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Conservatives turn into nanny-state advocates on issues of morality.

With regards to the “brouhahah” some on the conservative right are having over Dr. Henry Morgentaler being awarded the Order of Canada, I find it extremely interesting that a lot of these conservatives are the same types decrying that the government or the state impose too many regulations on Canadians; that we are home to the nanny-state, and that there is too much government intrusion in our lives.

As an example, remember the child-care program that former PM Paul Martin and the federal Liberals brought in? According to the Conservatives and their allies, that was the oppressive federal government dictating to Canadian families what they should do for child-care; that they were being deprived of the freedom of personal choice.

When it comes to issues of morality however, these supposed conservative libertarians turn absolutely hostile and show they are no libertarians at all – or at least hypocritical ones. Remember when then-Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau brought in reforms to the Criminal Code that among other things decriminalized homosexual acts in private and declared that the state had no business being in the bedrooms of the nation, and what was done in private between consenting adults should have nothing to do it the Criminal Code? That’s about as libertarian an act and a statement as one can be, yet that would be the start of the right-wing’s hatred of Trudeau – that somehow in this case, the state needed to regulate this. We have seen that continue on with them right through to the present with gay marriage being legalized.

The abortion issue in Canada is another moral issue where “right and wrong” has been left up to the people involved who face this tough choice to decide what is ethical and what isn’t. The Supreme Court has ruled it is their choice to decide what they will do – not the state’s. Yet here again, the conservatives and supposed libertarians would impose their beliefs on the majority of Canadians (91% of Canadians in a recent poll believe abortion should be legal in some form, only 5% of Canadians want an outright ban). Those arguments that Conservatives use about the nanny-state and government interference in our lives are all but forgotten.

To be clear, my position on abortion isn’t why I’ve made this statement: I’m a practising Christian who has struggled with this issue trying to balance my religious beliefs with my political beliefs of liberalism. I’m probably classified as one of the 19% of Canadians recently polled who think abortion should be legal with some sort of restrictions. The reason for this blogpost is what I perceive to be the utter hypocrisy of the conservative right-wing on this vis-a-vis not letting government control people’s lives and taking away their choice. On issues of “morality”, they’ve thrown those beliefs right out the window and they would have no qualms of bringing the whole force of the state down on “evil” doctors and “misguided and confused” women.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I have no objection to Dr. Henry Morgentaler receiving the Order of Canada. He is not the only “divisive figure” to have received this award, and he’s not even a convicted criminal (Conrad Black, anyone?). He has as much right to receiving this award as anyone else on the list, or past recipients.

UPDATE: I should be clear that I’m not saying all libertarians are hypocrites. John Murney is an example of someone who is very consistent in his libertarian views across the board. He supports the right of a woman to make her own choice and that the state keep out of matters. My issue is with conservatives and Conservatives who profess to be libertarians on such matters and then talk out of the other side of their mouth on issues like abortion.


20 comments to Conservatives turn into nanny-state advocates on issues of morality.

  • Ted

    Here’s a novel concept that is the entire basis for the pro-choice side: if you think abortion is wrong, don’t have one. Take some personal responsibility and stop trying to control the sex lives and bodies of other people. Mind your own business.

    Not very diplomatic, nevertheless people who are pro-life see this as a human life issue. The same goes for the work of World Vision. Another pro-life organization that focuses on the need of human suffering internationally. “Ancient
    middle eastern dogma” at work.

  • Ted

    @Mike Park

    Ron Paul and Bob Barr are pro-life Libertarians.
    I am not a Libertarian, but the movement is split on pro-life, just like the Liberals,and the CPC.

  • Ted

    Before 20 weeks or so, the fetus has no brain function or nervous system and is physically incapable of making any “choices”

    You are right! They automatically choose life, just like I breathe when I sleep.
    Unless someone else decides otherwise.

  • Ted,

    Guess what? I witnessed the birth of my 3 children as well, so really climb down off your cross. Of course, you overlook that my wife chose to have the children.

    And, frankly, I have not seen any ‘pro-life’ efforts to provide mother with assistance. I have seen them not just forget about the mothers, but outright deride them as whores for having children out of wedlock, for being welfare mothers and leeches on society. I won’t even delve into how these moralizing pricks work to deny birth control and sex ed from people so they are put in the position to have to choose and abortion in the first place.

    “We have one Hospital floor performing pre-natal operations saving a four month old baby in the womb. We have the same hospital terminating a four month “fetus””

    And in both cases, the hospitals in question were doing what the mothers wanted to have done to their bodies. Indeed, thank you Dr. Morgantaler for fighting for the recognition that the woman has the right to make those choices.

