Margaret Somerville

Opinion

What is there to hide?

Margaret Somerville
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“‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised that, for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

Two current abortion-in-the-public-square situations in Canada show abortion is much more than a pro-life versus pro-choice conflict, it’s a pro-democracy versus anti-democracy one.

The furor over Stephen Woodward’s private member’s motion in Parliament to discuss whether the unborn child is a human being has been front and centre in the media. Politicians, including the prime minister, and pro-choice advocates have attacked the motion by insisting either there’s nothing to discuss or debate must be silenced. But these are anti-democratic stances taken in our primary democratic institution, in relation to a foundational societal value — that of respect for human life.

Likewise, a recent change in Ontario law to restrict access to abortion information manifests the same clash between pro-democracy values (pro- freedom of speech, pro-transparency, pro-accountability, and so on) and anti-democracy values (denial of these rights). Contrary to strong contemporary trends in the opposite direction, this change moves Ontario from an earned trust position (“Trust me, because I’ll show you that I can be trusted by keeping you fully informed”) to a blind trust position (“Trust me, because I know what’s best for you and will decide for you, so you don’t need information.”)

Effective January 1,  section 65 the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) was amended to exclude records relating to the provision of abortion services. This means “individuals no longer have a right to make access requests under Part II of FIPPA to an institution for records in the custody or under the control of that institution relating to the provision of abortion services.”

All information relating to abortion held by government institutions or departments in Ontario is now secret. We know doctors billed for over 44,000 abortions in Ontario in 2010, but this type of information will in future be hidden from the public.

This change has ethical implications. It might also raise legal issues. For instance, a right to freedom of speech is seriously curtailed if one is prevented from obtaining the facts needed to form one’s opinion. And we often speak of such restrictions, when they are imposed in non-democratic countries, as a breach of human rights.

This amendment to section 65 was slipped in, it seems silently, as part of Bill 122, an act to increase the financial accountability of organizations in the broader public sector, hardly a title that would alert one to its presence.

Hansard does not record any debate in the Ontario legislature or at the committee hearings on Bill 122 on this change. There appear to be no media reports, which makes it unlikely most Ontarians were aware of it and could have expressed their views to their MLAs prior to its enactment.

FIPPA is meant to augment the transparency, openness and accountability of all levels of government for their decisions and actions, and our right, as Canadian citizens, to participate in democracy and democratic decision-making. My guess is that if the same approach were taken to information on breast cancer, people would be outraged.

The Ontario government might have enacted this law as a response to two kinds of fear: The fear that abortion information could trigger violence between its supporters and opponents, and the fear of political fallout if that happened and from the facts on abortion becoming known.

In the past, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has refused a request under FIPPA for information regarding OHIP records related to abortion, citing “danger to life and physical safety”, “danger to security of a building”, “endangering the safety of service providers”, and a danger of pro-life “violence”, if the information were released. On appeal, the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner ordered the ministry to disclose the requested statistics.

A similar situation arose in British Columbia, with an initial denial of access to information on abortion being overridden, on appeal, by the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner. The BC legislature then stepped in to exempt abortion information from disclosure, although the exemption is narrower than Ontario’s.

In 1999, a nurse from Calgary’s Foothills General Hospital leaked confidential documents on terminations of pregnancy on genetic grounds to the Alberta Report. The Calgary Regional Health Authority won an injunction preventing the Report from using the information.

The Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that the patients’ and doctors’ rights to privacy outweighed the public’s right to know what goes on in a hospital, which is correct with respect to personal, nominal information.

Apart from the fear politicians have that whatever they say regarding abortion will lose them votes, the Ontario MLAs might also be trying to pre-empt a pro-life argument that has become increasingly prevalent — that we shouldn’t use public health-care funds for abortion. That argument would be much less compelling if it can’t be shown that multimillions of taxpayer funding are being spent on it.

