Mar 15 2012

Here we go again. Tory to reopen abortion debate in Canada

Despite Harper’s campaign promise that the abortion debate would not be reopened yet again, one of the bare few line items on his agenda I actually agree with, it looks like those “values” politicians in his extreme-right party just can’t leave well enough alone. Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth is attempting to get Parliament to take up debate on the topic by calling into question the legal definition of “human being” — and he may just get away with it, because he’s exercising his power as a private member to make his proposal, leading to debate and a vote. All this without sullying the Harper government’s reputation, such as it is, for following through on all its campaign promises.

Woodworth wants Parliament to create a committee of politicians whose task it will be to review a law that says unborn children are not legally considered human beings. If parliamentarians agree to Woodworth’s request, a special committee would review Section 223 of the Criminal Code that says a child becomes a human being only after its complete birth and not while it is still a fetus.

Here’s the full text of the section:

223. (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.

(2) A person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.

If approved, a committee of 12 MPs, with seven Tories, four New Democrats and one Liberal would review the law and submit a final report to the Commons determining whether “medical evidence exists to support or dismiss the idea that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, how that affects the law, and what the Commons might do about it,” Postmedia’s Sheila Dabu Nonato wrote when Woodworth first proposed his motion.

And yes, Harper really did promise no more abortion debate, so either he squelches this, or he’s allowing it (or encouraging it) to happen so he can pander to the extremists.

There is no good medical definition for when, exactly, a fetus becomes a viable human being. As it is procedural, the best any of us seem to be able to come up with is, when it can survive without being attached to its host. So, it follows that the entire purpose of this legislation is not to, say, prevent abortions at 8-and-a-half months, but rather to open the door to further redefinitions of when abortions can happen. Consider that in Canada, the vast majority of abortions happen between 0-12 weeks, a tiny percentage more between 12 and 24, and a sliver of a fraction of that happening after 24 weeks. Basically, just like in the States, in Canada it’s the mother’s choice for first trimester abortions, the mother’s-and-doctor’s choice in second trimester, and the doctor’s choice in third-trimester abortions.

And the majority of Canadians — 52% — support legal abortion in all circumstances. Only 27% are pro-life in all circumstances, but that’s just about enough of Canada to make a supermajority steamroller government, I guess!

You know all those times you folks see something shitty in the States and joke about how you’re coming to Canada? Well… we’re kind of in the process of reformatting our country to fit the neocon vision. Aside from universal health care, we’re taking all the shittiest bits of policy you’ve enacted over the past 50 years and enacting them wholesale now, unopposed, because of the broken way our government works by design, and the broken way our populace has succumbed to the propaganda and bread-and-circuses. I can’t help but feel like I need to leave before our country is fully Harperized. I hear Minnesota is fairly progressive. Bachmann notwithstanding.


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  1. 1
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    There is no good medical definition for when, exactly, a fetus becomes a viable human being.

    But that question is irrelevant (and would depend on each individual foetus–the closest you could get would be an average). The law is about when the foetus becomes a living human being.

    Basically, just like in the States, in Canada it’s the mother’s choice for first trimester abortions, the mother’s-and-doctor’s choice in second trimester, and the doctor’s choice in third-trimester abortions.

    No. It’s the woman’s choice always. A doctor can’t veto a woman’s choice in the second trimester or force a woman to give birth/have an abortion in the third trimester. It just happens that women don’t generally wake up one morning during their 8th month of pregnancy and change their minds unless there’s some medical reason. My doctor doesn’t own my uterus any more than Mr. Wordworth does, thank you very much.

    (Oh, and Jason? The hatred is still burning with the heat of a million suns.)

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    You’re right, of course, Ibis, that it’s always the woman’s choice to abort.

    But there’s a problem with obtaining doctors to do it late-term, and it basically works out to the same stats as a result. And another problem exists, where PEI and NB do not fund abortions at all, in contravention of the Canada Health Act. Nova Scotia offers only limited funding. And many hospitals won’t do out-of-province abortions at all. Also, hardly any abortion instruction is given at medical colleges any more.

