Saturday, March 19, 2005

With honors

My alma mater is conferring an honorary degree on Dr. Henry Morgentaler (among others including the less controversial Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians).

Of course, half of the city of London is up in arms over Morgentaler. Imagine! Honoring an abortionist! Gasp!

Honestly, though, I'm proud of the stance Western's taken. It takes real cojones for a university--let alone a pretty conservative one!--to confer an honorary degree on a figure as controversial as Morgentaler. And it takes even more cojones to stand by the nomination in the face of public outcry.

Jennifer O'Brien's Saturday London Free Press article on the Morgentaler nomination quoted Ted Garrard, U.W.O.'s Vice-President (External), as saying, "We are acknowledging the contribution he has made to the question of women's rights and the right to choose. [...] We've gone public with our decision and it is one we will stand by. [...]

"(Morgentaler) has certainly made a contibution--whether or not you accept it--to a public issue in this country."

And that is what merits a degree: achievement.

I have made it no secret that I don't see abortion as a black and white issue. On the one hand, due in large part to my Catholic upbringing, I believe that life begins at conception and that to abort a fetus is to kill a child.

On the other hand, due in large part to my beliefs as a feminist, I do not believe it right for myself or for a government to legislate what a woman can or cannot do with her body. I don't have the right to impose my will (or my judgement) on anyone because of an article of faith.

Furthermore, I understand that making something illegal does not make it go away. Historically, illegality merely has forced things underground (just look at prohibition and, of course, abortion!) When things are legal, though, they can be monitored and regulated more easily. I mean, how can you license doctors to perform abortions, ensuring they are well-trained and current to issues of women's health and safety, if you render their services illegal?

And that is what Morgentaler has done that is so meritous of recognition: in his fight to make (and keep) abortion legal in Canada, he has brought women's health and safety to light.

While many may not agree with his means (and, I'm sure, some--or even all--of his ends), Morgentaler's achievement is undeniable. He deserves that honorary degree. And no amount of public protest can change that fact.

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