Like most Canadians, I long ago wearied of the intractable abortion debate as a debate.
I am increasingly fascinated, however, by the debate about the debate for what it signifies about debating in a democracy.
For example, there is currently something called the "New Abortion Caravan" crossing the country seeking to persuade a majority that Canada's absence of any legislation governing abortion is unacceptable.
Sponsored by a group called the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, the caravan is the anti-doppelganger of one that travelled Canada four decades ago promoting abortion as purely a matter of private medical choice.
The old debate is new again, it seems. The new initiative has reportedly even prompted the Canadian Auto Workers to threaten to mount counter protests everywhere the CCBR's wheels come to a stop.
It is a curious that a union representing workers who make automobiles would feel the need to have an opinion, one way or the other, on abortion. Even the aborting of babies conceived in, say, mini-vans would not, you might think, be consequential enough to the business interests of the Canadian Auto Workers for it to protest an anti-abortion caravan.
Yet consequential it certainly seems to be. In calling for the counter protests, an official with the CAW's women's program insisted such action was essential to "once again tell (the caravan proponents) that our reproductive rights are not up for debate."
Now, on its face, that statement is clearly factually out of kilter. The existential reality of a cross-country caravan being met by cross-country counter-protests suggests that something is very much "up" and being debated.
What is far more interesting, I think, is the idea of someone declaring, with a ring of quasi-authority, that whatever the skirmish might look like, it is not actually a debate because such a debate is, in fact, closed, over, finito, ergo impossible.
If the declaration sounds astonishingly high-handed, it at least has support from some of the highest hands around. No less than Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said repeatedly that he, too, considers the abortion debate closed.
How does a debate become "closed" within a democracy? Add another wrinkle: how does it become "closed" in a parliamentary democracy that is structured around a parlement—a place of speaking—where, theoretically, all ideas of interest to the populace can be peacefully contested?
In the prime minister's case, of course, the simple answer is raw power. Those who persist in opening troublesome issues will find the caucus door closed against them. But that is not closure. It is silencing. There is a difference.
What about the rest of us? How do we accept that a debate is closed? For we do so accept on certain issues. Neither I nor my children nor my children's children ad infinitum will ever accept, as democrats, that slavery is an institution whose time to return is now. Canada's parliament will be tumbled down and its dust washed away before politicians in this country address themselves to a motion affirming that, in historical hindsight, Nazism and the Holocaust really weren't so evil after all.