The Commons: A debate about a debate about abortion

“Why would we be afraid to let the evidence come out?” asked MP Stephen Woodworth

by Aaron Wherry

Adrian Wyld/CP Images

Shortly before 5:30pm, Stephen Woodworth was on his feet from the back row. Close around him sat eight other Conservative MPs.

Motion 312,” he said, “simply calls for a study of the evidence of when a child becomes a human being.”

He wondered aloud what opponents of his proposal had to fear. Staring directly at the dozen NDP MPs seated across the way he called on them to hear the evidence.

Fourteen spectators watched and listened from the south gallery. Four Liberals joined the New Democrats on the opposition side of the House. The Conservatives numbered somewhere in the neighbourhood of 24.

Mr. Woodworth spoke loudly and gesticulated dramatically, as if addressing the nation at a moment of great significance. He invoked rights and humanity and science and parliamentary duty and he damned a “dishonest law.” When he was done, a dozen Conservatives applauded.

In some ways, the matter of abortion in this country is a debate about a debate. On one side, those who feel there is no debate to be had. On the other side, those who feel there is a debate that is still to be settled. This hour allowed each to have their say.

When Mr. Woodworth had finished, the NDP’s Francoise Boivin rose with a question. Is he waiting for answers to questions, she wondered of the committee study the Conservative sought, or has he already answered them? Mr. Woodworth allowed that he did not believe complete birth was the point at which a child became a human being, but that the committee would be able to hear all evidence and report back to the House. “Why would we be afraid to let the evidence come out?” he asked.

Liberal MP Denis Coderre said what Mr. Woodworth really wanted was to criminalize abortion. Mr. Woodworth said he honestly wanted what the motion sought.

With the next speech, Ms. Boivin attacked the foundation and ramifications of the motion. She lamented that across the way she saw only male MPs. From further down the House, Stella Ambler, a female Conservative, put her hand up and waved at Ms. Boivin. When Ms. Boivin finished—receiving a standing ovation from her fellow New Democrats—the Conservative MP Harold Albrecht jumped up on a point of order. Not only was Ms. Boivin incorrect about the presence of women on the government side (there were in fact two female Conservatives present), but it was improper to comment on the attendance of other MPs. Ms. Boivin came back to explain her comments and some degree of grumbling ensued. The Speaker, Denise Savoie sitting in, called for order. This was a difficult debate, she said, that called for respect. She would tolerate nothing less.

Liberal Hedy Fry went next, explaining her party’s opposition to the motion and questioning the Prime Minister’s commitment to not reopening the debate. She outlined the precedents and worried about the ramifications. She deemed Mr. Woodworth’s motion disingenuous. If he disagreed with the section of the Criminal Code in question—Section 223(1)—he should have proposed an amendment. He could have brought forward a bill that redefined personhood.

Here then it was Gordon O’Connor’s turn. The chief government whip stood with his speech laid out on a lectern perched on a desktop infront of him. In short order and in his grumbly way, he not only expressed his opposition to the motion, but questioned its fundamentals. Section 223(1) applied to laws on homicide and was not a medical test, he said. He appealed to individual freedom in a democratic society and ventured that abortion would always be part of society, that it was part of the human condition. He lamented those who would turn back the clock. “Society has moved on,” he said nearer the end of his remarks.

When he was done, the New Democrats in attendance applauded, perhaps the first and last time a government whip will be so honoured by members of the official opposition.

Mr. O’Connor returned to his seat as the NDP’s Niki Ashton began her remarks. He sat for a few moments, then checked his watch and got up to leave. Walking up the aisle, he came across Mr. Woodworth. The two exchanged greetings and a couple minutes of seemingly civil discussion ensued. Eventually, Mr. O’Connor departed. Shortly thereafter, with Ms. Ashton concluding that “a woman’s right to choose is not up for negotiation,” the Speaker called time and the House moved on to adjournment proceedings.

The Commons: A debate about a debate about abortion

  1. Applause ….from me….to the govt whip Gordon O’Connor. A good speech.

    More than time for Woodworth and his ilk to take the hint, and give up on the Trojan horse agenda.

    • If only Trojans had been worn in the first place then we wouldn’t be having this debated in the House.

      • Gold, I tells ya, gold!

