Tory backbenchers want to talk abortion

Why that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Harper

So-cons speak up

Adrian Wyld/CP

For the benefit of the reporters seated in front of him and the audience beyond the television cameras, Stephen Woodworth repeated his mantra several times. “Don’t accept any law,” he said, “that says some human beings are not human beings.”

The Conservative backbencher’s particular concern was Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which effectively states that a child does not become a human being until it has “completely proceeded” from its mother’s body. Shortly before Christmas, Woodworth announced his desire for a national conversation on the acceptability of this standard. And here, at a news conference this month, he was announcing a motion that would establish a special committee of Parliament for the purposes of studying this statute. “I’ve concluded that modern medical science will inform us that children are in reality human beings at some point before the moment of complete birth,” he explained.

Woodworth was loath to get ahead of himself—sticking mostly to the principle and the law in question—but one implication was fairly clear. If the law defining a human being is up for discussion, a conversation about abortion is almost certain to follow.

So to everything else that might challenge Stephen Harper’s government over the next three years, add this: pressure to compel a debate on the most sensitive and fraught of issues. And that push will come from within his party’s own ranks, further challenging a Prime Minister who has made message control one of his hallmarks.

Woodworth’s plea was preceded by a more aggressive outburst from the government’s backbench. Last fall, after the Harper government decided to partner with Planned Parenthood to provide contraception and sex education services abroad, Conservative MP Brad Trost, who has campaigned to defund Planned Parenthood, went public with his disagreement, not only rejecting the idea that the government could fund the organization without funding abortion, but vowing more reaction to come. “Pro-life politicians have been taught a lesson,” he said. “The government only responds to pro-life issues and concerns when we take an aggressive stance. We will apply this lesson.” Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott followed with his own complaint.

How large a group Trost might speak for and what else might follow remains to be seen. Trost says he could have something to table this spring and claims there are another four or five initiatives that are being talked about among MPs. “You are going to see MPs regularly addressing this,” he predicts. “It might be every six months, which compared to never is going to be a big change. You might see more active engagement at the next Conservative conference, things like that.”

Woodworth says his motion is unrelated to Trost’s “lesson” about how pro-life MPs should press their views. He says he is neither unhappy nor frustrated as a government backbencher and makes a point of asserting that Section 223(1) is important in its own right. The implications, though, are obvious. So much so that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson released a statement midway through Woodworth’s news conference. “Private member’s motions are considered in accordance with the rules of Parliament,” Nicholson explained. “The Prime Minister has been very clear, our government will not reopen this debate.” Nonetheless, the official Opposition quickly attacked. In question period that day, the NDP’s Françoise Boivin described Woodworth’s news conference as “disturbing” and called on the government to “keep its backbenchers in line and unequivocally protect women’s reproductive rights.” Interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel later said the Prime Minister should demand that Woodworth withdraw his motion.

Conservative MP Jeff Watson has publicly expressed support for Woodworth’s pursuit of a parliamentary debate. Another government backbencher, Stella Ambler, attended Woodworth’s news conference and says she will support his motion when it comes up for a vote. But finding the votes necessary to get the issue before a committee will be difficult. In 2010, when the House last faced a vote on abortion—on a private member’s bill proposed by Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge that would have made it a crime to “coerce” a woman to have an abortion—the bill was defeated by a vote of 178 to 97.

It’s unlikely any change in law will pass the House, meaning the political threat to the Prime Minister is limited. If anything, the opportunity to stand up and say he is not interested in reopening the abortion issue may even help dispel fears that Harper possesses a “hidden agenda.” At the same time, allowing MPs to speak to these issues and propose initiatives could act as a release valve on pressure building within caucus or the party. Yaroslav Baran, a former Conservative strategist, recalls being asked about controlling MPs after a series of “off message” comments during the 2004 campaign. The answer, he said, was not to get better at silencing backbenchers. “It’s to get to the point,” he said, “where it doesn’t matter, in a political liability sense, what a backbencher thinks on an individual matter of social policy because the press gallery and the public understand the agenda comes from Harper. And this isn’t his agenda.” For the sake of comparison, consider that previous Liberal governments had pro-life and socially conservative MPs within their caucuses without being defined by them.

