Woodworth abortion motion neglects settled law
Often in debates over social issues, scoring political points and provoking an opponent is more important than achieving any tangible change. The people whose lives are impacted by the laws of the day are often thrown by the wayside as politicians seek to solidify their standing with the base of voters that got them elected.
Take Kitchener-Centre MP Stephen Woodworth tabled a private member’s motion on Feb 6 to reopen debate on abortion in Canada by studying subsection 223(1) of the Canadian Criminal Code, which suggests that life begins at birth, not at conception.
In the motion, Woodworth seeks to create a committee stacked with seven Conservatives, four members of the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberals. He asks “what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority […] to affirm, amend or replace” the aforementioned section of the Criminal Code.
While I do not dispute that this is an issue that the member is passionate about, Woodworth’s motion is a blatant attempt to stir the national dialogue about a subject that the government has no intention of debating and that the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled on.
Prior to the days of the Trudeau government, all abortions were illegal in Canada. Trudeau introduced an amendment to the Criminal Code to decriminalize abortions, allowing for the procedure so long as a “therapeutic abortion committee” (TAC) ruled that the mother required an abortion for physical or mental well-being.
The landmark Supreme Court case, R. v. Moregentaler, struck these laws down, viewing the TAC as an unconstitutional infringement on a woman’s right. The Court ruled that “state interference with bodily integrity […] constitutes a breach of security of the person” and that “the objective of protecting the [fetus] would not justify the severity of the breach of pregnant women’s right to security of the person.” Two further Supreme Court cases, Dobson v. Dobson and Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. DFG further elaborated on the woman’s right and suggested that imposing restrictions on the mother on account of the fetus would interfere with her own autonomous rights.
The Court did indeed leave open the question of a law on the latter months of pregnancy and noted that a law in that regard “could achieve a proportionality which would be acceptable under s. 1 of the Charter.”
It should be made clear that this is not what Mr. Woodworth is proposing, though. Woodworth’s motion calls for a wide-sweeping discussion of the rights of the fetus in general, and is clearly worded as a provocative measure instead of a reasoned approach to late-term abortions.
Even if Woodworth is concerned about late-term abortions, Statistics Canada noted in a 2003 study that 99.6 per cent of abortions occur before the third trimester and if they do occur in the third trimester, it is almost always out of concern for the mother’s health or because of serious fetal abnormalities that do not appear until the final trimester.
What does Woodworth achieve in the pursuit of a substantive national dialogue by introducing this bill? Instead of suggesting specific reforms he is tiptoeing around the issue by suggesting vague platitudes and useless committees. The right of a woman to seek an abortion, at least in the first two trimesters, is for all intents and purposes a matter of settled law. If Woodworth seeks to reopen this debate, he does so without offering even a modicum of respect for the women in this country who struggle with the agonizing and difficult decision of whether they have the wherewithal to bring another life into this world. Their lives are not to be treated as political pawns, nor are their uteruses meant to be put on trial.
I support a woman’s right to choose not because I am pro-abortion, but because I believe that in a free society, a woman must have control over her own body, free from the constraints of people like Mr. Woodworth dictating to women what is best for their well-being.