  2. If it would be devoid of emotion then there could be room for a valid debate but such a topic would be too emotionally charged to be taken seriously.
    Until the maturity level is there for it, it is better to let sleeping dogs lie.

  3. A seminal moment. At last, the House is responding to the directive of the Supreme Court to debate and form public policy on the protection of the foetus.

    • Could you cite that directive please? Because all I can find is that they said there is no public policy on it. Nowhere do I see any indication that they directed parliament to do something about it.

      • “Ascribing personhood to a foetus in law is a fundamentally normative task. It results in the recognition of rights and duties—a matter which falls outside the concerns of scientific classification. In short, this Court’s task is a legal one. Decisions based upon broad social, political, moral and economic choices are more appropriately left to the legislature.”

        Chantale Daigle v. Jean-Guy Tremblay (1989)

      • “If the unborn child is a legal person with legal rights, arguments can be made in favour of all these propositions. Some might endorse such changes, others deplore them. The point is that they are major changes attracting an array of consequences that would place the courts at the heart of a web of thorny moral and social issues which are better dealt with by elected legislators than by the courts.”

        Winnipeg Child and Family Services vs. D.F.G. (1996)

        • Perhaps you have difficulty understanding basic english.

          Here’s a hint: “Supreme court directive.”

          Do try again.

  4. It’s so hard to believe how regressive Canada has become under these dinosaurs in suits. A government is supposed to ‘;serve’ its country, not lay it waste as does this horrifically unethical and incompetent group of misogynistic old men.

    • It’s supposed to protect its citizens, especially those who can’t defend themselves.

      • except that embryos and fetuses are not citizens.

      • But not at the expense of the rights of others, or the endangerment thereof.

        • But we do so all the time. We place people in jails, limiting all most all of their rights, in order to protect their fellow citizens. We dictate what people can or cannot drink before getting behind the wheel of a car, to protect other citizens. I’m personally Pro Choice but I think its a fallacy to say that the laws the government creates do not diminish the rights of some to protect the larger whole. After all that’s why we have section 1 of the Charter.

          • “larger whole”

            larger
            whole

            Two words of great importance. I’ll let you figure out how.

    • Missed the part where the government’s going out of its way to slap down its own backbencher for raising the issue, did we?

  5. Hurrah! All three main parties think it is clever to murder unborn babies while flapping their gums about tolerance. Nothing says tolerance more than allowing murderous mothers to abort their daughters.

    With the government murdering one hundred thousand babies annually, an apartheid system for Natives, and pedophiles allowed to continue their evil ways, I am so glad to hear that society has moved on. Canada sure is terrific, we are all about love and compassion.

    • If you had ever had personal experience of making the choice to end a life you wouldn’t be so sure, or anywhere near as self righteous as you appear to be.

      • That, plus it’s none of his fucking business.

  6. If, according to Trudeau, the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, it follows that it has no business in the cervix of the person in the bedroom.

    Woodworth is channeling negative energy from our southerly neighbors who are in the throes of a similar debate, where Planned Parenthood funding is being rolled back. He should realize that Canadian society is more nuanced, cultured and educated about these issues.

    All that aside, Woodworth is playing divisive politics; the motion is monumentally ignorant since it is impossible to scientifically define a transition point from fetushood to personhood – this will always be a mattter of opinion and belief.

    • It’s interesting that you bring up the Trudeau quote……becuase in context it was uttered surrounding his landmark social justice bill where abortion (amongst a whole raft of other social justice issues) was first made a procedure that women could access…….

  7. Can’t believe you put most of the focus of the debate on Gordon O’Connor, who was so obviously & desperately trying to persuade Canadian women that the Conservative party doesn’t *really* want to strip women of their right to choose. Were it not for the loss the Wildrose Party had in Alberta (and the backlash against its absurd *conscience rights*) and were it not for the burgeoning backlash against the Republican Party & their war on women in the United States, I believe Mr. O’Connor (on behalf of his party, since it’s unclear what HE actually believes) would have been waving an entirely different flag … one that would soon be spattered with the blood of Canadian women. The true heroes of the day, the ones with the strongest words, the people who best defended the rights of women were the women MP’s who spoke: Hedy Fry, Niki Ashton and Francoise Boivin … something your article does not reflect. You should understand that this is an issue which will take the Canadian political world by storm, as it is doing in the US, should the Conservative government attempt to put women back in the dark ages. I’m not going there, boys, and neither are my sisters, daughters, cousins, or friends; I’ll see you on the fucking barricades!

