Sun News – MPs debate when life begins April 27th, 2012
OTTAWA – Tory backbench MP Stephen Woodworth didn’t have the backing of the prime minister to do it, but he nonetheless spurred a rare debate on abortion and when life begins in the House of Commons Thursday.
Quoting jurisprudence and French novelist Emile Zola, Woodworth made the case for opening the divisive dispute.
“Those who believe that the moment of complete birth does somehow transform a child from a non human into a human being should have enough confidence in their own belief to expose it to an examination,” he said.
The Kitchener MP is proposing a special House committee review the federal Criminal Code’s definition of a human being. Currently, Canadian law states a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth.
Pro-choice supporters argue it’s a back door to opening the abortion debate, because the time when life begins is a key point in the issue.
And New Democrat and Liberal MPs in the House warned the motion would endanger the current status quo of abortion in Canada.
“Canadians will not stand for a veiled attempt to roll back women’s rights,” NDP MP Niki Ashton charged.
Woodworth is strongly pro-life but has never clearly stated his motion is about re-opening the debate over abortion – and didn’t when pushed by Liberal MP Denis Coderre.
He responded he personally doesn’t believe life begins at complete birth but added that knowing more about when life begins “will inform our discussions and make them more fruitful, and help us to reconcile Canadians on differing views on these issues.”
Harper, who has repeatedly said his government won’t re-open the abortion debate, distanced himself Thursday from Woodworth’s motion.
But opposition parties have accused Harper of allowing Woodworth to open the debate in order to appease a social conservative base.
Speaking during question period, Harper noted every private member is allowed to table bills and motions in the House.
But he added: “This particular motion was deemed votable by an all-party committee of the House. I think that was unfortunate. In my case, I will be voting against the motion.”
The motion will get a second hour of debate either in June or September and will then be up for a vote in the House.
CBC News – MPs denounce motion to study when life begins - Apr 26, 2012
Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion proposing that a parliamentary committee study the legal definition of when life begins got zero support from MPs who debated it Thursday.
Even a senior member of his own party, the Conservative whip Gordon O’Connor, said that, despite Woodworth’s claims, the motion is intended to lead to a change in Canada’s abortion laws and that it should be rejected.
Kicking off the debate on his private member’s motion, Woodworth said the current law’s 400-year-old definition of when a person is defined as a human being is dishonest and most Canadians don’t agree with it.
Canadians don’t accept the notion in the law that “birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being,” Woodworth said.
“Motion 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question,” he said.
But he made it clear that his own answer to the question is that the moment of birth is not “a rational or reasonable” time to define a baby as a human being. But those who disagree with him, and who accept the law as it is, should have the confidence to expose it to examination by a committee of MPs, as proposed in his motion, he said.
“What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?” Woodworth said.
“If you care about the truth you will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth,” he said.
Liberal MP Denis Coderre and others said it was ironic for Woodworth to talk about the law being dishonest when he wasn’t being truthful about what he is trying to do with his motion.
Woodworth insisted that his motion is only meant to provoke a “respectful dialogue and an open-minded study of the evidence.”
‘Society has moved on and I don’t believe this proposal should proceed.’
—Government whip Gordon O’Connor
But O’Connor disagreed, saying “the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions at some development stage in Canada.” If the legal definition of when a person is considered a human being is changed, and a fetus is then considered a human being then homicide laws would apply, and abortion, as a consequence, would be considered homicide, O’Connor said.
He was the only other Conservative MP to speak during the debate, and he urged everyone to reject his colleague’s motion whenever it comes to a vote.
O’Connor said abortion is a serious decision for women to make and he wants all women to continue to live in a society where they can make that decison “without the threat of legal consequences.”
Whether one accepts abortion or not, it will always be part of society, O’Connor said, adding that he can’t understand why those who are opposed to it want to impose their belief on others through the Criminal Code.
“Trying to amend the legal rules governing abortion as is intended by this motion will not improve the situation, it will only lead to increased conflict as the attempt is made to turn back the clock,” said O’Connor. “Society has moved on and I don’t believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government’s position.”
Harper rejects his MP’s motion
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he will not support the motion.
Harper was asked during question period by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair why he was allowing Woodworth and other members of his caucus to reopen the debate on abortion.
