The conservative stance on abortion you didn’t know about -

The conservative stance on abortion you didn’t know about

Gordon O’Connor made it clear: it’s a matter of small-C conservative principles

The conservative stance on abortion you didn’t know about

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

It was a moment of the kind Parliament is not supposed to provide anymore—not, at least, in the eyes of the endless drama critics who bemoan its fallen state. Conservative backbencher Stephen Woodworth had introduced a motion demanding that the House of Commons appoint a special committee to investigate the definition of a “human being” in the Criminal Code section concerning homicide:

“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 it has breathed, it has an independent circulation, or the navel string is severed.”

This language has come down to us basically verbatim from the original Criminal Code of 1892. Woodworth finds the definition puzzling, given the scientific evidence gathered since. Perhaps he thinks that the Victorians, with their passion for anatomy and experimentation, did not know that a fetus, midway through its gestation, already possesses many of the incipient traits and physical characteristics of a human being. In any event, Woodworth’s private member’s motion called for a hearing of medical evidence concerning whether “a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth.”

Woodworth’s motion was widely discussed before coming to the floor, though most of the curiosity concerned whether the opposition leaders would break from the normal procedure on private members’ business and insist on caucus unity in defence of abortion. (The Liberals’ Bob Rae refused to apply the whip. The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair boasted that he wouldn’t need to.)

Woodworth defended his plan with great passion and dramatic gestures, receiving a smattering of applause as he quoted from Émile Zola’s intervention in France’s Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s: “I denounce to the conscience of honest people this pressure brought to bear upon the justice of our country.” Opposition members seized on this as a signal of the Conservatives’ “hidden agenda” surrounding abortion. “What I find dishonest about this speech is that, in reality, what the member wants to do is recriminalize abortion,” complained Liberal Denis Coderre. “We will end up criminalizing abortion again,” agreed the NDP’s Françoise Boivin. Hedy Fry rambled on, Fry-like, about everything from multiple sclerosis to The Handmaid’s Tale.

And then Gordon O’Connor rose from his seat on the government side, immediately behind the Prime Minister. O’Connor, a retired brigadier-general, is the chief Conservative whip—the living symbol, in other words, of the ministry’s discipline and unity. His words bit with surprising sharpness. “The House of Commons . . . is not a laboratory,” he admonished Woodworth. “It is not a house of faith, an academic setting or a hospital. It is a legislature, and a legislature deals with law.” The Criminal Code definition of a human being, he said, is not a medical one; it is a purely legal test defining the moment when personal rights receive protection independent from those of the mother. It is quite reasonable, he added, that this should happen at the moment of their physical separation.

O’Connor went further. He denounced the oft-repeated right-wing heckle that abortion is “unregulated” in Canada. It happens to be absent from the criminal law, O’Connor observed, but the provinces regulate their medical professions, and the doctors in turn regulate their own conduct. The provincial governments and the medical colleges have agreed that since abortion cannot be abolished, it ought to be provided safely by, and to those whose private judgment allows for it. “The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision,” said the whip, “and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount and take precedence over that of the state.”

O’Connor concluded by reaffirming that the Conservative determination not to reopen Canada’s abortion debate is unwavering. “Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed,” he said. “As well, it is in opposition to our government’s position. Accordingly I will not support [this] motion. I will vote against it and I recommend that others oppose it.” Bizarrely, this firm declaration of principles did not derail the opposition clamour: the NDP’s Niki Ashton complained that the Conservatives had a “Trojan Horse agenda” and would “turn the clock back” on reproductive rights the minute they were able. (Isn’t a Trojan Horse something you park outside the walls of a place you haven’t conquered yet? Why would the Conservatives need one?)

What is interesting about O’Connor’s brief speech is that it frames reproductive choice as a matter of small-C conservative principles. He appealed not only to libertarian considerations of individual conscience, but to the idea that regulations should be made at the political level closest to the citizen. Viewed in this light, the Harper rule against legislating on abortion is not just a convenient, cynical means to social peace and election success. It suggests the influence within the government caucus of a Charter-friendly breed of conservative, one whose first instinct is not always to “stand athwart history yelling, stop.”


