Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth

Wither free speech

By 
  • May 1, 2012

It’s difficult to judge which was the sadder sight in the House of Commons on April 26,  Conservative MP  Stephen Woodworth being ridiculed from all quarters for standing in defence of human life or the bleakness of him standing there alone.

The one certainty is that Woodworth has won our respect for rising as a lone voice in a hostile environment to promote values that are widely belittled in society, but also for rising, perhaps inadvertently, as a champion of the right to speak freely in Parliament.

Woodworth made himself a target simply by seeking Parliamentary approval to form a committee to study when life begins. He didn’t introduce legislation or even propose Parliament draft legislation to address the total lack of abortion laws in Canada. His private-member’s initiative sought only to form a committee to study the legal definition of human life.

According to Canadian law, the growing, kicking, heart-beating life within a womb does not become human, and therefore entitled to protection under the law, until it is fully born. Woodworth believes that modern medical and scientific evidence — not to mention common sense — suggests that life becomes human within the womb, and he wants an intellectual investigation of the question.

“Why oppose a mere study?” Woodworth asked. “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.”

But Woodworth’s motion was scorned by every MP who spoke in a sparsely attended session. And even though many MPs support Woodworth, not one stood to defend him or his motion during the one-hour “debate.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper had earlier called Woodworth’s motion “unfortunate” and said he’d vote against it. That might explain why  Gordon O’Connor, the only Conservative to speak, was Woodworth’s most fierce critic.

It’s fair game to disagree with Woodworth. But the overall tone of comments from MPs (and the media) was startling. Many sounded angry and resentful that Woodworth would even broach this topic. Some wondered why the Prime Minister didn’t muzzle him. Woodworth was treated as if he had no right to challenge the status quo and was committing treachery by asking Parliament to even consider a motion that might eventually spark soul-searching questions about the legality and morality of abortion.

His motion deserved better treatment, and so did  Woodworth. It’s a dark day when so many MPs will use the weight of Parliament to denigrate legitimate debate rather than encourage it to flourish. And it was shameful that Woodworth entered this lion’s den alone. Where were the like-minded MPs? Ducking for cover, it seems. Kudos to Woodworth for refusing to join them.

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