‘Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed’

by Aaron Wherry

The Hansard account of last night’s debate begins here.

Below, the text of Gordon O’Connor’s rather dramatic denunciation of Stephen Woodworth’s motion.

Madam Speaker, I offer my response to Motion No. 312. The issue before us, in essence, is on what it is to be human. This has been debated as long as man has existed. Scientists, theologians, philosophers and doctors have all offered opinions.

The House of Commons, however, is not a laboratory. It is not a house of faith, an academic setting or a hospital. It is a legislature, and a legislature deals with law, specifically, in this case, subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code.

The purpose of Motion No. 312, which we are considering today, is to open to question the validity of subsection 223(1), which asserts that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth. If the legal definition of when one becomes a human being were to be adjusted so that a fetus is declared to be a legal person at some earlier stage of gestation, then the homicide laws would apply. As a necessary consequence, aborting fetal development anywhere in the potentially new adjusted period would be considered homicide. Thus the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions in Canada at some fetal development stage.

It should be noted that subsection 223(1) currently states that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of its mother, irrespective of whether it has breathed, whether it has circulation separate from its mother, or whether the umbilical cord has been severed.

The effect of subsection 223(1) is to indicate the point in time at which homicide laws would apply. If someone intentionally injures a child before or during its birth such that it dies after becoming a human being, then the criminal law treats that as a homicide. This is set out in subsection 223(2).

According to section 238 of the Criminal Code, when an injury is inflicted on a child in the act of birth and that injury prevents the child from becoming a human being, it is an indictable offence and is punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

I would note as well that this offence, killing an unborn child in the act of birth, section 238, does not apply if a person acts in good faith to preserve the life of the mother and in so doing causes the death of the unborn child. That is set out in subsection 238(2).

For clarity, I wish to point out that section 223(1) provides a legal test as to when Canada’s criminal homicide laws apply to the death of a child. I say again, it is not a medical test, as Motion No. 312 suggests. It has always been part of Canada’s criminal law, and it reflects the well-established legal principle that the law does not recognize a fetus or unborn child as a legal person, possessing rights separate from its mother, until it is born alive.

The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed this interpretation for the purposes of the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court has also declared that the right to liberty guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting private life. The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount and take precedence over that of the state.

This does not mean, however, that abortion is unregulated in Canada. Abortion is regulated through provincial governments’ responsibility for the delivery of health care services in conjunction with the medical profession. All provincial and territorial colleges of physicians and surgeons have declared that abortion is a medically necessary procedure, and delivery of this medical service is regulated accordingly.

Abortion is a very serious and long-lasting decision for women, and I want all women to continue to live in a society in which decisions on abortion can be made, one way or the other, with advice from family and a medical doctor and without the threat of legal consequences. I do not want women to go back to the previous era where some were forced to obtain abortions from illegal and medically dangerous sources. This should never happen in a civilized society.

Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society. There will always be dire situations in which some women may have to choose the option of abortion. No matter how many laws some people may want government to institute against abortion, abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition.

I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.

Within the free and democratic society of Canada, if one has a world view based on a personal moral code that is somewhat different from others, then live according to those views as long as they are within the current laws. On the other hand, citizens who are also living within the reasonable limits of our culture and who may not agree with another’s particular moral principles should not be compelled to follow them by the force of a new law.

As we know, Motion No. 312 is sponsored by a private member, not the government. I can confirm that as a member of the Conservative caucus for nearly eight years, the Prime Minister has been consistent with his position on abortion. As early as 2005 at the Montreal convention and in every federal election platform since, he has stated that the Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion. While the issue may continue to be debated by some, as in the private member’s motion here tonight, I state again that the government’s position is clear: it will not reopen this debate.

I am sure we all recognize that the issue of abortion raises strongly held and divergent views within and outside Parliament. However, I firmly believe that each of us should be able to pursue our lifestyle as long as it is within the boundaries of law and does not interfere with the actions of others. Trying to amend the legal rules governing abortion, as is intended by this motion, will not improve the situation. It will only lead to increased conflict as the attempt is made to turn back the clock.

Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government’s position. Accordingly I will not support Motion No. 312. I will vote against it and I recommend that others oppose it.




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‘Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed’

  1. Applause for Gordon O’Connor and that position.

    And I agree wholeheartedly that society has moved on, and it’s time the likes of Woodworth did as well.

  2. Ghandi ~ The more helpless the creature, the more that it is entitled to protection by man from the cruelty of man

    Jimmy Carter ~ The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens

    More than three million unborn babies have died from abortion in Canada since 1969, when abortion was first decriminalized. Statistics Canada tables show a recorded total of 2,822,293 abortions between 1969 and 2005.