The conservative stance on abortion you didn’t know about

  1. Colby Cosh frequently comes up with phrases that sum up a situation or problem in a couple of words. I am particularly fond of ’boutique oil’ for example.

    Another one he used was about Ted Morton….Cosh called him a ‘Libertarian/SoCon’….a phrase that made me chuckle for days….because that’s the problem in a nutshell, innit…

    You can be one or the other, but not both. And until people choose which one they plan to promote, they don’t get anywhere…at least in govt. Pastor or PM, but not both.

    Harper appears to have made his choice on this issue, and I hope he sticks to it.

    • He’s repeatedly “made his choice”…just where in hell have you been over the years?

      • i was a riding president in the Reform party.

  2. Bottom line is this……If you do not agree with abortion……Dont have one!

    • How about “if you don’t agree with slavery, don’t own one!” or “if you don’t agree with drunk-driving, don’t do it!” ? Some things just should not be left to an individual’s conscience, or lack of one.

      • Cestmoi,

        Agreed, some things shouldn’t be left to an individual’s conscience, like questions of right and wrong. But that’s why people go to church and listen to whatever a preacher has to say, right?

    • I think you are missing a larger issue.
      It is the responsibility of an elected official and Government to anticipate and enact the will of the People Whilst PROTECTING the WEAK and THOSE who have NO VOICE.
      Enacting the wishes of the Masses must be administered with care NOT TO VIOLATE THE RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL….So it is important to research when a fetus becomes an individual.

      • Although the biological description of a fetus may state that there is circulation and neurological function before the fetus is born, it is still unable to survive without the mother. The Criminal Code definition of a person may be dated, but it clearly summarizes the point that the fetus cannot exist without the mother. A fetus is not an individual until it is surviving independently without the mother.
        The question of when a mass of cells becomes a living organism can be debated, but the main issue is that should society be able to FORCE a woman to carry something in her body for 9 months that is unwanted?
        Society has NOT moved on. Clearly this is a sensitive topic and one which we will not find a common consensus. However, a solution will not be found where a woman’s rights are not secured.

  3. Well, now that we appear to have settled once and for all a woman’s right to choose, let’s turn to a man’s right to choose.
    If a woman decides to keep the child, against the man’s wishes, she can pursue child support. Where is the man’s right to refuse having his half of the DNA carried to term? Why should he then be forced against his will to support the child? Is this not a form of slavery?

    • Regarding your hypothetical man:
      “He had a choice, sir. He could have not done her.”

      • LOL! But the same is true for her. I take it changing one’s mind is purely a woman’s perogative?

        • Ever see a man who wanted to stop once he got started?

    • well now, if the man had a choice, he would have at least avoided the whole situation entirely by taking the steps necessary to ensure that pregnancy would not occur. Some include the use of some form of protection or complete abstinence.

      • Sounds as if you’re saying the man had no choice in having sex! An interesting take on my hypothetical.
        Use of preventative measures are equal opportunity, pre-conception; both parties have the same choices. Post-conception… not so much.

        • Keith, how is wearing a condom on your penis an “equal opportunity preventative measure”? If your policy is to “always wear one”, your chances of conceiving are greatly diminished and you as the male are in charge of the decision.

          • Whatever happened to “No glove, no love”? Surely you’re not suggesting a woman in the throes of lust is too brain-dead or too hurried to stop the action & put on a condom?
            Women actually have more choices; a man is argably a fool to trust a woman to have properly used one of those other options.

          • But wearing a condom isn’t purely for reproductive reasons. The man should always wear one and the woman insist he do, for the benefit of their health too. In other non-reproductive sex, condom use has always been advocated purely for health reasons only.
            Any man who doesn’t wear one, especially during casual encounters, is stupid and so in my opinion is any women who allows it.

          • You’ll get no argument from me on that one! Completely agree.

          • Agreed. Every woman who wants to avoid pregnancy should use her own method of birth control AND insist that the man use a condom. I hear a lot about “the right to abortion” but not so much about “the responsibility of avoiding abortion”.

          • Nicely put!

          • The male could super- charge his decision and keep it in his pants. End of problem.

