Author’s Note: This piece was originally written on Oct. 10, 2012 for a segment on my CKUT radio program in Montreal. It appears here in a modified format. You can hear the original radio segment HERE.
The most recent re-ignition of the abortion “debate” in Canada arguably began in April of 2012 with the unveiling of the members motion we now know as Bill M-312. If passed, the motion, written and sponsored by Stephen Woodworth, the lawyer and Conservative MP for Kitchener Centre, would have opened a discussion to determine the moment when a fetus becomes a human being. According Mr. Woodworth, the “law” currently states that a fetus is not a person until, as he phrases it, “the moment of complete birth”.
The text, which Mr. Woodworth is obviously misquoting (the term “complete birth” can’t be found in Canadian law) is Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which states:
223. (1) 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
- (a) it has breathed;
- (b) it has an independent circulation; or
- (c) the navel string is severed.
Of more recent relevance is the following section, which reads:
(2) A person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.
I might be accused of playing semantics, or rubbing salt in Mr. Woodworth’s wound, given the eventual failure of his motion, were it not for the recent efforts of 3 western MPs to pick up the legal wrangling where Mr. Woodworth left off. Using their interpretation of S.223(2), some StatsCan data, and a good measure of hearsay, they’re hoping to prove that some late term abortions produced living fetuses that later died after they had “proceeded in a living state” from the bodies of their mothers. If these fine Western gentlemen (*cough*) can prove that even one child has died as the result of an abortion AFTER completely proceeding from its mother and becoming a human being, the mother and doctor could theoretically be charged with murder.
Convicting the dastardly mothers, however, is just gravy. The ones our western friends, led by Maurice Vellacott, are really after are the doctors. You drop some doctors in the slammer behind a baby murder charge and you might convince other doctors to give up the practice of abortion entirely. If you can’t stop the customers, stop the supply.
Of course, this effort has about as little chance of success as any other recent effort to inhibit the abortion rights of Canadian women. And the people behind these schemes know that as well as you and I. So, how does the pro-life side win, given the odds? Simple. You change the terms of the debate.
In the immediate aftermath of the defeat of M-312, and in the midst of a wholly unnecessary argument about Rona Ambrose and her fitness for duty, given her vote in favour of the motion, Andrew Coyne, for one, began to decry our apparent inability to have a discussion about abortion. A topic on which, he was quick to point out, the country is quite split, both regionally and across gender lines. If, he said, even 50% of women favour some limits on abortion, shouldn’t that compel those who oppose limits to abortion right to come to the table? Mustn’t the will of the people be respected?
And thus began a great redirection. In the span of a couple hours, we were no longer talking about the merits of the recently defeated motion, or the uncomfortable subject of relieving women of their rights. Instead, we were pulled into a nebulous, existential exchange concerning our ability to have debates on controversial subjects.
Mr. Coyne was right about one thing; the public is simply too divided for any broad policy restricting abortions rights to have a chance of success. To be victorious someday, the pro-life side knows it has to chip away at pro-choice support, just as the Conservatives gradually chipped away at Liberal support. Ultimately, that’s what M-312 was about, and that’s what this recent call for an RCMP investigation is about;creating ethical dilemmas for the sizable chunk of the total population who would, if asked, put the “life” of a child over the rights of a mother.
When you begin to understand this long con being played by the pro-lifers, you also begin to understand the motivations of someone like National Post columnist, Jonathan Kay; self-appointed spokesperson of the pro-debate, soft-choice movement. After the defeat of M-312 he appeared on Sun News alongside Canada’s preeminent fundamentalist Christian, Michael Coren, and made it clear that the problem isn’t abortion per se, it’s the fact that we don’t place gestational limits on abortion. Canada, he contends is the only country in the world that doesn’t impose gestational limits. If everyone else is doing, he wonders, why aren’t we?
What Mr. Kay needs you to understand is that he and his ilk are not necessarily anti-abortion, hooooooo-no…far from it. They’re simply worried about the children; those poor, poor, almost fully developed children being aborted by callous doctors and evil mothers. Pay no mind to whether or not these mothers, doctors, and still-breathing fetuses even exist. They might exist (“Where did I leave those damned statistics?!?”). And if they do exist, the death of these nearly-children would be a national tragedy.
But Sally Struthers-style hand wringing over “saving the children” isn’t Mr. Kay’s only game. He’s also playing the “why can’t we talk about abortion” card. According to him, the “radical feminist” movement won’t let “us” (columnists and male opinion-makers) have a debate about abortion, and that every time the issue comes up, it’s shouted down by a mob of extremist women. “They”, these supposedly radicalized feminists, are not open to debating abortion and that, we’re led to believe, is a travesty in our great democratic system. If one side wants to talk, the other side should want to listen.
But why should women want to talk about abortion? To what should women who favour maintaining their right to govern their own bodies without restriction be open? Some restrictions? Just a few? A gestational restriction, or maybe, as Barbara Kay opined, we should ensure that every person having an abortion has been properly informed about their choice. If quasi-anti-choice, pro-debate camp can’t place restrictions on your physical ability to have an abortion, they can certainly try to re-educate you on the subject.
It’s all nonsense, of course. If a woman believes there are no acceptable limits to what she should be able to do with her own body, that doesn’t make her inflexible, it makes her principled. The pro-life side insists we respect their entrenched beliefs, even the supernatural ones, but a woman who wants to control her own body is, as Mr. Kay put it to his pal Mr. Coren, “clinically” nuts. “Clinically”.
Alas, the critical point:
A discussion about abortion in Canada is, and always will be, a one-sided affair.
Canadian women enjoy unparalleled freedom in the area of abortion; so when a Stephen Woodworth, or an Andrew Coyne suggest they sit down and talk, the only things that can be are the terms of their surrender. There’s no possibility for a transaction in these “debates”, because the pro-life/anti-choice/pro-regulation side has nothing to offer. Nothing. Women in Canada have an unrestricted right to an abortion. Anything less isn’t a compromise, it’s simply less.
There is no currency available in this world that could be offered in equal trade for the rights enjoyed by Canadian women. Realizing this, the pro-life contingent in Canada (bolstered by the “soft-choice” contingent of columnists) has resorted to cheap legal wrangling mixed with name-calling. Their desperate maneuvering shows you how little they value both rights of women and the lives of the children they purportedly seek to protect.
And they still can’t understand why women don’t want to have this “debate”?