Something… weird happened last week

Anyone who is at least passingly familiar with the political landscape of the United States right now knows that the Republican Party has declared open season on women’s reproductive rights. From the much-derided all-male hearing on women’s contraception (and the resulting Limbaugh clusterfuck) to the very serious breaches of both personal autonomy and medical ethics happening in various states, there seems to be a concerted effort to roll back women’s access to health care. Add to that the fact that the government was nearly shut down because Republicans refused to allow any federal funding to go to Planned Parenthood, their reluctance to recertify the Violence Against Women Act, and the picture becomes pretty clear: Republicans have decided that American women are on their own.

Of course we have our own version of the Republicans forming the government here in Canada. As I noted shortly after the election, the Republican North Party is actually a stiched-together and very uneasy coalition of actual legitimate fiscal conservatives and the backwoods knee-jerk reactionaries that exist in every country to some degree, and said this:

The only way (as far as I can see) that the RNP was able to stitch these two groups together was to simultaneously forge a false equivalence between these two perpendicular political perspectives, and to publicly proclaim disinterest in social policy while quietly whispering assurances to their social base that those issues would come to the fore once a majority was achieved. Now that this is a political reality, Prime Minister Harper will have to ‘pay the piper’, so to speak, by advocating positions that are wildly unpopular among the Canadian majority. If he fails to do this, social conservatives who have long felt ignored by the federal government will abandon the RPN and revive the Reform party. Should he capitulate to their whims, he will alienate the Libertarian/Classical Liberal wing of his party.

This must be a deft balancing act that will take an extraordinary statesman and leader to accomplish. Stephen Harper is neither of these.

Up until now, Prime Minister Harper has kept an at-times-ludicrous level of discipline enforced among the rank and file. They speak only in talking points, and even then only when instructed to do so by the Prime Minister’s Office. Then again, considering the kinds of insane shit they say when their discipline slips, it’s little wonder. At any rate, enforcing this incredibly restrictive and authoritarian “communications” strategy has allowed the RPN to push through some pretty awful legislation with little fuss from the Canadian people who were presented with carefully rehearsed spin on one side, and frothing-mad opposition on the other.

And so it left a lot of heads scratching when Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth introduced a private member’s bill asking for a Parliamentary committee to be formed to debate when a human life begins. Of course his protestations that Canada’s legal definition of personhood starting at birth was “scientifically inaccurate”* were a fairly transparent attempt to hide the fact that he was attempting to re-open a national debate on access to abortion in Canada – a question that has been happily closed since 1976. But, for reasons that are not at all clear to me, this back-bench nobody MP tabled a bill to start the fight up again.

Many Canadians were, predictably, outraged at the idea of the clearly destructive Republican-style policies leaking across the crazy barrier and into our civic life. When the author of the bill rose in the House of Commons to defend it, members of all three opposition parties had knives sharpened, ready to slam the RPN for playing political games with women’s health. This was the moment they had been waiting for – after a long litany of government scandals that were met by a collective shrugging of shoulders, they had finally found an issue that people were fired up about.

And then something weird happened:

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.


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.

Putting aside for a moment the dizzying irony of a member of the “tough on crime at any cost no matter how stupid or backwards our policies are” party decrying the use of the Criminal Code for the pushing of personal beliefs, Mr. O’Connor made a speech that was pretty much taken from a pragmatic (and almost almost progressive) frame of reference. His point was that women should be allowed to choose for themselves, and that (shockingly) restrictions on abortion access do not eliminate abortion – they simply reduce the rate of safe abortions. For a party that has had at best a long-distance summer fling with reality, this kind of pragmatic defense of a position not at all held by their base is downright dumbfounding.

Now I am no political pundit, and I cannot claim any particular expertise in Canadian matters of state. That being said, I cannot help but be deeply cynical about the motivation of this government in opposing this bill. Yes, they probably knew it was political suicide, but if they truly wished to avoid controversy they would have sat Stephen Woodworth down in a back room and laid down the law on him. As it stands, the debate on abortion has been re-opened without anyone having to actually establish a voting record, so some of the damage is already done. Whatever solace there is to take in this comes from the fact that the motion went down in flames and seems very unlikely to pass, which suggests that Canadian women’s reproductive rights are safe for at least the time being.

I’ll spin some elaborate conspiracy theories in this afternoon’s post.

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*For a group of people who are so deeply anti-science, the right’s invocation of 101-level embryology would be hypocritical if they didn’t consistently get everything wrong.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    If life begins at conception, why does the Catholic church not baptise until after birth?

  2. Desert Son, OM says

    The time of baptism has long been a problem for Catholicism. They had to invent Purgatory for all those people who were sort-of-kind-of-maybe-possibly-not-sure-but-probably on their way to heaven eventually following a probationary period but not properly purified by the various rituals and other laser-light shows necessary for successful heavenly entrance on the first go-round.