          • Or the woman could wear a chastity belt and give the key to a friend… or her father…

        • Despite taking precautions to avoid becoming a father, inadvertant pregnancies can occur. Condoms break, vascetomies fail, women may not be truthful or diligent about using the birth control pill. There does seem to be a double standard about forced parental responsibilities, although I have no idea how it could be equitably resolved.

          • ” have no idea how it could be equitably resolved.”
            Me either. We can’t exactly force a woman to have an abortion against her will. But if the man does not want the child and the woman insists on having it, is it right to then legally require him to pay support?
            Perhaps the requirement would have to be a sworn statement during the first trimester to the effect that he does not want the child and would endorse choosng to abort. He would of course have to relenquish all parental rights forever, but he’d then be off the financial hook.
            Withholding knowledge of the pregnancy would give a man a remedial option to declare a legal “non-fatherhood.”
            However, if both agree to have the child, then the man assumes the standard obligations and cannot later renege.

    • When a man can carry a foetus to term, then he can chose.
      Until then the foetus is dependent upon the woman’s personal rights. The term personal in O’Connor’s statement kind of gave it away. The only person who has rights in a pregnancy until birth is the woman. When a man is involved in sexual activity with a woman he should be aware of this, ignorance of the law after all, is no excuse.

      • That’s quite the double standard, though, isn’t it? It smacks of the olden days when a woman would deliberately get pregnant to trap a man into marrying her.
        If women want the right to choose, then why would they deny men the same right? If he doesn’t want the child but she insists on keeping it, then he should be freed of all obligations.
        Anything less is a Victorian vestige that any woman who believes in the right to choose should be ashamed to enforce.
        (Personally, my own morals would dictate that I bear responsibility for any child I create, but if – as O’Connor states – abortion is a matter of personal morality, then so is the father’s choice of whether or not to support a child brought into the world against his wishes.)

        • It isn’t a “double standard”: the right to child support belongs to the child, not the parent. Either parent may decide he or she does not want the child after delivery, however both parents have a legal obligation to support the child. Also, birth control is not the sole responsibility of women. You reap what you sow, boys.

          • And there you go making the same fallacious argument that GFMD made [further down this thread].
            This is a decision that occurs prior to birth. As O’Connor pointed out, prior to birth, the child has no legal rights – so if, at the time the woman is deciding whether to keep the child or not, and prior to birth the father says he does not want the pregnancy to proceed, then if the woman does so anyway it should be with the understanding that she will be the sole provider for that child.
            The issue is reproductive rights. If a female has a right to choose, then so does a male. Anything less is discrimination based on gender, which would be a Charter violation.
            While biology necessitates that the form of expression of that right be different, it does not negate that right.
            So for a woman, she gets to choose whether to terminate or proceed with the pregnancy.
            A man’s choice necessarily must be different. Clearly, he cannot force the woman to go against her own wishes – and if that wish is to terminate the pregancy then there isn’t much he can do. But if the woman decides to proceed against his express wishes, then he should have the right to legally terminate all parental rights and obligations; the woman then proceeds with the clear understanding that he will not be providing support, nor will he be able to later seek parental rights.
            Such a declaration would have to be made prior to birth (unless the pregnancy has been hidden from him); otherwise the assumption is that he was prepared to accept responsibility for the child.

          • I Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for
            members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an

          • As O’Connor says, the government is not trying to legislate morality on the abortion issue; the same is true with the male reproductive rights I’m championing here. No woman is forced to have an abortion; no man would be forced not to support his offspring. As it happens, and as I said in another post here, my personal beliefs would require me to support any “fruit of my loins.” But not all share those beliefs, and in our society I have no right to force those beliefs on another. This government just made that its official position (though perhaps they had not considered the full import of their words when they had O’Connor speak them).

            If we as a society choose to allow reproductive choice post-conception, then we have to offer that choice to both sexes. The Charter requires it. The government, if it allows women a choice, but then dictates the man must provide financial support if that choice is to continue the pregnancy, has not only taken the right to choose from the man, but has effectively appointed the woman as its proxy in determining the father’s financial fate: name him as father and make him pay, or say the father is unknown and let him off the hook.

