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An Interview with Ruth Henrich on Individualism, Women’s Rights, and Morgentaler


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/03/22


Ruth Henrich is the Treasurer of Humanist Canada and a Humanist Officiant. She discusses: personal origins; North American culture and the individualism emphasis; early life choices and trajectory; reasoning and intuitiveness and influence on postsecondary education; significant secular advancement in Canada over time; the rhetoric coming through the media, the dog whistling, the religious fundamentalist, the anti-science movements often grounded in fundamentalist faiths; hopes and fears; concision in the mainstream media; finding Humanist Canada; tasks and responsibilities as the Treasurer for Humanist Canada; input into policy; concerns about reactionary forces; anti-science and anti-human rights sources in Canada; its legal context; evidence-based sexual education curricula; the Morgentaler Scholarship; concerns of women and girls; medical ethics and”do no harm”; concluding thoughts; and shout outs to other organizations.

Keywords: Canada, Humanism, Humanist Canada, Media, Morgentaler, Ruth Henrich, Science.

An Interview with Ruth Henrich on Individualism, Women’s Rights, and Morgentaler[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your origin story?

Ruth Henrich: [Laughing] it starts with, I am a twin.

Jacobsen: Really?

Henrich: Yes, who would have thought it? We are not identical in personality. She is more right brain. I am more left brain. We were classified earlier in a study as mirror image twins.

Jacobsen: What does that mean?

Henrich: It means that when we were in the womb one side was stronger than the other. In that, it means that we are identical. If I look in the mirror, I see my sister.

Jacobsen: Does this impact neurological development as well?

Henrich: Yes.

Jacobsen: Does this impact the different trajectories of interests?

Henrich: Yes, very much so, she is very artistic. We call her the “oblivious one” [Laughing]. I am the more logical and intuitive one. So yes, it did have a bearing on how we developed as people. But it is also another thing trying to an individual when you are a twin.

It can be very difficult to find yourself as an individual instead of always being a twin.

2. Jacobsen: Is it difficult in North American culture where we emphasize the individual?

Henrich: I would think so. I would think this has a bearing on things. You dab. You learn. I learned that moving out of the same city did a great deal for my development and interests. It did not feel like I was held back in any way, in terms of what the expectations were – because everyone knew who we were.

3. Jacobsen: At that time in Canadian history, women were limited consciously via culture. How did this impact early life and trajectories of where you could go, could not go, could do, could not do?

Henrich: I think it was more about freedom of choice growing up in the 60s and then teen years being in the 70s, where you are very cognizant of what is going on around you. There is sexual freedom. That had more to do with informing me about what possibilities there were as opposed to anything within the family structure.

As kids, we were never told that we could do anything that we wanted. I was a wife very early. I was a mother very early. It was to get out of that situation, which was very stupid. When you are a teenager, you do not think about it.

When I got into my 20s, it meant a lot to me to be able to make choices and what choices I was making, even just choices as to how many children was I going to have. A choice to go into the workforce. It did make a difference, culturally, as opposed to the family thing.

4. Jacobsen: In terms of being on someone high in reasoning and intuitive traits, how did this impact efforts at postsecondary education?

Henrich: It took me quite a while. I had attempted postsecondary education on 2 or 3 various times. I found that I had too many different family pressures, where I could not give school the time that it needed the first time.

The second time, I was probably in my late 20s or early 30s. I went to York University for a while. I found that my interest level was not what I thought was going to take my career further, in terms of interest level in English Literature.

At that time, I found money to be an issue. I did stick with it the third time. I completed my culinary arts certification art George Brown. I finished in 2004. It was later in my life that I completed the certification.

5. Jacobsen: As you have seen more of Canadian culture develop and adapt over time, we still have developments, even recently, into 2018 with the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. It leads to some obvious questions. With some time to reflect, what do you notice as some of the more significant secular advancement of the country over time?

Henrich: There are times when I think secular advancement has taken a backseat to special interest religious groups. I have seen things go backward instead of going forward when it comes to our governance.

