en-minded, evidence-based study” MP Stephen Woodworth made a final impassioned final plea for an “op Register file photo

MP Woodworth makes impassioned plea for Motion 312 as government whip looks on

By 
  • September 24, 2012

OTTAWA - To a nearly empty House of Commons Sept. 21, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth made a final impassioned final plea for an “open-minded, evidence-based study” of the 400-year-old Criminal Code definition of a human being.

He spoke last, after MPs on both sides of the House spoke against or in favour of his private member’s Motion 312 that would establish a parliamentary committee to examine the Criminal Code’s subsection 223(1) that says a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth. Opposition MPs argued the Motion represented a “backdoor” to re-criminalizing abortion and violating a woman’s right to control her own body.

But Woodworth disagreed.

“About abortion, I say this: recognizing children as human before the moment of complete birth will not resolve that issue,” Woodworth said.

“Even Justice Bertha Wilson, who championed abortion rights in the Morgentaler decision, wrote that Parliament should ‘inform itself from the relevant disciplines’, the very proposal embodied in Motion No. 312.

“Recognizing the reality that children are human beings before complete birth will affirm the hallowed principle that human rights are universal, not a gift of the state that can be cancelled by subsection 223(1),” he said.

Only between 30 and 35 MPs attended the final hour of the House of Commons' agenda dealing with private member’s business on a rainy and gloomy Friday afternoon, with members coming and going.

But the diplomat’s gallery was surprisingly full with several members of the pro-life movement present, including Linda Gibbons, a grandmother who has spent a total of nine years in prison for silently praying outside abortion clinics in Toronto.

The government’s chief whip, MP Gordon O’Connor, sat in the House as if taking careful note of Conservative MPs who rose to speak in favour of the Motion. O’Connor had told the House in the previous hour of debate the government would not support this motion or allow the abortion debate to be reopened.

Though he did not speak in the second hour, his presence in the nearly empty chamber spoke volumes. At one point, he crossed the aisle and sat for several minutes at the same desk as NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin, a vociferous opponent of Motion 312. Boivin had been singing O’Connor’s praises in the previous week for arguing as she has that the motion is an attempt to recriminalize abortion.

Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy also sat in the House, though from her body language — head down, poring over reading material, seemed to indicate she was disengaged from the debate around her. While traditionally private members’ business is a free vote for MPs, many are watching to see what publicly identified pro-life cabinet ministers will do when Motion 312 comes to a vote and whether they will break with the government’s stated opposition to the ban.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Natural Resources Minister MP David Anderson was the highest-ranking Conservative to risk the prime minister’s ire by speaking in favour of the motion. He opened by saying he had received 200 e-mails urging his support the previous evening alone.

“I have had over 1,500 responses encouraging me to support Motion No. 312,” he said. “I find it interesting that many of them have come from young women. I think that is a rebuke to the opposition members, reminding them that there are young women in this country who believe in what is being proposed in today's motion.

“We need to recognize that a majority of Canadians believe that human life begins long before a person is born. We can understand that if the evidence establishes that a child does in fact become a human being before the moment of complete birth, then subsection 223(1) has some major problems and it is actually a law that dehumanizes and excludes a whole class of human beings from legal protection.”

“The member for Kitchener Centre's desire to open up this debate has an end goal of changing the legislation to enable the fetus to be declared a human being,” argued NDP MP Irene Mathyssen. “We are all very aware that such a change in the definition will place Canada directly on the regressive path to banning abortions.

“A fertilized egg is not a class of people, and I am offended that the member would shamelessly misrepresent the women's rights movement as an example of why we should open the door to changing abortion rights in Canada,” she said.

NDP MP Sylvain Chicoine told the House “the debate is closed in the minds of Canadians.”

He said Woodworth was either “contradicting himself” or “hiding his real desire to turn women who have abortions into criminals.”

When the debate ended, the new Deputy Speaker NDP MP Joe Comartin asked for a voice vote on the motion. The “nays” were far louder than the “yeas” to the CCN journalist sitting in the gallery. Comartin called it a second time and still the nays were louder. But there were more “yea” voters sitting in the House.

“In my opinion the yeas have it,” he said. However, at least five MPs stood up, meaning a final vote will be held Sept. 26.

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