            That, my friend, is an unjust and unwarranted transfer of power to a person with a definite conflict of interest.

          • There are two issues here: right to terminate a pregnancy (by both parties) is one; obligation to support child ( by both parties) is the second.

          • The second issue has no legal weight or merit until the child is born – after which the first has ceased to be an issue.

            I have been arguing the male’s equal right to reproductive self-determination. While a man can’t have an abortion, society could (and, I argue, should) give him the right to declare that he wants neither parental rights nor responsibilities. Consider it the “equivalent to dead” status.

            A dead parent can’t pay child support, so…

    • Between the interests of the man, woman and child, society will take the side of the child every time. Which is as it should be.

      • Ah – but the man is choosing NOT to be the father BEFORE the child is legally a human!! Same choice the mother makes if she chooses to terminate.
        So you are advocating a double standard? Women can choose but to hell with the men? Rather sexist and Victorian! Why not force him to marry her if she insists?
        The part of me that doesn’t want my taxes going up to look after someone else’s kid gets what you are saying. But…
        I agree with O’Connor that abortion should be an issue of personal morality. But we can’t give one sex the power to choose whether or not to be a parent and then force the other to deal with the consequences. That is not equality under the law.
        Personally, I think life begins at conception and would not be able to remain in a relationship with a woman who aborted my child. And, given that, I would bear responsibility – financially and otherwise – for any child I created. Those are my beliefs; I do not seek to impose them on anyone else.
        But if, as a society, we agree that a woman has the right to choose, then it is the heights of hypocrisy to say the woman also gets to force a financial obligation on the man if her choice to keep the child runs counter to his desires.
        All I’m saying is, let’s have some logical consistency in our handling of this issue.

        • But a child’s needs continue from birth until adulthood – when the father makes his “choice” is of little importance. And he may choose to exercise as few aspects of actual parenting as he wishes, but he may not renege on child support.

          Pretty simple, utterly reasonable.

          • If a woman has a right to choose, then so does a man. Anything less is discrimination on the basis of sex, and therefore runs counter to the Charter.
            If the woman chooses to have the child against the wishes of the man, then she assumes sole responsibility for meeting the child’s needs – neither she, nor society, has the right to sentence the man to 18+ years of financial servitude.
            If society does so, it is effectively equivalent to denying a woman access to an abortion.
            If anyone with deep pockets wanted to fight this in court, I’d lay odds my argument would, at minimum, see a minority of SCC justices take my side on this – and would not be overly surprised by a win. You can’t give reproductive freedom to one sex and deny it to the other – and that’s what forced support where the man wanted an abortion boils down to.

          • The “right” being “denied” isn’t the same so the Charter wouldn’t be
            engaged. It may have been tried before but I’m not looking it up.

            You’re basing your stance here on defining an “inequality” and demanding
            it be rectified without any consideration of other matters or
            consequences. It’s how adolescants and ideologues make decisions and
            you should do your best to avoid it. Step back and look and consider it
            as a whole and you see the best way to do it is the way we do it now:
            woman gets to control her own body and if there’s a disagreement with
            the father her wishes prevail. Once the fetus is born and is a living
            child there is going to be a right to child support (that the mother
            can’t even contract out of, it’s the child’s entitlement, not the
            mothers). If the father feels he is “shafted” (HA!) well the rights of
            the kid are more important than the father’s pocket and whimsical
            notions of equality. .

          • “You’re basing your stance here on defining an “inequality” and demanding
            it be rectified without any consideration of other matters or consequences.”
            Isn’t that how the Charter works? LOL!
            I started out posting my first comment more as a devil’s advocate. Up to now, whenever I thought about it at all, I thought much as you do – that if you bring a child into the world then you pay for it.
            But our back and forth has clarified my thinking; while it is true that biology means the right can’t be exactly the same – the fetus is inside the female, after all, not the male – the right to choose whether or not to assume the responsibilities of parenthood are unisex.
            As O’Connor set out is his argument, legal rights for the unborn do not exist so if the father says he does not want his share of the DNA to continue forth, then the woman, by choosing to continue the pregnancy anyway, is assuming all responsiblilty for the complete package.
            If she, or the state, then forces the biologcal father to make support payments, they are in effect retroactively giving the unborn legal rights