    “It is amazing hearing those who are “pro-choice” ,where is the baby’s choice to remain alive? ALL I GET IS SILENCE.”

    Uhm, did you read my previous comment? Before 20 weeks or so, the fetus has no brain function or nervous system and is physically incapable of making any “choices” – it literally is a cluster of specialized cells that has the potential to grow into a person. Until it is born alive, it is part of the mother’s body. Again, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is severely deformed, a mother that reaches that 20 week mark ALWAYS CARRIES TO TERM. This is bared out by actual studies and statistics in both Canada and the US. There are no late term abortions for convenience, birth control or because the mother ‘changed her mind’. For someone claiming to have seen his children born, you sure don;t have a clue what it is really like for a woman to be pregnant.

    You are not getting silence, you are getting arguments based on biology and science. That you put your hands over your ears and pretend not to hear the arguments presented, mostly because you have no answers to logic.

    “…Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer… ”

    Well there you go, its not about rights, its about forcing everyone to live by one narrow interpretation of an ancient Middle Eastern dogma. Its about punishing women for having sex by forcing her to have an unwanted child, which will be further marginalized by these same ‘Christians’ as a bastard and a drain.

    Here’s a novel concept that is the entire basis for the pro-choice side: if you think abortion is wrong, don’t have one. Take some personal responsibility and stop trying to control the sex lives and bodies of other people. Mind your own business.

  • Thank you for that Scott. I guess the only thing I can add, is that if one is going to champion individual freedom, then being in support of a woman’s access to abortion is consistent with that notion.
    I don’t know what kind of libertarian that makes me…I have always preferred the term ‘liberaltarian’ – perhaps the abortion issue is an example of such a concept.

  • Ted

    The writer has made himself unaware of the massive pro-life effort to provide mothers assistance when they choose life. Putting that aside.
    I have witnessed the birth of three of my children, minutes before my child was born it had NO RIGHTS (thank-you Morgantaler).
    We have one Hospital floor performing pre-natal operations saving a four month old baby in the womb. We have the same hospital terminating a four month “fetus”

    It is amazing hearing those who are “pro-choice” ,where is the baby’s choice to remain alive? ALL I GET IS SILENCE.

    Dr C. Everett Koop was the Surgeon general under Ronald Reagan.
    In 1976, after spending an entire Saturday with his pediatric surgery fellows operating on three patients with severe congenital defects, Koop sat in the cafeteria and remarked that together they had given over two hundred years of life to three individuals who together barely weighed ten pounds. When one of the surgical fellows replied that next door at the university hospital abortions were being performed on healthy babies, Koop was stirred to write The Right to Live, The Right to Die, setting down his concerns about abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Koop also took some time off from his surgical practice to make a series of films with Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer entitled “Whatever Happened to the Human Race”.

    I recommend everyone to see those films, which are also in a book form
    They changed my outlook on life.

  • Jason Hickman

    Mike/Dumoustier (in case you’re still reading this post) – I was responding to one specific point Scott made, which I’ve head before – that the SCC *has* closed the door to future abortion legislation, via the Morgenaller decision. The “should they” question is another story.

    Remember, the Mulroney government brought in a new abortion law, and it passed the House on a free vote (except for the NDP, not that they needed to whip their caucus anyway, I would’ve thought), with both PC and LPC support. It died b/c of a tie vote in the Senate.

    As for the last sentence of your post, Mike – I’m inclined to agree, at least as far as the “mainstream” parties are concerned.

  • Joseph

    Great Post! You hit the nail on the head.

    I sincerely hope Canada doesn’t learn the hard way, as our friends to the South have.

    Conservatives there also started out wanting to “end the welfare state” (their term for the nanny state) and get “government out of people’s lives only to end up – among many other intrusions – holding emergency sessions to try to determine the fates of vegetative comatose patients, attempting to change the constitution to prevent gay couples from EVER having any chance of having their relationships recognized, shifting the legal system to conservative causes by adding political litmus tests to every employee in the attorney general’s office, and directing government funds to religious groups for political advantage in close electoral states.

    Harper’s government has shown its willingness to do the same and more.

  • Dumoustier

    **Ha! Took me too long to write this and Mike got in ahead of me. Well, here it is anyway.**

    The interesting thing is that even though the Supreme Court did not close the door on Parliament making a new abortion law, Parliament has for whatever reasons chosen not to do so, at least not openly and all at once, as C-484 illustrates nicely.

    Previous governments, both Tory (the fiscal conservatives, not the ones we have now) and Liberal, either didn’t have the nerve to try it on, or chose to wait and see what would transpire without such laws, or realized that any such law would have to be written with extreme care and delicacy if it were to pass a Charter challenge, and weighing all that, decided it wasn’t worth the political firestorm it would ignite. (Correctly, in my view.)