    • The answer won’t be found in the criminal code. You can promote and encourage alternative choices, but the choice will remain where it belongs, with the woman

      • I agree that what the criminal code says won’t end abortion and I am definitely not in favour of legislation banning it. But I think that, outside of medical decisions made by the woman and her health professionals to safeguard her health (her health would always have primacy over that of the child in the womb), the notion that geography determines humanness is an absurdity only a lawyer could have concocted.

        While I question the ultimate intent of Mr. Woodworth in debating this issue, a do agree our current law is wrongheaded in not providing late term fetuses with the same rights as a preemie (excepting where doing so would interfere with the mother’s rights).

        • Late term ones aren’t usually done in Canada, they are sent to the US….and it’s because of severe damage or disease with the baby

          • That’s nice, but I wasn’t talking about late-term abortions (except indirectly and obliquely, as an aside, in terms of protecting the mother’s health).

          • No, you just mentioned it there at the end, but that’s an angle the anti-choice people use…..as though women just suddenly change their minds somewhere along towards the end, so I thought I’d point out the real reasons why it’s done.

          • We prefer the term “pro-life” rather than “anti-choice”. We don’t go around calling you guys “pro-death”, do we? Have some respect. Choice is a word with positive connotations, but if you want to be honest, when it comes to abortion, the fetus has no choice.

          • I don’t care what term you ‘prefer’….you are anti-choice and pro-forced-pregnancy.

            Have some respect? Respect my body, honey…it ain’t yours.

            Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.

          • Pro-death is not the same as pro-choice. Being pro-choice does not mean we want everyone to get abortions, it means we want women to be free to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.
            I really don’t consider Pro-life an accurate term though, considering that currently 70,000 women die every year worldwide due to illegal abortions.

      • “…but the choice will remain where it belongs, with the woman.”

        I prefer to give all women the choice to be alive instead of one woman’s choice to murder her babies.

        Globe/Mail:
        The issue of sex-selective abortions has received considerable attention in recent months, following the publication in January of an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that claimed female feticide is a serious issue in Canada.

        NY Times:
        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.” His subject was the wildly off-kilter sex ratios in India, China and elsewhere in the developing world.

        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.”

    • And if they lived how about you adopt them since your so against abortion and all the other kids who would have been born…oh whats that? you want to force your moral beliefs on someone else but not take responsibility for forcing them onto other people through ridiculous laws? well tickle me pink that sounds like every other pro-life hypocrite.

      • I am against murder, don’t support it, and that makes me a hypocrite?

        • I believe Tony that a physician who is performing the abortion will make the choice whether or not an abortion based on ‘sexual selection’ is “palatable”. Much was made of Danielle Smith’s comments about “social conscience” but let’s not kid ourselves, healthcare professionals who cannot agree with abortions for the sake of “sexual selection” will not be offering the service.

      • I don’t know Kate, but I am not sure that there will be healthcare providers lining up to make sure that people can dispose of their daughters because they weren’t the right sex….it just doesn’t mesh in our culture. In isn’t a “pro-life” issue, so much as anti-discrimination of women issue….. Seeing how you can’t force physicians to perform this sexual selection abortions in Canada and they are highly controversial, not to mention people in this country are more than happy to adopt healthy girl babies, I don’t think your “pro-life hypocrite” BS is really going to fly on this issue. I am all about pro-choice but not so a person can pick the sex of their babe. That is just taking advantage of a system that was never meant to be used that way.

      • There are lots of people waiting for a chance to adopt. Abortion deprives them of that opportunity.

  3. Brilliantly stated, Mr. O’Connor. Thank-you. We do not want Canada to sink to the level of America’s abortion politics.

  4. It’s nice to see, but it’s still coming from the party that presents the most danger to abortion rights.

    • hmm….based on what evidence?

      • I don’t have specific numbers in front of me, but would you dispute the notion that the Conservative Party of Canada has more anti-abortion members than an other party in the nation? That doesn’t in itself mean that the party presents a “danger to abortion rights” per se, but surely in this context of relativity they present more of a danger to abortion rights than any other mainstream party does.

  5. Wonderful and eloquent response that is a step toward redeeming the conservative party reputation.

    • Somebody get this guy a glass of water, he’s hyperventilating.

      • You need to accept the evidence as it has been presented and get your “partisan hair” out of your eyes….it is blinding you to the reality of the situation.

