Patrick Craine


Pro-life groups unite behind politician’s call to reopen Canadian abortion debate

Patrick Craine

OTTAWA, Ontario, January 5, 2012 ( – Pro-life and faith-based groups are backing a Tory MP’s call for a new debate on the legal status of children in the womb in Canada.

The groups, representing tens of thousands of pro-life voters across the country, are urging Parliament to consider a proposal by MP Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener-Centre) to revisit 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.

“It is time to bring the law into sync with the 21st century and recognize that the child in the womb is a human being and as such deserves protection in law,” said Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer of the national pro-life group Campaign Life Coalition.

After criticizing section 223 in a press release before Christmas, Woodworth has told media that he is considering a motion or a private members bill in an effort to launch a Parliamentary debate about applying human rights protections to children before birth.

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“In Canada a child is legally considered to be sub-human while his or her little toe remains in the birth canal, even if he or she is breathing,” he said.

Natalie Hudson Sonnen, executive director of the national pro-life education group LifeCanada, said denying children the status of “human being” until he or she has fully exited the womb “sets up a medically and scientifically untenable position.”

The law, she said, “sets Canada apart from almost every other nation on the planet, with regard to the lack of protection for unborn human beings.”

“Canada’s Criminal Code provisions surrounding the legal rights of the unborn child are confusing and not in step with medical and social realities,” said the Catholic Civil Rights League in a statement.

“Medical science has seen numerous advances in pre-natal treatments for the fetus, so we believe many Canadians would like to see laws affecting personhood updated to reflect today’s realities,” said Joanne McGarry, the League’s executive director.

Woodworth’s effort has also been backed by Tory colleague Jeff Watson, who urged taking a “more comprehensive” approach to the abortion debate that would move beyond merely discussing the criminality of the deadly act.

But Watson predicted that pro-abortion groups would quickly frame any discussion around abortion or protections for children before birth as a backdoor effort to recriminalize the procedure.

On Wednesday, Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada told CBC, “When the anti-abortion movement says they want to reopen the debate, it means they want to recriminalize abortion. That’s really what it’s about.”

Under section 223, if a child dies after birth due to injuries sustained while in the womb, the child’s death is deemed a homicide.  But the section adds that if that child dies while still in the womb, no charges would apply.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has pointed out that the provision came into play in an Ottawa case where a mother was allowed to walk free after shooting her full-term son with a BB gun while he was still in the womb.

“The boy, born two days later, survived after surgery and some time in an intensive care unit,” said Don Hutchinson, the EFC’s vice-president and general legal counsel.  “The charges were later dropped because the child was not considered by law to be a human being when he was shot.”

“In an interesting twist, she received several months’ probation for failing to provide the necessities of life because after birth she didn’t report the pellet lodged in her son’s head,” he added.

“How can laws that clearly do not measure up to accepted medical and scientific practice continue to act as a point of reference for such important issues?” asks Hudson Sonnen. “We need to examine whether this law reflects our understanding of human rights, which means that our nation must address the abortion issue.”

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, criticized law professor Kathleen Lahey for stating that Woodworth’s proposal would “cut into the woman’s physical body to define part of her physical existence as being not her.”

According to Hughes, “The absurdity of [Lahey’s] remarks shows how far away we are from modern medicine.”

“The child in the womb is not part of the mother’s body and indeed the baby is a separate living being with its own unique DNA,” he added.

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