  3. 3

    Maybe I’m more optimistic than you, but I can’t see re-opening the abortion debate doing much more than motivating centre-leaning opposition against the Tories. This is of course Harper trying to throw red meat to the social conservative base while keeping his hands clean. However, no one in the CPC even wipes their nose without Harper’s OK, so I can’t believe this move isn’t condoned by him. I would hope people realize that.

  4. 4
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    And another problem exists, where PEI and NB do not fund abortions at all, in contravention of the Canada Health Act.

    The situation is bad & needs to be changed, but it’s technically not the case (it’s good to be strictly accurate about the obstacles to access involved).

    New Brunswick has one of the country’s most restrictive laws on funding for abortion. The province will only pay for abortions for women who can find two doctors to certify the procedure is “medically necessary,” a definition left up to the individual doctor. The abortion must be performed by a gynecologist in an approved hospital. The laws are similar in neighbouring Prince Edward Island, although none of the island’s hospitals perform abortions.

    PEI women can have abortions out of province and paid for by the provincial plan, *if* they have 2 doctors approve and if they have the procedure done in a hospital. Nova Scotia, as far as I know, fully pays for hospital procedures, but only partially funds private clinics.

    I’d rather we could spend our effort and time fighting for full and easy access, full coverage, and more doctors skilled to do the procedure than have to fight all over again for the right to personal security.

  5. 5

    Can we ditch these clowns yet and find a party worth voting for.

  6. 6
    G.D. Hamilton

    Every Canadian wants the same things. We all want a country that embodies our community ideals. A place where children grow up strong, healthy and loved. A place where the weak and vulnerable are given a hand up. A place where hard work, tenacity and creativity are rewarded.

    Canadians want a world where Canada is respected for peace making and constructive partnership. They want a nation where democratic voting matters, because governments deliver on their commitments.

    These are my ideals too.

    Canadians want a government that will promote these goals. Rather than reduce our laws to the lowest common denominator we need to lift them to our highest ideals. We need to persevere with political resolve, intelligent planning, and persuasive reasoning.

    We also need to reach out to a broad spectrum of Canadians. I believe that my background and diverse experience will enable me to reach across partisan boundaries. Kitchener Centre, with its urban sophistication, prosperous economy and good-hearted people, is an excellent place to begin.

    This is not a project for a single person. Many voices are required to re-assert the importance of community ideals. I invite you to join me in this absolutely essential undertaking. Together, we can make a difference.

    This preceding is directly from his web site: http://www.stephenwoodworth.ca/
    His words or his publicist words, but then he is suppose to believe them. I personally do believe he speaks for most Canadians, evne for the majority with in his own riding.

  7. 7

    Well dammit there I go opening my big mouth one day too soon. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some letter writing to do.

  8. 8

    @ hamilton

    That’s pretty much just empty rhetoric. I’d like to see the party that doesn’t want children to grow up strong or where hard work and creativity get you no where. What actually matters is what you plan to do to get there.

    So for example I looked up the latest vote for bill C-10 the crime omnibus bill. The one with tougher minimum sentences that even Texas republicans came out saying was a mistake for them and wouldn’t be a good idea for Canada http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/10/17/pol-vp-milewski-texas-crime.html . Here’s how the mps voted:


    There you go have a look. If you scroll down you see that Stephen Woodworth voted for it. For my personal position between his attempts to bring back the abortion debate and his efforts to vote in the C-10 I can only conclude that we have vary different ideas of how to improve Canada. So once again the feel good rhetoric is meaningless what matters for an mp is how they actually vote and how they try to improve Canada.

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault


    And the majority of Canadians — 52% — support legal abortion in all circumstances.


    I personally do believe he speaks for most Canadians, evne for the majority with in his own riding.


  10. 10

    Dear Canadian politicians:

    Give it up! You’re never going to be as crazy as politicians in the US and trying to imitate them just makes you look like poseurs. Go back to sensible Canadian values and stop playing Rush Limbaugh.