Nonetheless, various conspiracy theories might be offered to explain why pro-life MPs within the Harper government are suddenly free to express their views: that, for instance, such expressions are condoned because it serves some strategic goal of the Prime Minister. Trost dismisses such theorizing and, of all things, refers to the hubbub around the failed launch of New Coke and subsequent return to Coca-Cola Classic. “The CEO of Coca-Cola, when asked if it had been deliberately planned as a stunt to just reinvigorate sales, he said, ‘Well, we’re not that dumb, nor are we that smart,’ ” Trost recalls. “I think people should actually, sometimes, take the PM at his word and take MPs at their word.” Trost says no one should hold any illusion the Prime Minister desires to engage the issue. And while social conservatives may not be happy with the government’s position, these are the sort of “ordinary differences of opinion” that occur within a large political party.

The MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt is equally realistic about the state of play. Even if a bill could pass the House, he says, it probably wouldn’t get through the Senate. Anything too dramatic, he predicts, would be overturned by the current Supreme Court. “This is not a short-term sort of issue,” he says, referencing the civil rights movement and the Cold War. Change, in other words, takes time. “It’s a broader cultural thing,” he says. “The politics influences the culture just as the culture influences the politics.”

So while the debate might not be going anywhere soon, it is also not likely to go away.




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Tory backbenchers want to talk abortion

  1. ever notice how the same people who are against abortion are against contraception as well? Admit it, you just want the power to regulate our sex lives because the Bible tells you to.

    • That’s not true at all. I’m against abortion but I enjoy the use of contraception quite a bit! I’ve never understood that particular Catholic belief. It is NOT the same as abortion. Even the morning after pill is not the same as abortion.

      • Believe what you like, but if you think abortion is murder, then why support the morning after pill?  What is your timeline for the foetus as human being?

    • “ever notice how the same people who are against abortion are against contraception as well?”

      ever notice how the same people who are for abortion are against capital punishment? Admit it, you just want to murder babies without repercussion.

      • Well, i,m for a women’s right to choose, and I also think capital punichment should be brought back, so so much for your mindless drivel.

    • Ever notice how people who are for abortion seem to actually think that abortions are a good thing and they should be had as often as possible? Maybe you should go tell you’re mother you disagree with her decision not to have an abortion.

      • Kindly supply a source for the assertion that there are people who think abortions are a good thing.

        • Gladly. Right after you can find me a source for the assertion that the same people who are against abortion are against contraception.

          • Current and vocal example – Rick Santorum.  I don’t know how you could have missed the anti-birth control, anti-sex education sentiment which has always accompanied the anti-abortion side.

          • So I guess you missed this part of the article: “ Last fall, after the Harper government decided to partner with Planned Parenthood to provide contraception and sex education services abroad”.

          • @ Rick – and what was Trost’s reaction to the PP funding?

    • Not true.
      I do not support abortion on demand- simply because of the 15 women I know who have had abortions, none were because anyone had been raped, or was carrying a defective fetus, or because they may have had complications from carrying the baby to term.
      They were either too  worried about gaining weight to go on the pill; wanting to trap their boyfriends into a marriage ( yes- some dummies still pull that stunt) and their plan backfired, or they were too lazy to look into the many forms of contraception that are available besides the one they were familiar with (usually the pill).
      I think that there are too many irresponsible people out there, who look at abortion -since it’s free- as a form of contraception.
      These people should be sterilized if they do not want to take control of their sexual behaviour.
      There are a lot of abortions performed in Canada, in spite of how far contraception has come in the past 50 years.  Why women and men think that they should be entitled to tie up time and resources of medical centres because they don’t want to act repsonsibly, shows what a selfish generation the current group of fertile ladies are.

      • Sounds like you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd, Ms. Toews.

  2. I’ll support guys like Trost and Woodworth when that agree to allow women to dictate how they use their penises and when they give women the power to decide whether men should be castrated or not.

