Inside Politics

House of Commons Liveblog: The Great "Legal Definition of Human Being" Debate

When he first brought forward his proposal to set up a special committee to study how the Criminal Code currently defines "human being", Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth was adamant, if oddly elliptical, that he wasn't attempting to reopen the abortion debate, but simply wanted to "start the conversation," and judging from the impassioned response that his gambit has garnered thus far, it would be fair to declare that particular mission accomplished, despite the fact that the government has made it clear from the start that the motion itself is all but doomed to defeat. 

Before that day comes, however, the Woodworth motion will spend a couple of hours in the parliamentary spotlight, the first of which is scheduled to unfold this evening, when Woodworth gets his first opportunity to formally make his case for a "conversation" to the Chamber as a whole. Under the rules that govern private members' hour, he will have fifteen minutes to put his arguments on the record, which will be followed by five minutes of questions and comments. 

After that wraps up, it will be up to other MPs to fill the remaining forty minutes; when the clock runs out, the motion will drop to the bottom of the precedent list, with the second -- and final -- hour in debate likely to take place in June, at the earliest, and very possibly not until the fall, thus virtually ensuring that its presence on the Order Paper will continue to bedevil the Prime Minister's Office right up until it goes up for a vote, particularly if the powers that be persist in their apparent belief that repeating, over and over, that the government has no intention of re-opening of the debate is an effective damage control strategy. 

For those following at home, here's the full text of the motion to be debated this evening: 

M-312 -- February 6, 2012 -- Mr. Woodworth (Kitchener Centre) -- That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

that the membership of the special committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;

that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);

that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and

that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,

(i) what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth, (ii) is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth, (iii) what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth, (iv) what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1).

And for additional context, the section of the Criminal Code that it proposes to consider: 

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.

The debate kicks off at 5:30 pm, so check back for full coverage! 

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