    As for why Harper and the Con party pose as libertarians except on sex, drugs, homosexuality and such (thanks, KC, for reminding me about the war on drugs), it seems simple: in their view the State must be mobilized to punish a narrow selection of those things that (they say) God says are sinful. Gayness is sin. Abortion is sin. Contraception is sin. Getting high is sin. (Whereas lying, if it’s in God’s service, is not. Nor is being fantastically wealthy, camel-through-the-needle’s-eye proverb notwithstanding, if like a DeVos or a Mellon or a Scaife or a Falwell one uses one’s ill-gotten gains in the service of the Lord.) Those are just two examples; there are plenty more.

    Too simple? Perhaps. Try this angle, then: when Cons and their corporate/PR masters talk about “choice”, in which context do you almost always find it? Only in the marketplace (and even there it’s a bald-faced lie), only in the “choice” of what goods and services to buy, only, in other words, in a very narrow mercantile sense. Rarely does one even hear “choice” used in the sense that one can choose not to buy; it’s almost always the “choice” of who you buy from; the unstated assumption is that you will buy, indeed must buy. (Otherwise the economy would collapse? Or shareholders would cry?)

    But when it comes to other choices, like drugs, or abortion (sexual orientation is different, since it’s not a choice, no matter what the pulpit-pounders say; the only “choice” gays have is whether to come out or not — i.e. have a chance at a happy life or not) — well, those are about people making their own personal decisions without reference to Authority, whether it be Church or State or the corporate-controlled part of the economy, and from the viewpoint of the (self-appointed) Authorities that is dangerous in the extreme.

    And since the Harper Conservatives are pretty much owned (willingly, I’d say) by these Authorities, it’s only natural they would boost “freedom” and “liberty” and “choice”, myths though they are, in the marketplace, and stealthily try to throttle those same ideals everywhere else. IMO, anyway.

  • Jason,

    No one is arguing Parliament CAN’T make an abortion law, but rather they are arguing whether they SHOULD.

    It is a principle of actual libertarians that people will do the right thing without the state needing to interfere in their lives. And for 20 years, in a country where it is essentially free to do so and with no law governing it, women have chosen to exercise abortion early when a fetus truly is a cluster of cells and choose not to later in gestation when viability is more likely. This emerges from individuals making choices, without the requirement for top down laws and coercion. That is, what most people would agree to in law, already exists, so there is no need for the law.

    But fetus-fetishist and dogmatic religious fundamentalists don’t want people to know that, which is why they insist on propagating with their ‘abortion at 8 months” straw man.

    They want people to think hundreds or even thousands of women – sluts I suppose – merely decide at 7 or 8 months to just have an abortion for the purpose of birth control. They want to disgust people into thinking its common when it never happens.


    Well they want to control other peoples bodies. For religious reasons they see sex as dirty and women as the purveyors of this dirty thing (oh and they gays do this too). They want to deny birth control because they don’t want women to control their bodies. They want a woman who dares to have sex outside of marriage, for pleasure, to be punished by being forced to give birth to an unwanted baby. That’ll teach her…

    A real libertarian accepts as an axiom that liberty means allowing people to make their own choices, even if those choices are wrong and even if they are choices you yourself would not make. That includes having an abortion, taking drugs or even killing yourself. Not many in the CPC would support those stances would they?

    CPC as libertarian? Not on your life. There is no real party with libertarian values in Canada.

  • Jason Hickman

    (previous post edited after all – scott, feel free to delete this one. sorry. jh.)

  • Jason Hickman

    Scott, you say:

    “The Supreme Court has ruled it is [pregnant women’s] choice to decide what they will do – not the state’s”

    Now, if you’re talking about the famous Morgentaller decision from the SCC at least, the majority of the Court DIDN’T say that, at least not in those terms, at all.

    The Court struck down the existing abortion law, but it did not say that Parliament couldn’t bring in another one.

    The Court ruled in Morgentaller’s favour, 5 judges to 2. But those 5 judges on the majority wrote 3 separate sets of reasons as to how they came to the same overall conclusion. Only Justice Wilson was as definitive as you suggest, and she was writing for herself only (and not any of the other judges).

    Like yourself, I’m not making this point because of my own stance on abortion, but because the myth that the Morgentaller decision determined, for good, that *any* abortion-restricting legislation *can’t* be introduced w/o violating the Charter is one that bugs me to this day because quite simply, it misstates the law – IMO.