  6. I would not want to moose my beliefs by way of the criminal code; however, I would like a criminal code that accurately reflects when human life begins.

  7. Credit given to GO’C for stating this, but since, when if ever, has the CPC cited, like, actual law…it must be a sign of the end times.
    Not that it prevented them form characterizing the fuss over funding maternal benefits for non Canadians as being specifically NOT for abortion, and smearing those who said it was an unjust double standard. Still, it is a baby step for these guys, so why do i have have the feeling this is merely a strategic political move and not a principled position?

    • Gee this is just typical…the conservatives said they would not change the laws to remove the right to a free and safe abortion..they shut down a private members’ bill but you still can’t accept it….och!

  8. This new Disqus thingy where comments can be voted off the island is, IMO, an utterly stupid, counter-democratic idea. It will certainly deter me from thumbing any comment down.

    • It won’t deter me from thumbing down – that, too, is a legitimate form of comment that I’m glad to have back – but it will irritate the hell out of me. Begone, annoying “below threshold”!

      • If it let us set our own thresholds, I’d be fine with it.

  9. There is a simple way for both sides of this debate to be happy: artificial wombs have been used to raise goats and monkeys and could do the same for humans with sufficient funding. If you beleive that abortion is wrong but are too squeamish to fund artificial womb research then your priorities are clearly focused on your comfort not what you claim to be saving a life.

    • No it won’t. Because most “pro-life” people don’t give a rats ass about life in the first place. If they did, they wouldn’t be willing to jeopardize the life of both the mother and the unborn by relegating them to DIY abortions, and they would be equally against abortion in the case of rape.

      In truth, most of the people who declare that they’re pro-life really just can’t handle the idea that a woman might have the temerity to enjoy a sex life without wanting kids.

  10. We have a duty, as citizens, to protect our fellow human beings.
    If an unborn child is a human being, we therefore have a duty to protect her.

    Those who say “if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one” are offering an entirely irrational diversion. It’s not about what I like or you like, it’s about whether we are allowing parents to kill their children. We don’t say “if you don’t like child abuse, don’t abuse your children”, but rather we recognize that children are human beings (albeit not fully developed), and must be protected regardless of whether their parents find them inconvenient. Likewise we must question whether a child is a human being immediately before birth. If so, we must defend her. To do otherwise is cowardice and selfishness of the highest order.

    Remember: if there is any class of human beings in our society who can be killed at will, then no class of human beings is safe. The right to live is either inalienable, or it exists at the whim of the majority. The latter situation is called “the law of the jungle”.

    • So you agree that the state can force you to provide the use of your organs to support the life of another?

      Are you willing to be the human dialysis machine for Bob Rae when he needs it?

      • You’ll notice that parents who refuse to support the lives of their children (e.g. by feeding them) are charged with child neglect. Yes, the state can and does force parents to support their children, and rightly so. And even more so, the state can and does forbid parents to kill their children in order to avoid supporting them. It follows that if the unborn child is a child, then parents ought to be forbidden from killing them out of convenience.

        No, this is not the same as being forced to support some random individual, although as it happens, if me loaning my organs to Bob Rae for 9 months was the only way to save his life, then yes, I would damn well do that. And even more so, if the choice was to rip his limbs off vs. save his life, it would be wrong (and homicidal) for me to choose option 1. I realize you don’t give a damn since it doesn’t affect you directly, but this is what happens in abortion clinics to unborn children every day.

        • No one is discussing children.

          Focus.

        • You’ll notice that parents who refuse to support the lives of their children are generally not expected to provide any support thereafter either.

          You’ll also notice that while parents may be required to support their children, such support does not extend to requiring the parents donate the use of their organs to do so.

          And whether you would be willing to donate the use of your organs to help Mr. Rae isn’t the point. (And incidentally, if you are willing to do so, how on earth are you posting? There’s a huge line of people waiting for organs, marrow etc, shouldn’t you be in the hospital providing what you can for all of them?) The point is should the state have the right to force you to do so against your will?

          • Parents who refuse to provide normal support for their children are convicted of child neglect. This is appropriate: once you have a child, you are responsible for that child’s support. Such support extends to requiring parents to use their organs (arms, legs, whatever) to provide for their children’s needs. It is not “donating” organs, in the usual sense, but rather using one’s body and one’s time to support one’s child. This is also what a pregnant woman provides. She doesn’t give up her organs, she uses her body to provide for her child for 9 months. Her partner should also be required to support her during this time, just as he is required to do after the birth.

