OTTAWA, Ontario, April 27, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Canadian MP called on his fellow parliamentarians to “courageously follow the facts” Thursday and to support his motion to examine the humanity of children in the womb.
Speaking in the House of Commons’ first hour of debate on Motion 312, Tory MP Stephen Woodworth said: “Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth. Will we be seen as bold for the sake of truth, or as fearful? We can trust Canadians to embrace the truth with us.”
The Kitchener MP has called on Parliament to establish a special committee to re-examine section 223 of the Criminal Code, a 400-year-old provision inherited from British common law that states a child only becomes a “human being” once he or she has fully proceeded from the womb.
“How many Canadians believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being?” he asked in the House Thursday. “Perhaps that ancient definition made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices, but does it make medical sense in the 21st century?”
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Woodworth’s motion has been strongly opposed by all of the major political parties, but none are saying that they will whip their caucus to vote against it. Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged Thursday before the debate that he would vote against it and called it “unfortunate” that it was even deemed votable.
The Opposition New Democrats, who are officially pro-abortion, say they are unanimously opposed, so have no need to whip the vote.
In the debate Thursday, Tory whip Gordon O’Connor (Carleton-Mississippi Mills) insisted that the “ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage,” and re-iterated the government’s stance that they will not support any effort to “regulate abortion.”
“I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code,” he said. “There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.”
New Democrat Status of Women critic Niki Ashton (Churchill) accused the Conservative government of having “rolled back the clock on gender equality” during its 6 years in office, doing so most pointedly “in the area of reproductive rights.” Opposition to abortion is the Tories’ “Trojan horse agenda,” she said.
“The reality is that the issue of abortion was settled in 1988” when the Supreme Court struck down the existing abortion law, she said.
That law, passed by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals in 1969 as part of an Omnibus Bill, allowed the deadly procedure if approved by a committee of doctors. That law, with its loopholes and weak safeguards, soon led to a practical abortion-on-demand situation across the country.
“A woman’s right to reproductive choice is a human right. In Canada, in 2012, a woman’s right to choose is not up for negotiation,” said Ashton. “As ugly as it may seem, women must not be forced to return to those ugly circumstances of using coat hangers, vacuum cleaners or putting themselves in the hands of quacks.”
Liberal MP Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre) said the Liberals will oppose the motion, and accused the Tories of violating Harper’s election promise to “not reopen the debate on abortion.”
“The government” is being “disingenuous” and treating Canadians as “simpletons” by pretending that a motion to examine the personhood of the unborn does not open up the abortion issue, she continued. “The Prime Minister should not have given the member the back door and the opportunity to waste the time of the House to use Motion No. 312 as a back door to recriminalize abortion.”
She said it would be “ludicrous” to grant protections for the unborn from 20 weeks gestation, around the point of viability, as some have suggested. “After 20 weeks, are the government and the state going to put a woman in jail if she does not wish to maintain that pregnancy within her person? Are they going to put her in jail and force her to keep this child until term?”
New Democrat Françoise Boivin (Gatineau) said it’s “infinitely unfortunate” that the legislature is debating abortion in 2012, arguing that the issue was settled long ago.
She accused Woodworth of ignoring “women’s rights” and instead trying to push a “conversation on the fetus.” “Wow. When I was elected in 2011, if someone had told me that I would be here on April 26, 2012, having a ‘conversation on the fetus’, I would have asked what planet this was,” she said.
Canadian case law is clear that “when a woman is pregnant, her fetus is a part of her body” so the current definition “makes sense” in stipulating that “a fetus is not a human being,” she added.
Liberal MP Denis Coderre (Bourassa) said the legislature should leave the issue alone to “respect the social harmony” of Canada and to “respect women’s rights … and the right to be pro-choice.” [He] said Woodworth is being dishonest because “in reality, what [he] wants to do is re-criminalize abortion.”
Though Woodworth was the only pro-life member to speak on behalf of the motion, Tory MP Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga) rose at one point to correct Boivin when she claimed that there were no female MPs in the House at the time of the debate to support Woodworth.
In his remarks in the debate, Woodworth highlighted a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in February by ethicists from Italy and Australia that called for “after-birth abortion,” otherwise known as infanticide. The authors argued, in their words, that “killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.”
“If we accept their premise that it is acceptable to decree that some human beings are not human persons, their logic follows, inevitably,” Woodworth argued.
He then pointed out that this line of thinking has practical consequences even today. “In Canada every year, the deaths of 40 to 50 infants who are born alive and later die are classified as ‘termination of pregnancy’,” he explained.
“If basic rights can be denied to even one vulnerable person, they can be denied to anyone,” he said. “If we accept a law that decrees some human beings are not human, the question that must be asked is: Who is next?”
The motion has now dropped to the bottom of the House of Commons’ order paper and is expected to receive a second hour of debate in June or September, followed by a vote.
If it passes, the special committee will be appointed and will then have ten months to prepare a final report detailing the medical evidence on the unborn’s humanity, whether or not the Criminal Code is consistent with the evidence as currently written, and possible legislative options for Parliament to affirm or amend the Criminal Code.
Find the full Hansard transcript of the debate.
Get contact information for Members of Parliament.