August 15, 2000 Volume 14, Number 09
Stabbing, RU-486 trials put abortion back in national spotlight
Catholics take strong stance against "abortion pill"
By Kevin Heinrichs | ChristianWeek Staff
The July 11 stabbing of Vancouver abortion provider Garson Romalis, the subsequent media fury, and the disclosure that tests for the abortion pill known as RU-486 are being done in a number of Canadian cities, have put abortion back in the national spotlight.
Following the stabbing of Romalis outside his abortion clinic, some pro-abortion groups fingered pro-life groups and churches that support them.
'I call on churches to stop the rhetoric that helps mentally unstable people resort to violence," said Vancouver abortionist Ellen Wiebe in a National Abortion Federation press release. Henry Morgentaler, the abortion provider who was instrumental in having abortions legalized in Canada, chose not to draw that link. Instead, he called the attack an "isolated incident," theorizing that "there is no conspiracy in Canada, no campaign to attack abortion doctors."
Not that Morgentaler's commitment to seeing free abortions across Canada is diminished. A week later, he was urging Allan Rock to withhold federal funds from provinces that do not fully fund abortions. In an open letter to the health minister, Morgentaler wrote that unless the "offending" provinces (Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) "make sure that medically necessary services such as abortion" are covered under medicare, they should not receive additional money.
Rock wasn't the only politician asked to respond to the abortion issue. The uror around the stabbing incident served as newly elected Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day's most intense grilling by the media to date. Reporters asked if his Christian conservative values and past statements against abortion added fuel to militant anti-abortionists.
Day denounced the violent act and called for stiffer penalties against criminals who commit violent crimes. "I utterly condemn violence and utterly denounce any attack on a citizen at any time. I can assure you I hope that the full weight of law is applied to the individual, hopefully when they are apprehended," he said.
That didn't stop a number of accusations from pro-abortion activists including the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League. It tried to associate Day with abortion shooting suspect James Kopp by pointing out that Day's campaign manager is MP Jason Kenney, who "has strong ties" to Human Life International (HLI). Joan Andres-Bell has spoken at an HLI conference, CARAL noted, and Bell is friends with Kopp.
For their part, prominent pro-life groups in Canada such as Campaign Life Coalition distanced themselves from extremist fringe groups by denouncing "all forms of violence" and offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who stabbed Romalis, according to Jim Hughes, Campaign Life president.
Abortion in a pill
Meanwhile, a drug known as RU-486 further fanned the abortion debate. RU-486, or mifespristone, commonly known as the abortion pill, began clinical trials in four Canadian cities in late June and early July. The trials weren't announced until almost a month later due to fears of violence. The drug, which must be taken within the first five weeks of pregnancy, halts fetal development. A second drug, prostaglandin, is taken two days later which prompts the uterus to expel the fetus. One thousand women will take part in the Canadian trials.
RU-486 has been available in France since 1989 and is also used in a number of other countries including China and Britain. Some women's groups hail the drug as an alternative to surgical abortions.
But it's still an abortion, argue pro-life groups. In Canada, the Catholic church has been especially vocal against the pill's introduction. In addition to health risks, Richard Haughian, president of the Catholic Health Association of Canada, wrote in an open letter to health minister Rock, that if the drug is approved, it would lead to an overall increase in the number of abortions in Canada. "[Abortion] terminates the pregnancy, shows a disregard for the underlying needs of pregnant women and does not address the injustices that have made so many pregnancies unwanted in the first place."
Vancouver Archbishop Adam Exner urged church leaders and members to speak out against the "horrendous" clinical trials, warning that "this is one of the most crucial issues for us as a country."
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops added its voice, writing in a letter to Rock: "This is deeply offensive to the deeply held beliefs and religious sensibilities of people from across the country…. Clinical trials of a lethal drug solve nothing."