I would say in the 80s or 90s when there seemed to be more perceived freedoms as an individual. There was a lot of things happening with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There was a lot happening in terms of the Canadian government. There was more happening in terms of separation of Church and State.

It is interesting because, at that point in time, I was in my 30s and 40s. As an individual, you realize that things are bigger than what is going on in your own life. You begin to pay attention. We saw a lot of advancement. A lot of it had to do with technology. Technology has taken us into a secular world, as it is bigger than any of us. I think this has been the impetus to allow us to think and be for ourselves; whereas, before, it is do as I say and not as I do.

We are going to bring all of these advancements forward. But there will be so many things to hold people back. I think that technology has opened people up to degrees of freedom that they didn’t think were possible.

6. Jacobsen: With some of the rhetoric coming through the media, the dog whistling, the religious fundamentalist, the anti-science movements often grounded in fundamentalist faiths, was the language, the rhetoric, and the tricks used by people in the media coming from that angle less obvious back in the day or, maybe, more taken for granted as the water of the culture?

Henrich: Yes, I think things were taken as part of the culture. This is just the way it is, unless, you’re going to start protesting over each and every little thing.  The fundamentalist rhetoric wasn’t something that became part of the lexicon. I am finding now, with the social media, the cultural influence through media is different, more immediate.

Those things didn’t seem that important before has definitely changed. I anticipate what it will be in the future. How are those changes from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s, and into the second decade of the 2000s going to come about now? What will they be in 2030?

My grandchildren will be coming of age when this stuff is going to be prevalent. There will be a point in time when they are in charge. That is really where I think we are going to see leaps and bounds. There is going to be so much change.

7. Jacobsen: What about the mirror of that, to reflect this to the earlier part of the conversation? The positive, from our perspective, is the next generation with humanistic values as explicit values rather than something that bubbles around. But the inverse of the image of that is reactionary forces not liking it.

We have seen some of this in this country. We have seen this below the border. We have also seen this in characters like Bolsonaro. What do you feel less hope for and more fear for, on that angle?

Henrich: My biggest fear in all of that is that the rhetoric and attitudes are going to become more prevalent. That “consciousness” – that’s the wrong word – or that rhetoric, the hate stuff, and the racism; we have to get so far past that.

I don’t know how we can do that if we cannot bring people into thinking that we are all in this together as opposed to people thinking that we are all so very different that we can’t get along. I am fearful of what is happening in our world and North America – to bring it closer to home.

Where is the Reason? Where are the logical minds? Will we have enough academics and freethinkers to change minds? Or are they going to be drowned out? My fear is that we are going to be drowned out. I think that we have to be thinking together about what our purposes are.

Instead of having fractured groups within the secular and humanist organizations, that is where we really need to come together; our talking points have to be more succinct. They need to be more prevalent. They need to be more forceful.

8. Jacobsen: Noam Chomsky notes in the media. That “concision” is the term within the mainstream media system. We make people say things in only a couple of sentences. Then you can keep them within the beltway. Anything outside of it; it requires further justification, because it goes outside of the beltway. We’re swimming upstream in a sense.

Henrich: Yes.

Jacobsen: It makes the job much harder. But if you look at the progressive change in the country, they have often been humanists, along the lines of human rights and women’s rights.

Henrich: Yes.

9. Jacobsen: So, how did you find Humanist Canada?

Henrich: It was a circuitous route. Here in Grey and Bruce Counties, it is a fairly conservative – if this gets out publicly – backwards area.

Jacobsen: Backwards in what way?

Henrich: People thump their Bibles without knowing what is in them. It is repeating what everyone else has heard without thinking of the ramifications. It is always the “us against them” and a lot of uneducated or undereducated people.

Jacobsen: These are the people getting mad about virtue signalling while themselves using the oldest forms of Western virtue signalling.

Henrich: [Laughing] exactly, I found this disconnect. If you are in this area, if you are not being married by a religious official, then you cannot get married here. I thought that I would do something about it. I looked into becoming a marriage commissioner, which is a whole other story.