The government might also want to avoid de-funding abortion, because of the highly vocal outrage that would generate in the pro-choice lobby. Or perhaps, politically, they just want the issue of abortion to go away and hope that secrecy of information will help to achieve that outcome. But that’s not how democracy is supposed to work.

Margaret Somerville is Samuel Gale Professor of Law and Director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics & Law and is an international leader in the discussion of complex ethical questions in medicine. This article reprinted with permission from mercatornet.com.



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‘Little miracles’: Mom gives birth to naturally-conceived quintuplets after refusing ‘selective reduction’

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An ultrasound of the five different compartments, each with its own baby, inside Kim's womb.

AUSTRALIA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A 26-year-old Australian mom has given birth to five healthy babies, all conceived naturally, after refusing the doctor’s advice that she must abort three of them in order to give the remaining two a better chance at life. 

“After my initial ultrasound I was told I could consider the selection method to give 2 babies the best chance in life,” wrote mom Kim Tucci in a Facebook post last September. 

“I watched a YouTube video on the procedure and I cried. I could never do that! Was I selfish for not giving two the chance of 100% survival? All I knew is that I already love them and that every heart beat I heard I connect with them more. For me life starts when a heart starts beating and all I know for sure is that I will do whatever it takes to bring them into this world healthy,” she wrote. 

Last Thursday Kim and her husband Vaughn welcomed the five new members into their family — one boy and four girls —increasing the number of their children from 3 to 8. The babies were born at 30 weeks, 10 weeks early, due to insufficient space in Kim’s womb. They weighed on average about 2.5 pounds. 

The quintuplets’ story began last March, after Kim and Vaughn had been trying for six months to conceive just one more child for their family. Due to health complications, Kim wondered if she would ever become a mother again. 

After what she thought was an extra long cycle, she decided to take a pregnancy test. 

“I was feeling tired and a little nauseated and thought I would take a pregnancy test just to get the ‘what if’ out of my head. To my shock and utter excitement it was positive,” she wrote on a Facebook post.

The parents got the shock of their lives when doctors confirmed in an ultrasound examination that there was not one baby, but five. 

“After a long wait for the ultrasound we finally went in. The sonographer told me there were multiple gestational sacks, but she could only see a heart beat in two. I was so excited! Twins!”

“I was moved to another machine for a clearer view and had the head doctor come in and double check the findings. She started to count, one, two, three, four, five. Did i hear that correctly? Five? My legs start to shake uncontrollably and all i can do is laugh. The sonographer then told me the term for five is ‘quintuplets,’” Kim wrote.

Even though Kim began to feel stretched to the limit with all those human lives growing inside her, she chose to focus on her babies, and not herself, referring to them as “my five little miracles.” 

“It's getting harder as each day passes to push through the pain, every part of my body aches and sleeping is becoming very painful. No amount of pillows are helping support my back and belly. Sometimes I get so upset that I just want to throw my hands up and give in.”

“Sometimes my pelvis becomes so stiff I can barely walk and my hips feel like they are grinding away constantly. I'm finding it hard to eat as I basically have no room left in my stomach, and the way it is positioned it's pushed all the way back with the babies leaning against it.” 

“My skin on my belly is so stretched its painful and hot to touch. It literally feels like I have hives! No amount of cream helps relieve the discomfort. I have a lot of stretch marks now. Dealing with such a huge change in my body is hard.” 

“Is it all worth it? Yes!!!! I will keep pushing through,” she wrote in one Facebook post days before the babies were born. 

The newborns' names are Keith, Ali, Penelope, Tiffany, and Beatrix. They were born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco, Western Australia. Mother and babies are reported to be doing well. 



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UN rights chief tells Catholic countries to legalize abortion over Zika virus: bishops and cardinal react

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GENEVA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- The United Nations, following the lead of international abortion activists, is now urging Latin American countries hit by the mosquito-borne Zika virus to lift restrictions on abortion for pregnant women who have contacted the virus and whose pre-born children may be at risk for birth defects, including having smaller than normal heads. 

The UN human rights office said today that it is not enough for South American countries to urge women to postpone pregnancy without also offering them abortion as a final solution. 

