Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Unwanted abortion debate respectful to date, says Woodworth

  • May 4, 2012

OTTAWA - Contentious issues about human rights, even those of unborn children, can be discussed in public in a civil, intelligent way, said Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth. And you need look no further than the recent debate in the House of Commons on his private member's Motion-312 for proof.

On April 26, Woodworth was the only MP who spoke in favour of his motion that would establish a Parliamentary committee to examine the latest medical evidence on whether a child in the womb is a human being. Other MPs from across the political spectrum — including his own Conservative Party — spoke against it.

"For the most part I have observed the debate has been a civil one and an easy one to have and I hope that encourages people that you can talk about legal principles and evidence in an intelligent manner without people having to worry about things escalating into anything unpleasant," said Woodworth. "It doesn't have to."

Woodworth said he did not mind the pile-on in the House or any of the media coverage surrounding the debate, which many argue is an attempt to reopen the debate on abortion.

"I never ever worried about people disagreeing with me as long as they do it in a respectful manner," said Woodworth in an interview. "I was quite pleased the debate in the House did proceed in a calm and respectful way. I hope that will help persuade people that we can talk about issues of this nature without being fearful of it."

Woodworth said he was not surprised by what he heard from opponents.

"The arguments on the other side can be really boiled down to this: to have an informed discussion on whether a child is a human being before birth might convince some Canadians to question our existing abortion practices."

He does not consider that a good argument. Saying that someone is medically a human being but "legally I'm going to decree that you are not," divorces law from reality, he said.

"You cannot divorce law from reality," he said. "That's part of the problem that I am addressing. The position that I am advancing is that basic human rights are inherent and inalienable and not subject to legal cancellation and not something that is a gift from the state."

Woodworth's opponents tried to separate the medical definition of an unborn child and questions of viability from the legal definition of a human being, arguing that defining the unborn child as a legal person would re-criminalize abortion.

"I don't think you can have an honest or intelligent conversation about that unless you have first determined whether or not a child is a human being before birth," he said. "Let us make that determination, then we can if we want move on to other subjects.

"There is a huge difference between denying anyone's basic human rights and imposing reasonable limits on basic human rights," he said. "It's legitimate to impose limits on a person's rights, but it is never legitimate to deny that someone is a human being."

Motion-312 may come up again for its second and final hour of debate in June or some time in the fall, he said. He hopes next time some MPs who support his motion will have an opportunity to speak.

Woodworth realizes his motion may not pass, but said the exercise will still be useful.

"The discussion will have been advanced; some people will have been influenced," he said. "The notion we should avoid any informed discussion of human rights because it might affect abortion access will not be persuasive to the Canadian people."

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