MP Stephen Woodworth spoke to students on Dec. 3 at the University of Ottawa about the failed Motion-312 that would have struck a committee to assess the law that currently states a baby is a human being only once it has left its mother’s body. Photo by Tristan Bronca

Law defining a ‘human being’ is unjust, MP Woodworth tells Ottawa students

By  Tristan Bronca, Youth Speak News
  • December 14, 2012

OTTAWA - Motion-312 may have been shot down in the House of Commons, but Stephen Woodworth hasn’t given up.

Woodwor th introduced Motion-312 to the House of Commons back in February, suggesting a committee be appointed to review Subsection 223(1) of Canada’s Criminal Code in light of current medical evidence surrounding unborn children. It was defeated in Parliament, though the motion drew the support of numerous MPs and cabinet ministers.

“By the way, (this law is) 400 years old,” Woodworth told an audience Dec. 3 at the University of Ottawa. “It’s a historical accident.”

The law was written long before anyone had the technology to detect heartbeats or neurological activity. Now that we have this kind of technology, Woodworth told the audience there is virtually zero disagreement among experts as to whether or not a fetus is a “human being before it completely exits the mother.”

“This is a law that actually decrees that some human beings are not human beings,” he said, visibly agitated.

But the controversy surrounding abortion — pitting pro-life against pro-choice supporters — smothered the motion back in September.

“I hate the labels,” Woodworth said, “because no label does anyone justice.”

While Woodworth identifies with the pro-life position, he suggested that much of the discussion between these two sides has been too wrapped up in questions that cannot be addressed until Subsection 223(1) is reviewed. He pointed out that an amendment to this law would not automatically trump the rights of mothers, for example. It would simply reflect a modern, medical understanding of life before birth. With that, a more informed discussion about the question of abortion could begin.

Woodworth, a Roman Catholic, made it clear that this current “vile and unjust” law poses a direct threat to human rights.

“This isn’t a religious thing,” he said. “I don’t care what religion you are, whether you are Buddhist, or Muslim, or Christian, or Jewish, or whether you have no religion at all. People almost universally recognize that we all start with equal worth and dignity.”

The problem, of course, is determining when exactly the human life “starts.” Woodworth doesn’t pretend to know the answer, but he also doesn’t believe that the government should arbitrarily decide either. This is key to understanding Motion-312. The motion would have struck a committee to consult experts before offering a recommendation pertaining to the beginning of human life — whether or not it was consistent with Woodworth’s current position.

But abortion has been inextricably tangled in this issue, and is the major reason why so many have misunderstood or overlooked the motion, Woodworth said. He called it a “magic word” that has “sealed our lips.”

(Bronca, 21, is a fourth year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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