    (The SCC’s 1989 decision in Tremblay v Daigle did go further, in that it found that the fetus doesn’t have rights under either Canadian common law or Quebec civil law. But once again, the Court didn’t say that Parliament couldn’t intro a new statue restricting access to abortion. )

    (Your larger point depends on whether the fetus is simply an appendage or extension of the mother’s body [in which case, you’re right to point out a level of hypocracy] or whether the fetus is, truly, an “unborn child” deserving of at least some rights of protection from harm at some point or another during those 9 months [in which case, it isn’t so hypocritical, even though you may disagree with it]. In law, right now, it’s the former, but that doesn’t mean that’ll always be the case.)

  • I like the discussion that went on at Section 15 [Libertarians as Anarchists].

    I’m beginning to believe that the label “right wing libertarian” does not exist. In fact, what you have are “corporate anarchists”.

    I think what you have are libertarians, deluded into believing that a Conservative party is the right home for them.

  • Kevin,

    That debate is ridiculous and moot because, even in the absence of a law, aborting after 20 weeks almost never happens, and when it does, it is for medical reasons – either the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is severely deformed an will not survive anyway. Even Morgantaler won’t perform abortions after 24 weeks unless these criteria are met. I defy you to find and instance of a late term abortion that was performed for any reason other than the above.

    In short, Canada’s lack of an abortion law is a perfect example of people, when left to their own devices and choices without state interference, Canadian women will do the “right” thing. In almost all but the rarest and exceptional circumstances (as above) when a woman reaches 20 weeks, she chooses NOT to abort.

    It is the very libertarian idea that individuals best make decisions concerning their lives and what emerges from large numbers of people doing just that is usually the right thing.

    I might add that Canada also has no laws regarding the drinking of battery acid or the driving of housing spikes into one’s head. Does that mean we need a law to prevent this? Just because some one legally can do something does not mean they will.

    And yes, it is exactly as simple as Scott makes it out to be.

    Until a fetus is born alive and separate from the mother, it is as a part of the mother as her arm or liver and her rights are the only ones that count.


    I’ve told you before that no one I can see in the CPC or among its supporters is a true, consistent libertarian. They are “vulgar libertarians” who only wear the libertarian label when it is convenient to do so.

    And with all deference to John Murney, I’m not sure what kind of libertarian he is…

  • I am not arguing, “a little bit now will *naturally* lead to more later”. That would be “slippery slope”.

    I am arguing that inserting little wedges in a dishonest attempt to reach “no abortions ever” is the current conservative strategy. If you read the rebuttals to the current “Unborn Victims of Crime Bill”, you see that this bill is simply another wedge the conservatives are using. They are working in a sideways fashion to treat an embryo as a human child, knowing full well what sort of precedent this could establish.

    The morality of any such bans, locked in somewhere along the slippery slope, is another matter entirely separate from the social conservative strategy.

    My point was the lack of authenticity in the idea of a “debate” in “conservative circles” about where to draw the line.

  • Kevin

    That temporary line would only be a stepping stone to eventually outlawing every kind of abortion at any time under any circumstances.


    The problem is that a line has to be drawn somewhere. The question is where.
    If it is OK 10 minutes before birth than why not 10 minutes after?

  • KC

    Gay marriage is a good example of conservative nanny statism. But it is the way that so many conservatives turn into rabid, frothing at the mouth, authoritarians whenever the subject of legalized marijuana (or drugs generally) comes up puts to lie for me any suggestion that conservatives (unlike their liberal counterparts) have a profound respect for notions of personal choice. As much as they pretend otherwise, “c”/”C”onservatives have a serious paternalistic “nanny” streak.

  • It’s unfortunate that they use the same word for a political view toward “being financially stable” and for a political view that wants to drag us back in to the theocratic dark ages.

    If we could find a way to distinguish these two “conservatives”, we could then realize that the one running our government is, in actuality, neither.

    As for the “argument” in conservative circles regarding where the line should be drawn, I see this only as an argument of “where can we draw the line *for now*?”. That temporary line would only be a stepping stone to eventually outlawing every kind of abortion at any time under any circumstances. After all, I’ve been told, “it’s not the child’s fault that its mother was raped.”

  • Kevin

    Currently in Canada it is completely legal to abort a child at anytime up until it is born. The current debate among most conservatives is not about whether or not abortion should be allowed at all but at what point in the pregnancy does the fetus require rights of their own and do those rights at some point exceed the right of the mother? It is not as simple as you make it out to be.

  • Great post, Scott. You’ve touched on an issue that I think is very divisive among Conservatives. A number of my right/libertarian friends in law school identify as Conservatives because of fiscal policy issues, but resent being lumped in to the same party as social conservatives whose views are the antithesis of libertarianism. One of Harper’s greatest successes is managing to prevent these two factions of his party from killing one another.

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