His face was flaming red,
the veins in his neck bulged out from the starched
collar of his shirt. He tore into me for my
insolence and presumption for writing such a thing
on the exam paper. Who did I think I was, he told
me? Didn't I realize that women needed
abortion, and it was the duty of every doctor to
provide service to his patients? . . . "I could fail
you for this!"
The ominous influence of the abortion
establishment has reached down into medical
training, with news that a Canadian medical school
plans to deny a medical degree to a young student
who has refused to perform or refer for any abortive
On March 20, a Winnipeg radio station broke the
news of a story that had been building quietly at
the University of Manitoba since last fall, when its
medical school issued a failing grade to a Christian
student in his obstetrics and gynecology rotation.
The student, who wishes to remain unnamed, has been
turned down in three successive appeals, most
recently on March 3 by the highest-level appeal
committee within the Faculty of Medicine.
This is despite the fact that the student has
achieved high grades in every area of study, and is
supported by strong words of affirmation from his
clinical supervisors, according to Carolee Neufeld,
a family friend speaking to
The medical student is said to be considering his
next moves, including an appeal to the senate of the
University of Manitoba, and ultimately a judicial
review. He has received support from several
pro-life doctors in Manitoba who are concerned about
the university's intolerance.
The student's stance sets up potential clash of
policy interpretations. Contacted by CJOB Radio
News in Winnipeg, Associate Dean Dr. Brian
Magwood defended the decision to fail the student.
He pointed to university policy that asserts that
students are obligated to tell patients about all
treatment options which fall within the medical
standard of care. (Although liberal conventional
wisdom in Canada assumes abortion is a "standard of
care," there is no legal right to abortion in
There is, in fact, a legal void, following a 1988
Supreme Court decision to strike down the previous
abortion regulation law on the grounds that unequal
access to the procedure threatened a woman's
"security of person" under Canada's Charter of
Rights and Freedoms.)
The University of Manitoba's stance would seem to
conflict directly with the stated policy of the
Canadian Medical Association, as posted on its web
site (cma.ca): "A physician whose moral or religious
beliefs prevent him or her from recommending or
performing an abortion should inform the patient of
this so she may consult another physician. No
discrimination should be directed against doctors
who do not perform or assist at induced abortions.
Respect for the right of personal decision in this
area must be stressed, particularly for doctors
training in obstetrics and gynecology, and
The Manitoba story stirred memories of my own
mercifully brief experience as a final-year medical
student at the University of Toronto in the spring
of 1979. In one of the final clinical rotations of
the year before being awarded my M.D. degree, I
spent four weeks assisting at deliveries and
gynecological surgery at a large downtown Toronto
Fortunately, the attending staff were careful to
point out that student attendance at abortions was
purely voluntary. At the end of the four-week
session came the examination, a fairly
straight-forward 20-question multiple-choice quiz.
Although my interest lay in internal medicine
(and eventually the subspecialty of neurology), the
test was easy enough. But one question caught my
eye. It went something like this:
For a woman with an unwanted pregnancy at
14 weeks gestation which of the following
methods of termination would you choose?
- dilation and evacuation (D&E)
- dilation and curretage (D&C)
- saline instillation and extraction
- hysterotomy and evacuation
I drew an "X" through the question (intentionally
forfeiting the points for that question) and neatly
wrote in the margin, "I would not choose any
of the above, as I would not counsel or perform an
abortion." I thought this would be the quietest,
most respectful method of sidestepping the question
out of conscientious objection.
I was naïve. Later that afternoon, as I relaxed
between deliveries, I heard the clipped stride of
well-polished shoes down the ward corridor. A tall
man came around the corner: it was Dr. P., although
I could scarcely recognize the transformation in
His face was flaming red, the veins in his neck
bulged out from the starched collar of his shirt. He
tore into me for my insolence and presumption for
writing such a thing on the exam paper.
Who did I think I was, he told me? Didn't I
realize that women needed abortion, and it
was the duty of every doctor to provide service to
He asked if I was a Catholic. I told him it was
not his business to ask, but I had no hesitation in
telling him that I was. He then straightened his
shoulders and said that he, too, was a Catholic, and
so was Dr. B., the chief of the department, and
although it wasn't easy for them, they did not shirk
from doing their share of abortions.
I'll admit I was at first set back on my heels.
But I refused to be intimidated. I was, however,
stunned at how raw a nerve seemed to have been
touched in the man.
Until that moment, I had not been exposed to the
hair-trigger defensiveness of many physicians who
make it their practice to commit abortions. Earlier
in the rotation I had come to know and appreciate
Dr. P., whose story was an interesting one.
He was an obstetrician at a small rural hospital
in one of Canada's rustic maritime provinces before
applying for the promotion to a big-city university
position. It occurred to me later that abortions
were likely not allowed at the small hospital where
he had earlier practiced, so he could concentrate on
his first love: delivering babies.
Perhaps he was already feeling the internal
conflict between his professional ambition and the
concomitant need to "do his share" of abortions at
this large secular city hospital. If so, the guilt
must have been awful. I certainly did not envy his
position; perhaps he actually envied mine.
As his tirade went on, I began to feel sorry for
Dr. P. I surprised myself at how I felt unexpectedly
powerful, not a common emotion for a lowly medical
student. I snapped to attention at his parting
words: "I could fail you for this!"
I quietly responded, "Do what you have to do." He
blinked, turned, and strode off.
Of course, I passed. No one ever mentioned the
A few years later, curiosity got the better of me
as I looked up another physician whose name began
with the letter P. I flipped the page and looked
down the column to find the obstetrician Dr. P. I
noted that he was no longer at the big-city teaching
hospital. He had moved his obstetrics practice back
to a small town.