    • Is there a point at which you would ever be convinced that there isn’t, in fact, such a secret agenda? The PM himself could spend his weekends volunteering at Planned Parenthood, and you people would still be hyperventilating.

  8. Honestly.. How many times can a Person accuse Andrew Prescott on a Public forum of being Pierre Poutine without being sued for libel/slander UNLESS it is true?

    I am more than willing to give Andrew’s Lawyers my information to serve me with any court orders .. Just ask

    But Since you don’t.. Andrew Prescott IS Pierre POutine.. so Andrew who in the CPC gave you the Data?

  9. I am not a Conservative, by any stance. However, I believe the Honourable Mr O’Connor acted in a manner that should garner the respect of Canadians on any side of the political spectrum. I congratulate him for his bravery and honest candor in defending the free choice of his fellow Canadians.

  10. stay out of my womb……you’re not GOD

  11. And as always the real point is missed — the choice is not whether abortions should take place but whether they should take place in a medically safe environment or as they used to in some person with a bit of nursing training’s kitchen. In the old days often the woman died as a consequence of the abortion attempt. (Of course the hellfire and brimstone elements of the CPC would think that fitting).

  12. To deny that an unborn or partially born child is a human being is contrary to all scientific knowledge. Neo-natal technology has proceeded to the point that children born at 23 weeks gestation have an excellent prognosis and many children survive – and thrive – when born even more prematurely. My cousin, born at 20 weeks gestation with absolutely no adverse effects, is testimony to the great advances in medicine. Despite this, an unborn child at 23 weeks gestation can be legally killed in Canada because this individual is neither a person nor a human being under Canadian law. It is time for science and common sense to guide our laws. If a mother’s life is at risk due to the pregnancy, the child can be delivered and mother and child can be cared for. It is not necessary to kill the child first prior to delivery. Indeed, the risks to the mother are greater if the child is killed prior to delivery than if her child is born live. How can it ever be just to kill a 23 week old unborn child?

    • How can it ever be just for the state to force a person to donate the use of their organs to support another?

      • During pregnancy there is no “sharing” of organs between the mother and child – each individual functions as an independent living organism. The only sharing that exists is with respect to those tissues necessary to maintain the pregnancy – placenta, amniotic sac, etc which will be expelled upon delivery of the child. The uterus is not expelled and is therefore not shared. In the case of a 23 week old unborn child, if the mother wishes to no longer sustain either the unborn child or those tissues necessary to maintain the pregnancy, the child can be delivered. This can be achieved in one of two ways – the child can be prematurely delivered live and given the necessary care OR the child can be killed in utero and delivered dead. Both means achieve the same end. I posit the question again – how can it ever be just to kill a 23 week old unborn child?

        • Who said shared? Those are your goalposts. Mine were “the use of”. Unless you’re arguing the unborn has no need of nutrients, then the entire digestive system needs to be used to support it. Unless you’re arguing the unborn has no need of oxygen, then the heart, lungs, and entire vascular system is also being used to support it. So do try again, but don’t try to reframe the debate so that you can play semantic games, because I will spot it.

          The number of weeks is irrelevant. The state has *no right* to either force me into a hospital, or to keep me away from medical care I need in order to provide for the life of another organism. Period.

          And then beyond that there is the simple practical argument. Just because abortions are not allowed does not mean they will not be performed, but if they are performed without adequate medical care they are much likely to result in the death of *two* lives, not just one. How can you argue that life is important when you’re willing to endanger both in the service of just one?

      • Yes indeed, thwim! “How can it ever be just for the state to force a person to donate the use of their organs to support another” You make the important distinction of recognizing the unborn child as another. It is not the mother. It is a unique individual. It is a fallacy to believe the child to be part of the mother. If it were, then the parts of the fetus would be the parts of the mother. Every pregnant woman would have four hands, four feet, two hearts and half of all pregnant women would have a penis. The child is a unique individual and the mother provides a nourishing environment for her unborn child. The child depends on oxygen, nutrients and shelter to survive just as all of us depend on these things for our survival. The only difference is the method of delivery.

        • Rather like saying the only difference between being alive and dead is the dead part. The method of delivery which relies on the use of another person’s organs to provide that is the crux of the matter.