The prime minister said party leaders do not have control over the motions introduced by MPs and that it’s “unfortunate” an all-party committee decided the motion is eligible for a vote.
“In my case, I will be voting against the motion,” Harper said.
O’Connor said that the government’s position is very clear that it will not re-open the abortion debate.
Woodworth’s motion isn’t binding, and won’t come to a vote on Thursday. It was up for one hour of debate and now drops to the bottom on the order of precedence. It will get another hour of debate when it returns to the top of the list.
The House will vote on the motion the Wednesday following its next hour of debate, which Woodworth expects will be in June or September.
The NDP’s women’s issues critic, Niki Ashton, said during the debate that her party is unanimously opposed to the motion.
“In Canada, in 2012, a woman’s right to choose is not up for negotiation,” she said. Ashton also rejected Harper’s claim that he doesn’t want the abortion debate re-opened.
“If the prime minister didn’t want a woman’s right to choose to be debated, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” she said.
Liberal MP Hedy Fry said Liberals don’t support any legislative action that might criminalize abortion and oppose Woodworth’s motion. She also criticized Harper for allowing Woodworth’s motion to stand for debate.
CTVNews - Harper says he’ll vote against abortion motion - Apr. 26 2012
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday he will vote against a motion tabled by a Conservative MP to have Parliament determine when human life begins.
The private member’s motion was launched by Kitchener, Ont., MP Stephen Woodworth, who contends the current legal definition of human life is based on 400-year-old British tradition and needs to be updated.
The motion asks that a special committee of the House of Commons be established to review the issue of when exactly human life begins.
During a debate Thursday, Government Whip Gordon O’Connor said the motion’s “intention is to restrict abortion in Canada,” and he added that the “government will not reopen the debate.”
Some Liberal and NDP MPs said Woodworth’s goal was to ultimately criminalize abortion.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a full frontal assault on women’s fundamental right to choose,” said NDP Gatineau MP Françoise Boivin.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has frequently said he does not want to reopen the debate on abortion.
During question period earlier in the day, he responded to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair who asked “why he allowed his Conservative MPs to reopen the debate.”
“Every private member can table bills and motions in this House,” Harper responded. “Party leaders don’t have any control over that. This motion was deemed votable by an all-party committee of the house. I think that’s unfortunate. In my case I will be voting against the motion.”
Woodworth takes issue with Section 223 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which states that human life begins when a child emerges from its mother’s body.
“When the rights of two people conflict it is never acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being deserving recognition as a human being,” Woodworth said during the debate.
However, he suggested that abortion laws would not necessarily be affected by the findings of a committee were it to be formed.
“Do you need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth in order to justify abortion? You do not,” he said. “Even if a child is found to be a human being, it is arguable that the mother’s rights will outweigh the child’s rights.”
Abortion rights advocate Carolyn Egan told CTV that the rules around the procedure are quite clear in Canada and the Canadian Medical Association has regulations in place to guide physicians.
“I think we’ve seen actually the rate of abortion going down over the last number of years because of more information and education on birth control, so I don’t think it’s an issue,” said Egan, a spokeswoman for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Even though science has advanced, the medical community supports a woman’s right to abortion and the medical definition of a fetus is well established, Egan said.
“I think we have to look clearly at what’s happening here, the intent is to re-open the abortion debate, but the intent in the long run is to outlaw abortion (and re-criminalize women and doctors),” she said.
Andrea Mrozek of the institute of Marriage and Family Canada said it’s incorrect to assume abortion is a fundamental right.
Most Canadians aren’t even aware the country doesn’t have a law governing abortion, she said in the same interview.
“This is an opportunity for there to be more information and those who oppose me on this idea that abortion is not a right, have nothing to fear from the result,” Mrozek said.
The motion just opens a discussion on the topic of when life begins and isn’t a bill to legislate abortion laws, she said.
But Egan said that’s just a smokescreen to push for the elimination of abortion in Canada.
“There is no doubt in our minds this is about abortion, whether a woman has a right to abortion and whether abortion should be provided in this country and let’s not fool ourselves,” she said.
According to Mulcair, NDP caucus members will vote unanimously against the motion. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae says caucus members will be allowed to vote according to their conscience. The Conservatives haven’t said what directions will be given to their members.
The motion won’t come up for a vote in the House until June, or possibly September, according to CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson.