MPs denounce motion to study when life begins

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth found little support for his motion asking for a new committee to study the legal definition of when life begins when it was debated Thursday.
Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth found little support for his motion that was debated Thursday that calls for a committee to study the legal definition of when life begins. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's motion proposing that a parliamentary committee study the legal definition of when life begins got zero support from MPs who debated it Thursday.

Even a senior member of his own party, the Conservative whip Gordon O'Connor, said that, despite Woodworth's claims, the motion is intended to lead to a change in Canada's abortion laws and that it should be rejected.

Kicking off the debate on his private member's motion, Woodworth said the current law's 400-year-old definition of when a person is defined as a human being is dishonest and most Canadians don't agree with it.

Canadians don't accept the notion in the law that "birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being," Woodworth said.

"Motion 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question," he said.

But he made it clear that his own answer to the question is that the moment of birth is not "a rational or reasonable" time to define a baby as a human being. But those who disagree with him, and who accept the law as it is, should have the confidence to expose it to examination by a committee of MPs, as proposed in his motion, he said.

"What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?" Woodworth said.

"If you care about the truth you will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth," he said.

Liberal MP Denis Coderre and others said it was ironic for Woodworth to talk about the law being dishonest when he wasn't being truthful about what he is trying to do with his motion.

Woodworth insisted that his motion is only meant to provoke a "respectful dialogue and an open-minded study of the evidence."

'Society has moved on and I don't believe this proposal should proceed.'—Government whip Gordon O'Connor

But O'Connor disagreed, saying "the ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions at some development stage in Canada." If the legal definition of when a person is considered a human being is changed, and a fetus is then considered a human being then homicide laws would apply, and abortion, as a consequence, would be considered homicide, O'Connor said.

He was the only other Conservative MP to speak during the debate, and he urged everyone to reject his colleague's motion whenever it comes to a vote.

O'Connor said abortion is a serious decision for women to make and he wants all women to continue to live in a society where they can make that decison "without the threat of legal consequences."

Whether one accepts abortion or not, it will always be part of society, O'Connor said, adding that he can't understand why those who are opposed to it want to impose their belief on others through the Criminal Code.

"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," said O'Connor. "Society has moved on and I don't believe this proposal should proceed. As well, it is in opposition to our government's position."

Harper rejects his MP's motion

Earlier in the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he will not support the motion.

Harper was asked during question period by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair why he was allowing Woodworth and other members of his caucus to reopen the debate on abortion.

The prime minister said party leaders do not have control over the motions introduced by MPs and that it's "unfortunate" an all-party committee decided the motion is eligible for a vote.

"In my case, I will be voting against the motion," Harper said.

O'Connor said that the government's position is very clear that it will not re-open the abortion debate.

Woodworth's motion isn't binding, and won't come to a vote on Thursday. It was up for one hour of debate and now drops to the bottom on the order of precedence. It will get another hour of debate when it returns to the top of the list.

The House will vote on the motion the Wednesday following its next hour of debate, which Woodworth expects will be in June or September.

The NDP's women's issues critic, Niki Ashton, said during the debate that her party is unanimously opposed to the motion.

"In Canada, in 2012, a woman's right to choose is not up for negotiation," she said. Ashton also rejected Harper's claim that he doesn't want the abortion debate re-opened.

"If the prime minister didn't want a woman's right to choose to be debated, we wouldn't be here tonight," she said.

Liberal MP Hedy Fry said Liberals don't support any legislative action that might criminalize abortion and oppose Woodworth's motion. She also criticized Harper for allowing Woodworth's motion to stand for debate.

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