Christian group joins MP's call for abortion debate

A Conservative MP and a Christian group are arguing it's time to discuss when a fetus becomes a human being, potentially starting a renewed debate on abortion.

Conservative MP urges discussion on when fetus becomes human

An anti-abortion protester takes part in the March for Life on Parliament Hill in May, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A group representing evangelical Christians is backing a Conservative MP's call for a debate on the definition of a human, potentially kicking off a renewed debate on abortion in Canada.

Last month, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth released a statement calling for a debate on when a fetus becomes a child, but avoided using the word "abortion" in the statement.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada agreed, saying the Criminal Code doesn't recognize a child in the womb as human even though doctors recognize a fetus's viability as early as 20 weeks gestation.

In an interview Wednesday with Evan Solomon, host of CBC-TV's Power & Politics, Woodworth, who represents Kitchener Centre, said the law defining a human being dates back to centuries-old English common law and Parliament has a responsibility to lead a debate on whether it's time to rewrite it.

"Our definition of human being says that a child does not become a human being until the moment of complete birth," he said.

A 1988 Supreme Court ruling that struck down Canada's abortion law left room for Parliament to decide whether a fetus should have legal protection and and how much is required, he said.

"I think Parliament has a duty to respond to that in a way which is based on up-to-date medical evidence and which is determined by appropriate principles of human rights," Woodworth said.

The Canadian Medical Association's policy on abortion is that the decision to end a pregnancy is a discussion between a patient and her doctor, and that abortions once a fetus is viable "may be indicated under exceptional circumstances." The association, which represents doctors, says there's no need to replace the section of the Criminal Code struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988.

Woodworth says he's considering whether to table a private member's bill, which would allow the House of Commons to debate the issue. Private members' bills rarely make it to the floor of the Commons for debate, never mind through Parliament, because they don't usually have the government's support.

Joyce Arthur, spokeswoman for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, says Woodworth wants to reopen the debate on abortion, whether or not he's talking about a discussion over what makes a human being.

"When the anti-abortion movement says they want to reopen the debate, it means they want to recriminalize abortion. That's really what it's about," she said.

"When you're talking about giving rights to fetuses, essentially, which is what they're talking about here, obviously that is going to impact abortion rights."

Don Hutchinson, spokesman for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, says since 1988, NDP, Conservative and Liberal MPs have raised the topic.

"Let's not pretend the debate has ever been closed on this issue," he said. I understand that Mr. Woodworth's intent and his action was to have Parliament study the specific sections of the Criminal Code that deal with the child in the womb … in the course of that study, there could well be conversation about Canada's abortion laws."

Discussion will draw 'lots of groups'

NDP MP Françoise Boivin says it's common for observers to jump into the discussion when any MP mentions starting a debate on abortion.

"It’s no surprise in a sense that with Woodworth opening the door, you will see a lot of groups just joining in. There’s a lot of people waiting for an opportunity to bring their theory on the subject," Boivin said.

The Supreme Court settled the issue in 1988, she said, and "you either believe it’s a woman’s choice or not."

"Some people believe [a fetus is] a baby and they would never go through with an abortion. That’s their choice — not mine, not yours, their choice."