    Love and kisses,


  11. 11

    Apparently he only speaks for ~42.4% of his own riding. He may speak for the majority of Canadians in his empty little speech there but I don’t see much evidence that he speaks for any other majority.

  12. 12

    I am incandescent with rage that this is even being considered.

  13. 13
    G.D. Hamilton

    To those who said what I posted was empty rhetoric – I agree but we are talking (communicating) and our politicians should be held to the highest standard of human honesty!!!
    So, wither you agree or not I win, but then so do you as we are communicating!
    Thank you all!

  14. 14
    Doug Alder

    Harper is a neocon – he will tell whatever lie he deems necessary to get his way. It look now like he used Karl Rove tactics in our last election to robocall people away from their proper polling station, in critical ridings.

  15. 15

    Even whether or not the fetus is living is irrelevant for the same reason we don’t mandate tissue testing and living organ donation: Everyone has a right (not a privilege that is taken away if you’re female and have a parasite take up residence in your womb) to bodily autonomy.

    Pregnancy and living organ donation are both wonderful things – if it’s your decision to go through with it. If it’s not your decision, it’s an act that relegates the person to livestock.

  16. 16
    Pierce R. Butler

    Oh great – a committee of politicians with a Tory majority will now resolve a question whose nuances have baffled the best minds for millennia.

    About time!

    Can we get them to address wave-particle duality next?

  17. 17

    The Christians still have a large say in PEI politics. Having abortion available here in the near future is not very likely, despite the efforts a group acting to push for equality. Like so many consevbative policies, those hardest hit are those who can least afford it. The cost to travel out of province for an abortion will run to several hundred dollars, even if the procedure itself is fully funded. This means that women with low incomes cannot easily afford an abortion.

  18. 18

    What? Canada has been my fall-back plan for years! Gosh ding dang. Oh, and regarding your idea that Minnesota is fairly progressive – once you leave the 494/694 Twin Cities loop, all bets are off. Our Republican voters did choose Santorum during caucuses, remember.

  19. 19

    Hi Jason, I was looking at some of the links you provided in this post and I am not sure they substantiate the claims you are making.

    In the document linked under “the vast majority of abortions happen between 0-12 weeks” I can find absolutely no reference to the time at which the abortions were performed. In fact, this document seems to be saying that there is a serious lack of detailed record keeping with respect to abortions in Canada. While the claim may be true, I don’t think this document supports it.

    Also, you state that “And the majority of Canadians — 52% — support legal abortion in all circumstances.” The poll that you reference asked the question: “Thinking about your general views on abortion, would you say you are more pro-life or pro-choice?”. I think your claim of ‘support legal abortion in all circumstances’ is quite a stretch based on the data provided by that poll.

    All that being said, I can only hope this motion is defeated. The freedoms and rights that we have in this country are what make it great!


  20. 20

    …whether “medical evidence exists to support or dismiss the idea that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth….

    Huh? Isn’t that a question of semantics? Or maybe a philosophical question? I don’t think medical science can really answer the question one way or the other, except to help determine whether or not the criteria that you decide defines “human being” are found in a developing fetus.

    Or are they asking medical researchers to determine once and for all ecactly when babies get their souls from God?

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Jason Thibeault

    Kyle — apparently I did indeed make two major mistakes.

    I misread the graphs from the poll, thinking the question from the US poll was the same asked in the others. My hasty sourcing of those figures has indeed contributed to my overstating the case — 52% of Canadians are somewhat or very pro-choice, and 27% are somewhat or very pro-life. The rest are undecided. Those numbers are still very much skewed against the idea that the pro-life ideology is held by the “majority”.

    Also, I was trying to find a nonpartisan version of the abortion statistics I found on this pro-life website, and thought I had found the StatsCan source listed at the bottom. Looking at that source, evidently I’m wrong. I’m still looking for a better source.

  1. 23
    Clinic Exorcism | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

    [...] Canadians get too smug on this issue, Jason Thibeault at the Lousy Canuck blog warns us that the Tories are bringing the discussion back to Canada. Conservative MP Stephen [...]

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