When the thing came around, they said, “This is a good idea,” but they did not have a vetting process for who would conduct these marriages. It was at that point that I began to seek out if there was something else out there.

That is when I reached out to Humanist Canada. I like what I heard. It synced with my values and what I was thinking and how I lived my life. Then I found they had an officiant program. I became licensed throughout the Ontario Humanist Society prior to coming over to Humanist Canada.

The reason I did that was that I could get there faster. It didn’t end up that way. I found with Ontario Humanist Society and Humanist Canada that there were some philosophical differences between the two organizations; only later finding out about the fracturing of Ontario Humanist Society doing their own thing from Humanist Canada.

That is how I found Humanist Canada. I found something that actually worked for me. In the process, I found the Grey Bruce Humanists. We do social things together. We have really dynamic meetings once per month.

They now have a discussion group going on. I am finding that I wasn’t alone in what I was searching for; that there are other people in my area who are now starting to advocate more for what we think is possible.

10. Jacobsen: Now, in your role as treasurer in Humanist Canada, what are the tasks and responsibilities coming along with it?

Henrich: [Laughing] I make sure the bills get paid. I look after all the bookkeeping. I also do contract management and financial management. I am an active member of the board. I also have input into policy.

11. Jacobsen: If you’re looking at policy, how does your input play out?

Henrich: In terms of making policy, it comes down to what is our strategic plan and is this within the strategic plan. It is about developing a plan, as we’re developing the new strategic plan.

I also make sure the money is being spent properly. So, we have the money to undertake those projects. My goal as treasurer is making sure any fundraising that we’re doing does not go against any CRA regulations or that it does not impede our charitable status.

Jacobsen: How important is the charitable status to the general operation, functioning, scope, and outreach of Humanist Canada?

Henrich: I think it is incredibly important that we have a charitable status. It gives credibility to our aims and the public give more when they get something in return for their giving.  It is being able to substantiate what people spend their money on. That is important to people.

12. Jacobsen: Moving into 2019, what are the concerns with – let’s call them – reactionary forces, typically, standing against things humanists, traditionally, stand for, including human rights, science, reproductive health rights for women, and concerns of the more marginalized within society?

Henrich: One of our concerns is going to be: are we attracting members? It is the members that finance all of the things that we are trying to do. It is trying to get our message out. That we do look at things from a human rights perspective and are all about choice, personal choice.

Our main concern as an organization is reaching out to the general public. When I was looking for an organization it was difficult to find. As an organization, we need to ramp this up. We need to let people know what we are doing and why we are doing it.

It is about getting the message out.

13. Jacobsen: Within the history of this country right into the present, what tend to be the main sources of anti-science and anti-human rights?

Henrich: Religion, and the evangelicals, those are one of the biggest sources standing in the way. They can’t do anything that flies in the face of religious virtue or however they are going to term it. Those are our big obstacles.

14. Jacobsen: How is this played out in a legal context?

Henrich: Let’s take an example, the BC Humanists have tried twice to become an organization to license officiants. It is being able to marry people because that is a legal state. They have been denied twice because they are not a religious body.

It is that religious body in the context of the law that is the problem, which is what we need to overcome. When it comes to that sort of thing, there are so many instances of religiosity being part of the law and having protections; those are the things that we need to go after, to get them repealed.

Because humanists, agnostics, secularists, and atheists are now being discriminated against; it comes down to discrimination under the law.

15. Jacobsen: For the younger generations, not only the non-religious and the religious, in general for their health and wellness, what are your concerns with regards to updates and refinements based on evidence of sexual education curricula throughout the country?

Henrich: Oh wow, we had this conversation with family over the dinner table when celebrating together. It is paramount that we have a curriculum that teaches our children. It is not just about sex. It is not just about gender.

It is so much bigger than that. It is what becomes the norm in society. It is how do people face those types of things. It is taking into account that there are so many groups that have a special interest in this; it is being able to be informed and having our children informed.