            As to Mr. Rae, I completely agree that my willingness isn’t the point. But, you are now comparing donating an organ to a stranger (permanently) to supporting one’s own child through 9 months of pregnancy. Clearly there is a significant difference between the two. The question is this: is there a significant difference between the state requiring a parent to feed/shelter their child during pregnancy vs. supporting the same child after the pregnancy is over? I don’t see one. Furthermore: abortion isn’t just a refusal to support the child. It’s actually killing the child (generally by tearing her limbs off using either strong suction or forceps) so that no further support is required. Should the state allow that?

            Again, I realize you don’t give a damn since you’re well past the fetal stage. Some of us do. The right to life is either recognized for all human beings, or it’s in principle held only at the will of the majority: i.e. the law of the jungle.

          • No, she doesn’t use her body to support the unborn. The unborn uses her body to support itself. This is the crucial and significant difference. I realize you don’t give a damn since you’ll never be put in the position of being forced to support another life unwillingly, but some of us do.

            Given that the state has the choice between allowing the woman to terminate the pregnancy in a safe manner or, generally, the woman terminating the pregnancy herself in an unsafe manner, yes, I damn well think the state should allow it.

            And hey, it is in principle held only at the will of the majority. ALL RIGHTS are held only at the will of the majority. That’s rather what a right is.

          • ” I realize you don’t give a damn since you’ll never be put in the position of being forced to support another life unwillingly…”

            I expected that canard. It works pretty well for about 5 milliseconds, until you address it to one of the millions of pro-life women. Or until you address it to a deadbeat dad. Basically, it doesn’t work.

            If we’re acknowledging that the unborn is a child (which for the purpose of this particular discussion, I think we are), then it’s pretty clear that an abortion can’t be terminated “in a safe manner” since the termination requires that the child be murdered. That’s about as unsafe as a medical procedure gets.

            “ALL RIGHTS are held only at the will of the majority. That’s rather what a right is.”

            Yes, I’m well aware that this is what you think, from prior discussions. As I’ve noted before, this means that when the majority elects to kill some individuals, those individuals have no inherent right to live. Same goes for when the majority elects to enslave some individuals: it’s not, according to you, trampling on their rights – rather that enslaved minority simply has no rights. Your view is what has lead to every genocide and enslavement in history. 150 years ago, had you been in the deep South, you’d have been claiming that African Americans had no right to freedom because the majority had decided they didn’t have one.

            That is not what a right is, and thank God there are people who see the repugnance of your view of it. A right is something inalienable to the human person; laws which trample on it are erroneous and must be overturned. We do this because we recognize that there are rights which the law has not recognized appropriately – i.e. the laws made by the majority do not define human rights.

          • It works so long as you understand the meaning of “unwillingly”. If you don’t, I can’t help you.

            And had I lived in the deep south 150 years ago, you may well have been right. That’s the point. Just like in 150 years from now, society may determine that we were just as cruel and heartless for denying animals their “right”s, or that we thought that people didn’t have a “right” to a roof over their heads and nourishment.

            Rights are defined by society, within the time frame of that society. And if you actually opened up your eyes and looked through history, you’d find that’s been correct all the way up to now, despite all the changes in what people beleive are “rights”.. and you think that we’re the magical generation that will never have it change from now? Your hubris is amazing.

          • “Unwillingly”. As in, “the deadbeat dad unwillingly provided support for his daughter.” Yeah, I get it. And yeah, it’s totally appropriate. And if the deadbeat dad decides to hire a doctor to rip the limbs off his daughter so he can forego the payments, that’s wrong, even though he’s “unwillingly” supporting his child’s life with his time and bodily labour.

            I’ll tell you what’s going to happen 150 years from now: people are going to be astonished that our society was so contemptible as to tear the arms and legs off 100000 unborn children per year (Canada alone) because they were inconvenient. And they will wonder how we were so immune to the concept of the most basic human right – the right not to be slaughtered. And the history books will tell the answer: just as with other massacres and atrocities throughout history, there were those who shrugged and said “it’s the will of the majority”. There were others who said “well, they aren’t legally persons anyway.” And there were a few who said “this is wrong”.

            I appreciate your honesty in acknowledging which camp you’re in. I’ll pray for you.

    • Well since no one is discussing whatever it is that you’re discussing, I think we can safely ignore it as pure ‘noise’

      Cons always miss principles anyway.

    • Likewise we must question whether a child is a human being immediately before birth.

      Having the debate is fine, sure, but so long as a sizable plurality of citizens take the view that an unborn “child” is NOT a human being, can we really in good conscience hold those people to the moral standards of others, through the force of criminal law?