          If the person wants to do that, that’s fine and is their choice. However, the state has no business being involved in that call any more than it has business being involved in whether you wish to donate your organs or serve as a living dialysis machine for another.

        • As well, the unborn child (or foetus) can have a different blood group than the mother. The child has its own DNA.

    • How often are pregnancies terminated at 23 weeks? I would assume it is rare and only under special circumstances. Is it really worth all the expense to visit this issue over the few cases that occur here?

  13. The lack of honesty regarding the fact Canadians are supporting murder of unborn children is unconscionable. If your mother had chosen or been persuaded to abort you for whatever reason (she would have murdered you) you wouldn’t be here. I’m glad you are here, every conceived child has the right to life. Canadians have digressed to a level of self-centeredness where they refuse to acknowledge the truth. Reason has been replaced by rights and freedom, yes freedom to do what every you please to almost whomever you please whenever you please. Oh how we have progressed since the 60s! It is a fact democracy always digresses to tyranny – It is a child if and when I say it is a child at any other time it is a thing to kill and vacuum away.

    • the whole “bet you’re glad YOUR mom didn’t make that choice” argument is completely ridiculous. If my mother had chosen to abort me, I would neither know nor care. Children have a right to life yes, but embryos and fetuses are not children, and even if they were, why should their rights outweigh mine? Until the potential person exits the birth canal and is no longer dependent on my body to survive, then I get to make the decisions. End of story.

    • No government should have the right to force me to use my organs and body to support another life.

      If you say the state can prevent a woman from controlling her own body, you’re saying that the state can force you to be an organ donor.

  14. Let the Wise Maker of All decide who and when we all die, rather than any imperfect human being who often has an invested interest in this outcome of the most fundamental right of living.
    You kill one living thing with impunity and who what will be next? You, me? At least have a judge and jury hear each case, for usually better justice.
    However we must provide better support for our Mothers of Children, until we can find them a more convenient way to propagate our species and society. Just do it! You had control!

    • So I take it you’re okay with abortion in cases of rape then?

  15. If some MPs have nothing better to do than wrangle over a subject that was legally settled years ago, let them rent a portable classroom someplace and go at it until they’re blue in the face. Meanwhile, the rest of us with a better grip on reality can busy ourselves doing something constructive.

    • It is not settled – Canada is perhaps the only country in the world that has no restrictions on abortion. A woman can be 9 months pregnant and get a legal abortion in Canada.

  16. MPs should not vote according to their personal experience or that of their families, and not according to their religion. We live in a secular democracy. Law is about equality and equal rights and the good of society. Abortion is the only medical procedure that is for women alone. Men make women pregnant, and for the most part it is male PMs, male doctors, male clergy who wish to control women’s bodies and reproductive systems. No one would ever consider denying medical care to men based on their gender.

  17. I agree: some of those Conservatives’ parents should have practiced birth control; then we wouldn’t have to listen to the crap that they come up with. And that includes their boss.

  18. If a woman is pregnant, and she gets into an accident and dies from severe head injuries, if the baby can be saved at that point, he/she is a human being. If the baby cannot be saved, it is part of the mother. That is as close to Pro-Life as I can get. Mostly I think it is the choice of the mother with possible consultation with the father. Everybody else….shut up.

  19. I’m sure Wilberforce got similar reactions when he argued for years to the British Parliament that Blacks were fully human and that the slave trade was an abhorrent injustice.

  20. Abortion has existed for thousands of years. Time to get over it, boys.

  21. If your mother had had an abortion when she was pregnant with you – you would not be here today.
    It seems sort of obvious when life begins if you think of it this way. The law is there to protect harm to others. We are free to do what we want as long as we do not harm someone else.

  22. Along with Woodworth, I also wonder: Why be so afraid to let the evidence come out? Why be so afraid and ignorant to the science of the day that in the womb the embryo’s heart starts to beat at around day 22, and after 8 weeks the fetus is fully formed (etc. etc.) ? It seems clear that ignoring such evidence is an attempt to protect the consciences of pro choicers. Such evidence has consequences. But those who are afraid to face them are ignoring the truth.

  23. I can see why Hedy Fry (they’re burning crosses) is worried about the ramifications of this. It would expose the truth and obviously, looking at her past, the truth is something with which she isn’t familiar.

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