Friday, 27 April 2012

Canada - The Abortion Issue Reopened or Not

A backbench Conservative Member of Parliament has created emotional fury in Canada's House of Commons by introducing a private members bill that asks the question at what point a fetus is considered a human being before the moment of complete birth.  It asks to  examine existing medical evidence to review Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth. 

The complete text of Motion 312 is below:

-- February 6, 2012 -- Mr. Woodworth (Kitchener Centre) -- That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

that the membership of the special committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;

that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);

that the special
committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and

that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,

(i) what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth, (ii) is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth, (iii) what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth, (iv) what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions
of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1).

The motion, which was discussed last night in Parliament, has created controversy, with the opposition parties accusing the Conservative government that this is a back door way to bring the abortion issue front and centre and to reopen the debate.  

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper had often reiterated that his government would not legislate on this issue, the alarm signals were fired up by the pro-choice movement, including some MPs that sent tweets on the issue.  

Despite the alarm, Stephen Woodworth's motion received no support.  Most Members of Parliament and Canadians as a whole consider this a settled issue.   When the motion came up for discussion, Woodworth made an opening statement, approximately 15 minutes, to introduce his motion.  
Woodworth said that his motion merely proposes to study 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.

The bill called for a committee, consisting of a majority number of government MPs to study the motion and submit a report to Parliament within ten months.

Conservative Party Whip, Gordon O'Connor was one of the MPs that rejected the motion by stating 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.
Of course, a change in the definition of the law would have implications under Canada's Criminal Code.   Below is subsection 223 (1)

(1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not
(a) it has breathed;
(b) it has an independent circulation; or
(c) the navel string is severed.
 New Democratic Party Leader and Leader of the Official Opposition has stated all of his members will vote against the bill, while Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said his members would be permitted a free vote.  Prime Minister Harper has stated in the House that he has no intention of reopening the debate and that he personally would vote against the motion.  

"In my case, I will be voting against the motion," Harper said.
Gordon O'Connor  said that the government's position is very clear that it will not re-open the abortion debate.
Niki Ashton, New Democrat,  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. She also rejected the claim that the Prime Minister did not want the debate reopened.

"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.  . She criticized Prime Minister  Harper for allowing Woodworth's motion to stand for debate.

While the motion remains on the order paper, it will take a while before it resurfaces for the second time.   It is doubtful that it will get any support, even from the conservative government.  Most MPs and Canadians are not interested in criminalizing abortion, let alone have this debate reopened.


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