          • (Disqus doing weird things. [EDIT: in fact, it just posted the second half of my reply ahead of the first part; please read the comment below this one first] Anyway, continuing…)
            Rights can be equal without having the exact same way of enforcing them. A right to say no to parenthood between conception and birth either exists or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, well – bye-bye abortions. If it does, then the male gets to opt out.
            The reality is, this happens regularly anyway. The mother doesn’t want to be tied to the father, for whatever reason, says she doesn’t know who the father is. The state is OK with this – even if it means that they are potentially denying a parent who wants contact from being involved (f he finds out, he has legal recourse).
            What you are arguing is that the woman, the child and the state have rights and the man has none. That is unconscionable.
            Oh, and I prefer “idealist” to “ideologue”, thanks! ;-)
            Well, it’s been great debating you. Thanks for helping me clarify my own view on this issue.

    • Then he better think with his head not his pecker!

      • And women don’t experience lust, and think with their nether regions?
        If it was consensual sex, both parties are equally responsible (and if it wasn’t, then he’s got more to worry about than whether or not she keeps the child).
        This “It’s the guy’s fault; make him pay” attitude is rather antiquated, is it not?

  4. Sure some CPC members will be pro-choice. There’s also a decent chance that anti-abortion measures by the Harper government will be limited to women overseas as conditions to receiving foreign aid.

    But it’s also true that the greatest risks to the right to an abortion come from conservative and harper governments.

  5. If Harper sticks to this premise, how long will his So-Con base continue to support him? They may not have any other party to turn to, but they may just decide to give up support of anyone. The Conservatives have a majority now but if core support starts to stray, they could risk that majority in future elections.

  6. “The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision,” said the whip, “and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount and take precedence over that of the state.”
    Can one assume, then, that O’Connor and the CPC are opposed to any laws or regulations designed to prevent sex selection?

    • A negative vote for just asking a question? I can see someone voting against some of my other comments here – in fact I expected it – but if you don’t like the question, have the decency to indicate why it should not be asked.

      • It’s an interesting point, and one unforeseen consequence of abortion. I know that safe and available abortion is the moral choice here, but how to regulate sex selection? Honestly, I don’t think the CPC (i.e. Stephen Harper) is sophisticated enough to tackle such questions. Although, I must admit no answer immediately springs to my mind either. I’m from Toronto so this is emerging as a local problem, and from what I understand doctors among certain communities here are starting to screen for patients for piotential sex selection. Unfiortuanmtely, I’ve no further details about the process.

  7. Gordon O’Connor was thinking of something much more fundamental when he made that speech. He realizes that this Parliament, with a CPC government, lead by Stephen Harper is incapable of debating the abortion issue in the public interest. Remember that this is the government where Canadians need a third party expert to advise them that when the government says $15 billion, what they really mean is $25 billion. Imagine the mess they could make of a sensitive issue like abortion.

  8. Strange how Gordon O’Conner was regarded as a doddering old fool as Minister of Defense, but has become a robust white knight on a gleaming charger in the eyes of the fickle media when it comes to THIS issue.

    • His lines were very likely fed to him by the PMO.

  9. Communism or capitalism control over abortion is doing this to mothers and children!
    There are more documentaries on you tube if you wish for more info!

  10. Only from mcleans would this be a news story. you are now officially even worse than CBC

  11. I am conservative and prochoice. Also support same sex marriage. My 2 adult daughters are also conservative, prochoise, support ssm. The noisy “so-cons” do not speak for all of us. The main stream media do however try to say all conservatives are of the so-con style.

  12. Trust me, this issue isn’t just going to go away, though it may hibernate from time to time. Evangelical Christians aren’t going to leave the issue of abortion to the Catholics when both the evangelicals and the Catholics are competing for same group of lapsed Catholics.

    Just when you think it’s safe to go to an abortion clinic with your pregnant girlfriend, you may see a few people with signs who look like they don’t sleep much at night.