  3. The same people who are for the right to choose are opposed to the right to choose when someone chooses to abort an organized mass of cells that has two X chromosomes.

  4. I get where Woodworth is coming from. I too have long had problems regarding this section, which assigns human rights based purely on geography (i.e. in the womb or out). Are we so unable to talk about this subject rationally that we refuse to recognize that stage of development, regardless of location, makes a more sensible measure?

    Pro-choicers simply don’t want to open this discussion because they are afraid that it is the start of the slippery slope toward anti-abortion types completely getting their way. I say (to both sides) that if you can’t discuss this rationally then go away and let those who can have a rational discussion have it.

    • the current compromise, namely abortion only in the first trimester is adequate for our needs.

      • Abortion in Canada is legal until the baby is delivered. I don’t know why so many Canadians are under the mistaken impression that abortion is only allowed in the first trimester. Canada has no laws limiting abortion in any way – they were struck down by the Supreme Court and never replaced.

        Incidentally, Canada is the only liberal-democracy on earth which does not have some sort of law restricting the variously defined ‘late-term’ abortions.

      • Okay, here’s the scenario. Eighth month of gestation – one in the womb & one born premature. Someone terminates both lives. He will be charged for murder for killing the preemie. For the other one, he can’t be charged (for any harm to the mother there’d be charges, but the child has no legal rights; at best he could be charged for an illegal abortion).

        Our current law, which gives rights based on geography, is absurd.

        You are also mistaken about our abortion laws. There are none. Most doctors won’t, under normal circumstances, provide an abortion after the first trimester. But they can legally do so right up to the point the baby exits the birth canal.

        I won’t go into the details here – I’ve outlined them in full on this site several times in the past – but I think we need a primacy of rights law that gives the mother the right to choose early on, with increasing protections under law for the unborn child beyond a certain point (possibly your first trimester). That would eliminate the “geography” absurdity described above.

        But it seems that no one on either side of the debate is mature enough to have this conversation. In the meantime, we’re stuck with the legal absurdity that is s. 223(1).

        • Kevin, the reason that “geography” matters is because in one case, the fetus is inside another person’s body. And control of your own body is one of the most–if not the most–fundamental rights you have. It trumps other people’s right to life, for example: Suppose I have kidney failure and will die in a short period of time. Suppose too, that you are a kidney match to me. Do I have the right to forcibly remove one of your kidneys in order to preserve my own life? It wouldn’t even kill you, and wouldn’t inconvenience you all that much (not as much as pregnancy, for example). But is this situation morally acceptable? Of course not. You would, quite rightfully, view such action is a gross violation of your rights.

          This is important. Even if a full-grown, fully sapient person were to somehow connect themselves to you in such a manner that they required the use of your body survive, it is perfectly acceptable to remove them, even if it means their death. The stage of development doesn’t matter at all; it’s a red herring.

          The abortion debate is about the fundamental right for a woman to control her own body, and to make medical decisions about her own health. The government has no business making these decisions on her behalf.

          As an aside, I will add that approximately 90% of abortions current take place in the first trimester, 9.2% in the second, and 0.8% in the third. If you are okay with first trimester abortions, you are probably only dealing with edge cases anyway. 

          Stats from
          http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/StatsCan-gestation-times-1995-2003.xls

          • Then why not regulate against abortionin the second and third trimester?  As you say, it will only prohibit those “edge cases’ which are the most morally questionable, especially as viability outside the womb becomes possible at earlier and earlier stages of gestation.  Isn’t that an acceptable compromise?

          •  The first three paragraphs of my reply illustrate why regulation in 2nd and 3rd trimester would not be appropriate. I don’t see any reason to compromise on people’s fundamental rights.

          • “I don’t see any reason to compromise on people’s fundamental rights.”

            People’s fundamental right to what? Fetuses are people, not kidneys, and right to life is fundamental right that should not be trumped by people’s desire to murder their children because they can’t be bothered to be parents. 

