OTTAWA, Ontario, January 11, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Ontario Member of Parliament who has called for debate on the legal status of unborn children is challenging critics to provide medical evidence proving that they do not become human beings until birth.

In December, Tory MP Stephen Woodworth called for a revision of section 223 of Canada’s Criminal Code, a 400-year-old provision inherited from British common law that stipulates a child only becomes a “human being” once he or she has fully proceeded from the womb.

He has since taken flack from abortion advocates who argue that section 223 in fact sets up protections for the unborn because it states that someone who injures a child in utero is criminally responsible if the child dies after he or she has been born.

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But pro-life groups have pointed out that, under the same section, that same aggressor would not be deemed criminally responsible had the child died before he or she was born.

“I’ve pointed out that Canada’s definition of human being was formulated more than 400 years ago and says that a child is not a human being in Canada until the moment of complete birth,” Woodworth stated in a press release Wednesday.  “Those are the plain words of Section 223, and no one is allowed fundamental human rights if they are not a human being.  If that isn’t true, prove it.”

“I’ve concluded that 21st Century modern medical science informs us that children are certainly human beings before the moment of complete birth,” he added.

In a January 6 op-ed, Shannon Dea, co-president of Planned Parenthood Waterloo, argued that Woodworth is “mistaken” about section 223, which she says is “intended to convey that even if a live-born child hasn’t yet breathed, it is nonetheless a human being.”

“That is, [it] actually protects children who haven’t yet breathed, as opposed to removing protections from children who have breathed,” she writes in The Record.

Dea contests Woodworth’s claim that section 223 is 400 years old, noting that the Criminal Code was enacted in 1892.

But Woodworth maintains the section originated in British common law at least 400 years ago, potentially going back all the way to the 12th century.  He contends that the section deserves re-examination in light of advances in medical science and human rights protections.

However, Dea argues that medical science “is irrelevant to the question of when a fetus becomes a human being — that matter is a legal and philosophical one, not a medical one.”

But Woodworth says he wants to hear pro-abortion advocates’ reasons for why the unborn ought not to be deemed human beings.

“If there’s justification for a law which defines anyone as less than a human when that person is clearly a human being, let Canadians hear it,” he says.  “If there’s a principled reason why Parliament has no duty to update this 400 year old law which has such important consequences, let’s hear it.”

He says the debate he is proposing certainly impacts the abortion issue, but has “much wider” implications.  “A law which denies that someone is a human being without any principled justification or scientific basis is not a just law,” he states.

The MP says he will decide by February how to pursue the debate on the humanity of the unborn child.  He has told media that he is considering a private members bill, but may also make a motion calling for debate, which would allow MPs to have discussion without legislation before them.

His effort has been backed by numerous pro-life and faith-based groups, including Campaign Life Coalition, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, LifeCanada, and the Catholic Civil Rights League.