We can’t leave that kind of thing up to parents, because parents will provide what they think is appropriate. But there is so much, again coming back to the technology and what is available information to our children.

That they need to get the right information and need to make decisions for themselves, which means providing information. That means parents must stand behind the information. I think that is paramount. If we do not do something that is logical in the teaching, we will be in a for a lot of social problems, because we will be going back to the substandard social norms of before.

That is a real problem.

Jacobsen: Those prior norms mean higher teen pregnancy rates and higher STI/STD rates based on simply not being given proper, updated, modernized, evidence-based information from adults.

Henrich: Absolutely, you can anticipate higher levels of sexual predatorships. It is probably the wrong word for it. But there will be more of it. You are going to be seeing more prostitution and more forced prostitution. It will keep happening at a younger and younger age.

We need to equip the children; we, as parents, need to back up the information. As the parents, we are the ones who are teaching how to advance in our world, and what is accepted and what is not accepted. It is taking that stuff out in Ontario that is scary.

It is very scary.

Jacobsen: Given the down the road potential damage to the lives of some non-trivial amount of youth who do not get this information in high school, could this amount to a certain form of criminal negligence.

Henrich: Wow! You know what…

Jacobsen: Sorry to interrupt. But if you look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it speaks to the best interests of the child. This could, in a way, be looked at as a regression against the best interests of the child.

Henrich: Yes! Yes, absolutely, would it be criminal? Could it be criminal? Wow, what a question, when you consider the laws, and such, that have been undertaken because they are not in the best interests of the child, it will not be in the best interests of our children to not provide them with information, in my estimation.

Whether or not it will be, that will be up to our legislators, but as Humanist Canada, should we be taking that on as something that we can something about? Perhaps, that needs to be a broader discussion.

16. Jacobsen: What is the Morgentaler Scholarship?

Henrich: It is a partnership with Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics. Henry Morgentaler was our first president and was a driving force and women’s reproductive rights advocate. This scholarship will enable medical students to further their advancement in the study of women’s reproductive health and choice.

It can be anything from obstetrics to gynecology, but it goes beyond that. It has to do with infant mortality. It has to do with women-to-women relations, puberty, adulthood, menopause. It is something that needs to be more prevalent and thought about; women are not a general collective.

There are so many things that have to do with how women are viewed within the medical community. I think this scholarship can help with this. We must change our perspective. We must change how women are perceived in the medical profession.

17. Jacobsen: In your opinion, in a qualitative, reflective, retrospective opinion based on the conversations you have had with women in your life, what are some of the nuanced concerns that women and girls have about the treatment in the medical community? That simply are talked about in the community.

Not necessarily out of conscious negligence but simply missing it.

Henrich: It is access. It is someone who knows what you are asking and know what you are experiencing. It is access without being demeaned. Access without judgment.

18. Jacobsen: What would be an alteration of that within medical ethics of “do no harm” in the Hippocratic Oath with further emphasis on access and on non-demeaning treatment?

Henrich: There must be more training within the medical community itself, at the university level. It has to do with removing your own bias. If you are going to be a medical professional and are going to be taking that oath, then you can identify your bias as yours.

That is becoming a huge problem, not just in women’s health. Not only, how do we live? But also, how do we die? It must permeate down to the university level and in what they are being trained in. it is more than just ethics.

19. Jacobsen: Any concluding thoughts?

Henrich: I am looking forward to what we will accomplish in the next decade. We have dynamic people. And I want to be a part of that! [Laughing]

20. Jacobsen: Any shout outs to affiliates or other organizations?

Henrich: There is the Edmonton Humanists. There is the BC Humanists. There is the Winnipeg Humanists. There is a number in Ontario. SOFREE out of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Guelph. There is the Grey Bruce Humanists. We need more local groups, more groups in the Maritimes, in Nunavut, in the Northwest Territories, and so on. We need it coast-to-coast-to-coast.

If we can get local people doing humanistic things in local ways, then we are here to help.

21. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ruth.

Henrich: You’re welcome. My pleasure, Scott.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Treasurer, Humanist Canada.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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