    Still learning,


  3. says

    O’Connor’s the MP for my mum, and she dislikes the hell out of him from some correspondence she had with his office. I know he’s an old-school PC, since he’s been in office forever, but I also had him figured for pretty socially conservative.

  4. ButchKitties says

    I believe they wait until birth because you have to sprinkle the magic water on the person being baptized to make the spell work, or something like that.

  5. Kate Chopin says

    As a person opposed to Mr. Woodworth’s back door attempt to reopen the abortion debate I watched CPAC last Thursday with bated breath….and was so elated when people like Hedy Fry, Niki Ashton and Mr. O’Connor basically handed Mr. W his ass on a plate.

    Myself and other like-minded people have been signing petitions and doing everything we can via social media to put a stop to this. And those closest to the action, The Radical Handmaids, took the time to go to Parliament Hill and speak out for all of us.

    Something noteworthy is the fact that anyone who commented contrary to Mr. Woodworth on his facebook page, or the ‘support M312’ page, were banned and their comments deleted.

  6. Jesse says

    The GOP isn’t going after a women’s right to enter into the Secular Mysteries that begin with the Sacrament of abortion. the GOP is only pointing out that the tax-payer should not be funding this modern religious cult.

  7. Other Point-of-View says

    From your posts, I know you think us a bunch “backwoods, knee-jerk, reactionaries” but, oh well.

    I’m with Jesse on this one. I think life starts at conception and I think abortion is murder. I do. I can’t help that some think that belief disgusting, just as they can’t help that I think their disregard for life is disgusting.

    No matter, I’m used to fact that I have to share the country (the US in this case) with people who don’t see it my way. While I never miss an opportunity to fight against abortion and support bills outlawing it, I try not to ambush people and I generally oppose making abortion the same kind of crime as, say, what happened to Trayvon Martin.

    With all said, I’m with Jesse, my tax dollars don’t need to go to infanticide. There are enough people who believe in that sort of thing that can fund it to their hearts content.

  8. says

    You ARE aware that government money doesn’t fund abortion in the States, right? And you understand the difference between a zygote and an infant, right? And you ARE aware that bans on abortion don’t reduce rates of abortion, right?

    Because it sounds like you’re aware of NONE of these things. I don’t find your belief disgusting, I find it woefully ignorant. It’s based on magical thinking and distortions of fact. Life doesn’t “start” at conception – it began about 4 billion years ago. The thing that makes human life special isn’t a chromosome count or the fusion of two reproductive cells. That’s an absurd position created in a time when nobody understood what was happening in the womb. We have much better information now, and we shouldn’t let our backwards past dictate how we address health care issues today.

  9. Other Point-of-View says

    While I am grateful for the primer on the abortion debate in America, I am, in fact, aware of all those things.

    – Again, I believe that life begins at conception. No, it’s not life like how you and me are alive, but the ball is rolling so to speak.

    – While, currently, taxpayer money doesn’t pay for these things, that’s not to say the left wouldn’t have it that way. You might believe Christians/the right are the only ones who agitate for manipulating things to go their way, but this is, in fact, not true.

    – And I am aware abortion bans won’t ‘probably’ won’t lessen abortions, just as affirmative action doesn’t stop discrimination completely and in some areas, has made little change. The wrong thing is still, wrong.

    As for you finding my beliefs woefully ignorant, well, I have nothing to say.

  10. says

    The ball is ‘rolling’ at spermatogenesis and oogenesis. It was also ‘rolling’ 100,000 years ago when the first homo sapiens lived. Choosing conception is a needlessly arbitrary cutoff point. We also do not have a mandate to preserve ‘life’ – human life yes, but again that has nothing to do with biology.

    I don’t believe that liberals don’t want to change the laws. However, in your country it is not liberals who are passing abortion bills in the state and federal legislatures. Even when Democrats controlled the house, nobody raised the idea of mandating free abortions on demand (which, at least in my mind, is too bad).

    I think you mean anti-discrimination laws rather than affirmative action. AA is not supposed to stop discrimination, at least not in any way that is relevant to this discussion. The issue is that people have legal recourse when faced with discrimination – the legality of abortion is not in question. If you’d like to re-litigate Roe v. Wade then have at it, but I think you’ll probably lose.

    Unless you are talking about morally wrong, in which case you’ll have to explain why abortion is morally wrong (aside from the fact that you personally believe something that is scientifically inaccurate and philosophically meaningless).

  11. Fionnabhair says

    From a scientific perspective, a fetus is alive. A discussion about when life begins, in my opinion, is missing the point. The issue is not about when life begins; it’s about whether or not a woman should be forced to sustain that life while it leeches off her for 40 weeks or so before she is subject to a painful and sometimes even life-threatening birthing process.

    No one should ever be forced to sustain the life of another. And yet, for some reason, people are willing to force a woman to do just that. A fetus cannot have the right to life, because giving it that right would be a serious infringement upon the right of the woman carrying it, an infringement we’d never support in any other circumstance. Once it has fully exited a woman’s body and the umbilical cord has been severed, then we can give it rights. Until then, a fetus has all the rights of a parasite, because that’s essentially what it is.

