Canadian Politics

Parliament Roundly Denounces Motion to Examine When Life Begins

Private members’ bills are a bit of a mixed bag in Canadian Parliament. Most of them are sensible business from the opposition parties, like calling for a national transit strategy (which is sorely needed), but it’s also the airing ground for bills from the fringes of the governing party. Last Thursday, Conservative MP for Kitchener-Centre Stephen Woodsworth’s bill calling on Parliament to form a committee to talk to experts about when, exactly, life begins.


On the plus side, the motion, which was debated for its allotted time and then shelved until a second round of debate and a vote in June or September, was roundly smacked down by all sides of the house. The opposition parties’ opposition is not surprising, but both the House Whip Gordon O’Connor and Harper himself came out against the bill and said they will vote against the motion. Notably, from the Whip’s statement:

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.

Given the Harper government’s considerably less-than-stellar track record on women’s issues, this is surprisingly blunt. I’m hoping that the opposition parties have taken note of the force of this statement and, at the slightest bit of backpedaling, will call him very loudly on it.

I should note that currently, there are no legal restrictions on abortion in Canada following the Morgentaler decision in 1988, and Harper has said for years that his government is not reopening the abortion debate. Harper is many things, but he’s not stupid, and he knows that reopening the debate is not a politically good move. Sure, it’d galvanize the Brad Trosts and Stephen Woodsworths of his caucus and base, but the incremental increase in support wouldn’t be worth the fallout. Much like marriage equality – which for much of the nation is normalized and not up for debate – legal, safe access to abortion is also a normalized, if not talked about much, part of Canadian society.

Sentences like that make me want to go hug my passport.

Incidentally, I’m very curious what Harper’s personal, not-shaped-by-calculations-of-public-image, pit-of-the-stomach feelings on abortion are. I’ve not got a good sense of it from his public statements, which read to me as calculated statements meant to avoid opening any cans of worms, and I’m curious if it’d line up with his party line or not.

But back to Woodsworth. A few years back, I lived in his riding for a bit, and I was spectacularly unimpressed with him. He did, as far as I could tell, absolutely bupkis in the riding; I should note that this is a typical impression I’ve had of my various Conservative MPs over the years. I never got flyers saying he was having events, I got maybe one parliamentary bulletin type thing? I never saw him on the news or in the press, with the one exception of him being a public supporter (and possibly former chair, but I can’t remember the name of it and thus can’t look it up to verify) of a local anti-choice group. Never saw him being a public representative, only an anti-choicer and not a very persuasive one at that – he never has anything to back up his claims, and his claims are wishywashy at best. He’s totally the I Am Sooooooo *Concerned* About Teh Babiez stripe of anti-choicer, which I think is one of the most infuriating stripes of them. If you’re going to have views, Have Views. Stand for them, be consistent, and for the love of Pete, stop simpering and wringing your hands and whining about it. Urgh.

Given how tightly Harper controls his caucus, I can’t read this motion as anything other than a bone being thrown to the anti-choice members who want to reopen the debate and revoke women’s hard fought autonomy over their own bodies. It’s a nod to them that yes, we’re all aware you exist, your stance is duly noted. It’s a measure of maintenance for their anti-choice base members, who’re unlikely to find a home in any of the opposition parties on this matter. Plus, Harper comes across as looking reasonable to voters (having roundly denounced the motion) and has something he can point to and say “Look, I’m okay when it comes to women’s issues!” when someone presses him on, say, the status of Status of Women. It’s a win-win-win situation for Harper, Woodsworth, and the anti-choice faction of the party, so I’m not the slightest bit surprised that Harper allowed Woodsworth to table the bill.

On a totally unrelated note, earlier in the day, Harper Godwin-ed Parliament. Seriously. I don’t even know what to say about these people anymore.

By Millie

Millie is a perpetual grad student, an internationally recognized curmudgeon, and an occasional hugger of trees. She also makes a mean batch of couscous.

4 replies on “Parliament Roundly Denounces Motion to Examine When Life Begins”

I’m so glad this motion got  the smack down, but while there are not the legal prohibitions of abortion, there are still serious accessibility issues for women who don’t live in urban areas (and also are low-income? I’m embarrassingly not sure about that). And then of course Redford in Alberta talking about the conscious clause. ARGH, RAGE.

I really hate to be a downer, but legality doesn’t equal accessibility.

But that clear language by the Speaker is mostly cool.

Of course, legality != accessibility, and there are major hurdles that lots of women face getting an abortion.   But at least legality isn’t one of them.

What’s this about Redford bringing up the conscience clause?  She seems so reasonable on many other things (though maybe moreso in contrast to Smith?)  that I’m surprised that she’s bringing it up.


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