

This merely assumes what the author is trying to argue for, as we saw earlier. Perhaps the argument would go something like this:

1) Women should have the right to make up their own minds about their bodies.
2) The unborn is a part of a woman's body.
3) Therefore, women should have the right to do what they wish with the unborn.

Well, 1) is not in dispute, as I have no interest in telling women what they can or can't do with their bodies. It is 2) that I take issue with. It is the unproved and undefended assertion by this author which flies in the face of logic and medical evidence.

Obviously, his detractors are legion. They include men who rail at the notion women alone should be permitted to decided [sic] whether to bear a child or not.

Silly weasel-wording and straw-man construction (no pun intended). As above, few, if any, men would take such a view. The issue is not a woman's choice whether or not to become pregnant, the issue is what is ethical once they are pregnant.

They include a host of religions and their acolytes who demand unswerving obedience to a set of man-made rules.

I hope that the careful reader will notice that I have not made any appeal to religious doctrine during my discussion of abortion. (More on this in a moment.)

They also include women who, for whatever reason, believe their lives should be ruled by chance, happenstance and blind obedience.

Another straw-[wo]man argument. Pro-life advocates who are female are branded illogical nincompoops.

So be it. That is exactly what choice entails. Every Canadian woman can now say proudly, "My life, my body, my decisions."

And again, the author loudly and proudly entirely misses the point. The entire editorial contained no justification for the view being presented, merely statement and restatement of the view and its fundamental underpinnings without any rational argument.

I will say that it can be easy to miss the point with a controversial issue like this one, especially when reason can quickly become clouded or overwrought with emotional issues. But all of the abortion questions can be reduced to just one: What is the unborn? As Greg Koukl says: "If the unborn are not human, no justification for elective abortion is necessary. But if the unborn are human, no justification for elective abortion is adequate."

The best (short) online resource on this question is Dr William Lane Craig's writing here, which is not, as Ms Ford might expect, based on religious reasoning:

Please read and carefully consider the argument Dr Craig above. This is not merely an academic question, one where learned individuals sit around stroking their beards, smoking their pipes and waxing philosophically on their easy-chairs. As I've posted previously there are over one million abortions performed every month. If abortion really does, as pro-life advocates claim, kill human beings, that is one million morally reprehensible deaths each month.