'Society has moved on and I do not believe this proposal should proceed' - Macleans.ca

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

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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.