      • Glad we agree that it’s fine to have the debate. You’ll notice that most posters here would agree with O’Connor that it’s imperative we not even discuss it.

        I’m confident that if we were to have an open and honest debate on this, most people would agree that an unborn child doesn’t suddenly become a human being as she transits the birth canal. It’s pretty freaking obvious. Which, I suspect, is why so many are so adamant that the discussion not even be allowed.

        • I agree that it’s quite obvious. And not only that, it’s pretty obvious that through the 9 month period there is no defining moment when a fetus switches from a clump of cells into a human. Development is a rather gradual process.

  11. I’ll start by saying that I agree with Gaunilon on this issue. A legislature is the best place to hold a debate on the abortion issue, since legislation is the best way to deal with such human rights issues.
    I donate platelets regularly because I’m a strong supporter of life. I realize that not all people are as generous as I am with their bodies, but abortion is crossing the line and it is just plain wrong to kill a person. It should be a crime to even suggest to a woman that she should get an abortion. How can Mr. O’Connor call this a “civilized society” when we won’t even protect the rights of the unborn? I don’t want to end up living in a country like China where the government stomps on human rights and forces women to get abortions. There are laws against killing a person who has already been born because we want to be protected from people who want to kill us. A civilized society would extend that same protection to the unborn. I am pro-life for the same reason everyone should be pro-life: I was a fetus myself once.

  12. I am not of Mr. O’Connors political party, but I tip my had to you sir.

  13. Gordon O’Connor claims that “Society
    has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed.”

    However,
    in Stephen Woodworth’s speech to the House on Apr 26, 2012 (linked from Aaron
    Wherry’s report above) he states:

    “In
    fact, almost 80% of Canadians think our law already recognizes the interests
    and rights of children after the second trimester. They are not aware that our
    400-year-old definition of human being actually strips away such rights. When
    informed, over 70% of Canadians say they believe our law should recognize the
    rights of children at least during the third trimester of their
    development.”

    So, it appears that Gordon O’Connor is grossly misinformed regarding the opinions of Canadians on this matter.

    As Stephen Woodworth
    explains in his speech to the House, “We should never accept any law that decrees some
    human beings are not human beings.” Yet this is what Subsection 223(1) of the
    Criminal Code does.

    Why is PM Harper so vehemently opposed to Woodworth’s motion
    that he is arm twisting his entire cabinet and caucus to vote against it?

    Why does PM Harper want to keep an outdated and
    dishonest definition of when life begins in Canadian law?

    Why does PM Harper wish to keep unborn babies completely
    unprotected under law, with zero human rights until the moment of birth?

    It is appalling that Prime Minister Harper and Chief
    Government Whip Gordon O’Connor are like-minded soul mates with Denis Coderre,
    Francois Boivin, Hedy Fry and the entire left-wing opposition in support of a
    law that ensures that unborn babies have zero human rights.

    Under Stephen Harper’s weak leadership we had Jim
    Flaherty’s first NDP budget which borrowed $80 billion to ‘stimulate’ the
    economy, and now we have Prime Minister Harper’s public support and
    arm-twisting to ensure that unborn humans remain without human rights.

    Is there ANYTHING at all of substance that is
    ‘conservative’ about the Conservative Party of Canada under Stephen Harper’s
    leadership?

  14. To Hon. Gordon O’Connor, MP, Carleton-Mississippi Mills:

    Dear Mr, O’Connor,

    You spoke in parliament on Apr 26, 2012 saying: “Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed. ”

    You are gravely misinformed on this matter.

    Consider the statistics cited by Stephen Woodworth in his speech to the House on Apr 26, 2012:

    “In fact, almost 80% of Canadians think our law already recognizes the interests and rights of children after the second trimester. They are not aware that our 400-year-old definition of human being actually strips away such rights. When informed, over 70% of Canadians say they believe our law should recognize the rights of children at least during the third trimester of their development.”

    Mr. Woodworth also stated:

    “Do we want a Canada where any person or group can arrange a dishonest law to decree that some human beings are not human beings as subsection 223(1) does? That is not the Canada Canadians want. If members search their hearts, that is not the Canada they want either.”

    “Do we need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth in order to justify abortion? We do not.”

    “When the rights of two people conflict, it is never, ever acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being.”

    Mr. O’Connor, I understand that you are PM Harper’s ‘whip’ but this is a free vote and you are not obliged to do his bidding.

    Those who oppose M-312 will be on the wrong side of truth, justice and human rights.

    Vote “yes” for M-312 on Sept 26, 2012.

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