  12. says

    Weird indeed. O’Connor’s my MP, and I must say that I am astonished at his response to Woodworth. I too had him pegged as a social conservative.

  13. says

    “No one should ever be forced to sustain the life of another.”

    Actually the law already does. It’s called parenthood. Parents have to take care of their children and are legally punished if they do not. In fact according to the law in my province, a parent can’t be punished for “not providing the necessities of life” if they don’t care for their child.

    True, speaking of the abortion debate, the child is growing inside her mother’s womb. But why should that change our legal or moral obligations? Conjoined twins are also attached to each other and medicine and law recognize that the twins are both valuable persons, even if one “leeches” off the other.

    BTW, biologically your term of parasite is wrong. Parasites must be members of one species taking resources away from a member of a different species and not providing any benefit to its host. Not only is the human fetus, human just like its parents, it is the offspring of its parents. Strictly on a Darwinian evolutionary framework, the human fetus benefits that mother by continuing her genetic material. That doesn’t mean the human fetus is intrinsically valuable but it does mean that the human fetus isn’t a parasite.

  14. j9r2 says

    This is not realy a pro choice/ pro abortion issue, its turning into a anti suffragete thing.. the Goverment males telling women they are not intellegent enough.. or have the right to make self determining acts for themselves. soon birth controle will be illegal ? or only available for the posh? this is the next step in creating a slave/ working class of society… first harper and his regime axes all the group watchdoging the goverment . no funds for any one that doesnt tow the party line and say what we tell them … and now ..attempting to force reproductive legislation…we need LESS.. thats right LESS humans on this planet.. we can NOT sustain the population as it is …maybe we should promote natural selection more .. and introduce some kind of land pred into the house of commons

  15. says

    Parents have to take care of their children and are legally punished if they do not.

    Parents can choose to voluntarily surrender their children without legal penalty.

  16. John Horstman says

    You can’t possibly think that abortion IS murder – murder is a class of illegal forms of homicides, and abortion is (generally) legal. What I think you likely intend to say is that abortion is homicide and SHOULD BE considered murder. I’m perfectly willing to grant that abortion can legitimately be considered homicide within a very specific framing (one that defines a human as any collection of cells with a unique genetic code consistent with the basic human template – of course, removing chimeric tumors becomes problematic in that framing, as do the rights of identical twins), I just don’t think it’s important.

    Bodily autonomy is the single most important human right, one from which most (all?) other human rights are derived, including the right to life (if one desires life). Even if one considers a blastocyst/zygote/fetus a separate person, it still doesn’t give that fetus the right to use or assault a woman’s body against her will, any more than e.g. I have a right to forcibly drain a woman’s blood, force her to accommodate my presence in her uterus or vagina (in fact, if you want to argue that a fetus is a person, vaginal delivery of a fetus/infant resulting from an unwanted pregnancy meets the legal definition or rape), etc. Even if the blastocyst/zygote/fetus requires the woman’s body to survive, it doesn’t have a right to it against her will (if you want to claim it does, then you must logically support forced organ extraction from unwilling ‘donors’ to save the lives of people with organ failure, as such people depend upon the use of the bodies of others to survive).

    Ultimately, the debates over when “life” begins or whether gestating organisms are “people” don’t have the slightest bearing on abortion rights, because no one has the right to violate another person’s bodily integrity. It’s really as simple as that, and it’s why opposing abortion is anti-woman: opposing abortion means that you don’t believe women should be able to control their own bodies, even when it comes down to protecting themselves against what is functionally assault.

  17. John Horstman says

    For the “right to life” argument, I like to draw an analogy to people with organ failure who require the use of the bodies of others to survive. If it’s okay to violate a woman’s bodily autonomy in order to sustain the life of something/someone that relies on it for survival because the right to life trumps the right to bodily autonomy, then it follows that it should also be okay to forcibly extract organs from healthy people in order to save people suffering organ failure. Some people donate organs, and that’s great – it’s their right to do so, just as some women decide to allow fetuses to use their bodies to gestate. The problem is with trying to force anyone to do either of these against hir will.

  18. jolo5309 says

    My take on this Motion M-312 and the government’s reaction to this (Harper & O’Connor);
    Stephen Harper’s goal is to destroy the Liberal Party of Canada (he has said as much) and make the government be right or left. At the same time he is trying to incrementally inch the country to the right, thereby ensuring future governments will be CPC. If he wants to succeed at this he requires a collaboration of the RC (religious crazies) and the fiscal conservatives (that would be people like me). A discussion on abortion would show fiscal conservatives that far too many of our MPS are RC and would cost them the government before the job is done. If people like me stayed home last election (turned off by Ignatieff and unwilling to vote NDP) there would be a CPC minority government. My MP (CPC) won by only 500 votes.

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