          •  Your fundamental right to autonomy of your own body supersedes the rights of others to use it for their own purposes. This is true even if it would result in their death.  You cannot be compelled to sacrifice your own body for the sake of another person.

          • Do you see anything in my comment restricting access to abortion? I think that, after a certain point, the mother should only be allowed to abort for health reasons – but that’s the reality anyway.

            I’m talking about giving the same protections against harm by a third party at the same stage of development, regardless of whether in the womb or out.

            You seem to be arguing, as does the law, that the life has no value until it exists outside the womb. If a woman is assaulted and her eighht-month-of-gestation infant dies as a result, I think she’d be pretty devastated to hear “Too bad it wasn’t a preemie; not a damn thing we can charge your assailant with as far as your child goes.”

            That’s the reality; that’s what I have a problem with.

        • “Most doctors won’t, under normal circumstances, provide an abortion after the first trimester. But they can legally do so right up to the point the baby exits the birth canal.”

          Why is this a problem? To say that we require state sanction to some abortions implies that the way that the medical profession self-regulates is inadequate. No one (as far as I’ve seen) has put forth any evidense that physicians are not regulating themselves adequately or responsibly.

          There are plenty of situations for which we do not have laws. In fact, unless there’s some identifiable harm with the way people act in absence of a law, we typically do not want our government to intervene. That’s not a legal absurdity; the absurdity is that other nations are restricting people’s freedoms in the absence of any evidential reason to do so.

  5. It’s ridiculous that all these MEN think they can debate on women’s reproductive rights.  The right to choose will never be taken away from Canadians and these losers are wasting everyone’s time.  

    There are more important issues to be discussed like the ECONOMY and legalization of one of our most favourite resources, marijuana, in order to be taxed to help raise our economy out of the dump it is in.

    In an already over-populated world I cannot believe this issue is still arising.

    • Why don’t the females who are being murdered have any reproductive rights?

      NY Times ~ 160 Million and Counting:

      In 1990, the economist Amartya Sen published an essay in The New York Review of Books with a bombshell title: “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing.” …. Twenty years later, the number of “missing” women has risen to more than 160 million, and a journalist named Mara Hvistendahl has given us a much more complete picture of what’s happened. 

      Her book is called “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.” As the title suggests, Hvistendahl argues that most of the missing females weren’t victims of neglect. They were selected out of existence, by ultrasound technology and second-trimester abortion.

      • I can see how this article would be relevant in a country like China or India, but we are talking Canada here.  I don’t think gender-selection is as wide spread in our home and native land.

        Abortion exists in Canada for good reason – We are a democratic nation that gives women choice.  If a woman is not ready to have a child due to lack of income, possible cultural/family values (like having a child out of marriage) or even rape, who are these men to decide the fate of that woman?

        Abortion isn’t murder, it’s for good cause.

        • Just for fun: If the woman decides to keep the child but the father is not ready to have a child  due to lack of income or possible cultural/family values (like having a child out of marriage), does he:
          a) get to override the woman’s choice
          b) get to opt out of all requirements for support
          c) get forced to cough up a portion of his earnings for the next 18-24 years

          Yeah, I just threw in (a) for the shock factor. But I do wonder why there is a presumption that the woman gets to choose and the man should automatically be on the hook for years if her choice is to keep the child. (And yes: that’s the assumption under the law and in the minds of most women. No; I have no unsupported children floating around out there.)

          You say men should not be involved in the debate? It may not be their bodies, but it is their DNA, their wallets – and yes, though many women seem to think otherwise – their emotions.

          No, I don’t have a solution; I’m just offended by your assertion that men have no place in the discussion of reproductive rights.

    • I just wish the care and concern for the unborn by those that dismiss women’s reproductive rights would extend, with as much rigour,  to the children who are born into a very disadvantaged situation. 

  6. Whatever, who is this guy?? A Saskatchewan peasant! He should shut up and stop annoying us

    • No, he’s a zealot – from Ontario.  The other one, Trost is from Sskatchewan.

  7. We need to set up a special committee to determine if men are human beings. Since they cannot create human life, it could be argued that they are not real humans

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