“How can they ask these women not to become pregnant, but not offer… the possibility to stop their pregnancies?” UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told reporters. 

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that governments should make available contraception and abortion services.

“Laws and policies that restrict (women’s) access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice,” he said.

But Brazil’s bishops strongly asserted yesterday that efforts should be made to eradicate the virus, not the people who may be infected by it. 

The disease is “no justification whatsoever to promote abortion,” they said in a statement, adding that it is not morally acceptable to promote abortion “in the cases of microcephaly, as, unfortunately, some groups are proposing to the Supreme Federal Court, in a total lack of respect for the gift of life.”

Honduras Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has also come out strongly against the notion of “therapeutic abortions” as a response to the problem. Unlike Brazil where abortion is legal in the case of rape or health of the mother, abortion remains entirely illegal in Honduras.

“We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion,” the cardinal said in a homily at a February 3 Mass in Suyap. “Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist. Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives,” he said. 

While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency February 1 on account of concerns over the virus, critics have pointed out, however, that not one death as resulted from the virus. Even on WHO’s own website the virus is described in mild terms. 

“It causes mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis. Zika virus disease is usually mild, with symptoms lasting only a few days,” the website states. “To date, there have been no reported deaths associated with Zika virus,” it added. 

Critics suspect that the crisis is being manipulated to advance an anti-human agenda on the pre-born. 

“Is Zika, actually, a hideous virus that threatens to spread uncontrollably across the world creating an army of disabled children with tiny heads and low IQ’s? Or might this be a willful misinterpretation of the scarce data to manipulate public opinion and legislatures?” wrote pro-life critic Mei-Li Garcia earlier this week.

“It becomes very clear that the publicity surrounding this story has a very little to do with medicine and a lot to do with a convenient crisis that is being used by those pushing for the legalization of abortion around the world,” she wrote.



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Hillary’s litmus test for Supreme Court picks: They must ‘preserve Roe v. Wade’

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DERRY, NH, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Hillary Clinton has a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees - several, in fact. At a Democratic event on Wednesday, Clinton unveiled her criteria in selecting a judge for the nation's highest court.

“I do have a litmus test, I have a bunch of litmus tests," she said.

"We’ve got to make sure to preserve Roe v. Wade, not let it be nibbled away or repealed,” she said.

There have been over 58,000,000 abortions since the 1973 court ruling legalizing abortion in all 50 states, according to National Right to Life.

That echoes her recent call to arms speech before Planned Parenthood last month, when she stated that taxpayers must fund abortion-on-demand in order to uphold the "right" of choice.

“We have to preserve marriage equality,” Clinton said, referring to last summer's Obergefell v. Hodges case, a 5-4 ruling that redefined marriage nationwide. “We have to go further to end discrimination against the LGBT community."

Her views differentiate her from the Republican front runners. Ted Cruz has called the court's marriage ruling "fundamentally illegitimate," and Donald Trump told Fox News Sunday this week that he would "be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things." Marco Rubio has said he won't "concede" the issue to the one-vote majority.

All Republican presidential hopefuls say they are pro-life and will defund Planned Parenthood.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, raised the makeup of the Supreme Court early last month in New Hampshire, saying it receives "almost no attention" as a campaign issue.

On Wednesday, Hillary said "the next president could get as many as three appointments. It’s one of the many reasons why we can’t turn the White House over to the Republicans again.”

Clinton said her judicial appointees must also reverse the Citizens United ruling on campaign finance and oppose a recent decision striking down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013's Shelby County v. Holder, justices struck down Section 4(b) of the act, which said that certain states and jurisdictions had to obtain permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

At one time, most politicians frowned upon any "litmus test" for judicial nominees, emphasizing the independence of the third branch of government. "I don't believe in litmus tests," Jeb Bush told Chuck Todd last November.

But with the rise of an activist judiciary in the middle of the 20th century, constitutionalists have sought to rein in the power of the bench.



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