Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth handout

MP wants Parliamentary debate on when life begins

  • January 11, 2012

OTTAWA - Though the Prime Minister has repeatedly said his government will not allow the abortion debate to reopen, an Ontario Conservative MP said he is not worried about the risk as he contemplates bringing forth a private members’ bill on the matter.

“I’m pretty comfortable as a Member of Parliament raising this issue, because it is an issue with such human rights implications,” said Stephen Woodworth of Kitchener, Ont. “It should be everyone’s priorities to ensure that any law that involves fundamental human rights is informed by modern, medically accurate evidence, not some 400-year-old arbitrary legal argument.”

Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code defines a human being as “a child who has completely proceeded in a living state from the mother’s body, whether or not the child has breathed.”

Though Woodworth is Catholic, he is more interested in medical evidence and universal principles than in religious arguments or in having his religious faith become the focus.

“I’m quite accustomed to speaking in terms of legal principle and evidence, so the question I’m simply asking is whether it makes medical sense in the 21st century to say that a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth,” said Woodworth, who practised law before being elected. “We should at least examine the evidence.”

Woodworth noted the scientific discoveries have accelerated in the past 50 years. Scientists now have DNA evidence, ultrasound and other techniques to show the development of the unborn child, techniques sophisticated enough to allow doctors to perform surgery on the child inside the womb. That evidence was not available when the law as it stands now was drafted.

“The evidence supports the notion that a child is a human being at some point before the moment of complete birth,” he said. “We should hear from experts and people as to what they’ve developed about the development of children in order to inform ourselves about this law.

“If we conclude that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth then we should ask ourselves is it a correct principle that any Canadian law should say about any person who is a human being that that person is not a human being?”

Woodworth expects to decide by the end of January whether to submit a private member’s bill to examine Section 223. He believes Parliament is a place for a civil debate where people with diverse points of view can grapple with the underlying principles and reach a conclusion.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) welcomed the call to examine the scientific evidence on when human life begins.

“It is truly very encouraging to consider the new, rational, science-based arguments being put forward by Mr. Woodworth and by all those who support his call for a new debate on the legal status of the unborn child,” said COLF director Michele Boulva. “All people of good will can agree on these arguments.”

COLF has argued for some time that science has established that a new human life begins at conception, she said.

The Catholic Civil Rights League called Canada’s Criminal Code provisions on the legal rights of the unborn child “confusing and not in step with medical and social realities” in a Jan. 4 news release supporting Woodworth’s call for debate.

“Medical science has seen numerous advances in pre-natal treatments for the fetus, so we believe many Canadians would like to see laws affecting personhood updated to reflect today’s realities,” said League executive director Joanne McGarry.

In the last Parliament, Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, who chairs the Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus, tried to change this section of the law with Roxanne’s Law, so that if an unborn child was killed or injured as the result of a violent attack on his or her mother, there would be an additional offense. But he was unsuccessful, even though his bill specifically did not apply to legal abortion.

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