  13. abortion is not an easy decision, but it is to be made by the mother and the mother alone. Stop child abuse by religious doctrine and home schooling if you are really concerned about making this a better place to live.

    • So the putative father is to have no say; he is merely the sperm provider and wallet?

    • home schooling? you must be insane… a woman has a right to decide whether to carry her child but no right to how her child is educated?

    • Wow… all the home schooled children I know are intelligent, thoughtful, and great to be with. What is your experience that has soured you against one of the most labour-intensive, loving endeavours on the face of the planet??

      BTW – you say abortion is not an easy decision?? When I went to the doctor for a pregnancy test, the doctor did not tell me, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant.” She said, “This doesn’t have to happen and I can refer you to someone to take care of this.” She spent the whole appt. trying to convince me to abort by beautiful daughter!! Abortion is no longer about a woman in angst over whether to let her child live or… not. It’s a wholesale profit-driven business!

      That said, I am sorry for the pain the women in your life carry as a result of losing their children to abortion.

  14. Our world would not be in this state it is in now, if there was no abortion . Our schools are closing because of lack of children. Jobs are becoming scarce, we have no respect or committment to one another, this has become a very selfish world, everyone for themselves.
    If you cannot rely on your own mother to protect you, what is left.
    If you are disable of any kind, it may not be disablity that will take your life but the right to have a life can eventually be taken away.

    • I might have given you a pass on “Our country” or “North America” in relation to the school closing bit, but “world”? The world’s problems are caused by abortion? One of our biggest problems in much of the world is over-population. Not sure how abortions caused that.

      I’m willing to grant you that the increased demand for abortion services may be a symptom of the bigger problems that plague us. But a cause? Or, as you seem to be saying, the cause? I have to disagree with you on that.

    • Catherine:
      I’m 35 years old. In my lifetime the world population has surpassed 5, then 6 and now 7 billion people. It would seem to me that the problem is not enough abortion. Your comments are not supported by the facts.
      In the same period the Canadian population has grown from roughly 25 million to approximately 33 million. So wherever you believe that abortion is decimating child populations it’s not in Canada and not on planet earth either.

  15. It is obvious that those who are pro-abortion don’t actually deal with the question that Stephen Woodworth asked. Wonder why? It is that they don’t like the answer and then attempt to change the discussion. Sad.

  16. Anyone who still thinks abortion is about a women exercising her rights has been asleep for the past 20 years. There has been a systematic, aggressive, ideological agenda rammed down the throats of taxpayers that has resulted in 100,000 abortions a year. Each and every one medically unnecessary. WAKE UP CANADA.

  17. I personally do not agree with women using abortion as a form of birth control, rather than common sense. BUT, I do believe that women or children should have the right to choose under certain circumstances, such as rape, molestation, or for medical purposes. To allow the latter you must allow the former, you must allow choice.

  18. My personal belief
    I am pro-choice. As a female and mother of 4, I believe that raising a child is hard enough when it’s wanted. I cannot understand why anyone would carry a child to term if it’s not wanted.

    A fetus is a parasite until it is viable in non-uterine support ie:
    it can withstand the rigors of life WITHOUT MEDICAL INTERVENTION – that means NO LIFE Support AT ALL – for 10 days. I don’t mean not feeding it and keeping it warm, but no respiratory assist, feeding tubes, etc to keep it alive.

    And for the father’s child support payment – you can keep in zipped up or have a reversible vasectomy, AND always wear a condom smeared with spermicidal jelly. But if you make it, and can’t talk your girlfriend into an abortion, you are responsible financially till it’s 18. NOT a minute more.

    I don’t believe that any male legislate has any business voting on something he can never experience. When you can get pregnant, have your life on the line for the whole 9 months, with higher % of fatalities during birth, then, and only then can you have a say. Or, of course, when artificial wombs become the norm – then go for it!

    I don’t believe in ‘mother’ support applied against the father. Child support yes. If she can afford to stay home, then by all means, go for it. Neither the state nor the father should be responsible for her upkeep. Single moms get that provincial maternity leave, paid for by her employer/employee contract through taxes. Couples get a choice for either of them to stay at home for the term.