Motion to Debate Personhood of Unborn Tabled in Parliament but Going Nowhere

At a press conference on February 6, 2012, Steve Woodworth, backbench Conservative MP for Kitchener Centre stated that he tabled a motion in Parliament calling for the creation of a special committee to study medical and scientific evidence about when a child can be considered a human being separate from the mother. He also wants that committee to examine the legal impact of denying full human rights to an unborn child and provide options to update the law.

Woodworth expects his motion to get an hour of debate in March and another hour in June.

As stated in my previous post on the topic, it seems as though Woodworth is taking an indirect approach to reopening the abortion debate, and many agree.

In question period, however, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded to Woodworth’s motion and questions from the opposition about reopening the debate on abortion:

Private Members’ motions are considered in accordance with the rules of Parliament. The Prime Minister has been very clear; our Government will not reopen this debate.

Even if the Prime Minister and the government do not want to reopen the debate on abortion, even if this motion is going nowhere, Woodworth’s actions are bringing the debate back into the public eye! It is a thought provoker, and it is making people think and the media talk about the law that defines a human being (section 223 of Canada’s Criminal Code), about the state of abortion and about whether that should change.

Regardless of any new science on the topic of when life begins, the issues of access to abortion and the human rights of unborn children remain inherently political. If we confer a right on an unborn child, we must also remove a right from the woman carrying that child. Some believe this trade-off is worth it. Others do not. Until we solve this dilemma, we are unlikely to reach a fully satisfactory conclusion on the issues at hand.

It will be interesting what further discussion comes out of the hour long debates set for March and June and eventual vote. And to see what Harper will do next to stop any and all discussion on the motion before it goes too far.


  1. “Woodworth’s actions are bringing the debate back into the public eye!”

    Consider this view of at least some of Mr. Woodworth’s apparent fellow travelers south of the border.

  2. Someone raised this interesting question: “Does an unborn child deserve the full protection of the law not just those “wanted” by their mother?”
    Does the mother’s “liberty interests” (choosing to have an abortion) take precedent over the “right to life” of the unborn child?
    Does the criminal code in Canada offer a well-defined wall of protection for pregnant woman and their unborn child from reckless or violent criminal behavior (eg. Laci and Connor Peterson case)?

    How would one define the characteristics of a “human being”?
    According to the above article; “Politicians and neurological brain damage: Born that way?”, a human being can have a beating heart but be “heartless” and “empathy-impaired” while others, including myself, have a “heartful” beat with pulsing empathy intact.
    Isn’t being human a more subjective-objective problem than a legal one?

  3. Why don’t we have a law that recognizes the facts and makes it clear that a human being’s right to life and security of the person begin only once they have been physically separated from their mothers, i.e. the umbilical cord has been cut, and that until such time their existence continues at the mercy of their mother.

    This makes it clear that mothers have the right to kill their offspring while in utero and is consistent with the actual fact of human beings existing within their mother’s wombs for a time. Is speaking the truth so hard?

    Of course, the law would have to recognize the fact that other rights that accrue to those en ventre sa mere are not affected by this the terms of said statute.

    I suppose actually stating the truth (i.e. mothers have the right to decide the life or death of their children until birth) may be a bit harsh to acknowledge in law, but it is what it is. There’s no point in confusing the matter or hiding it in euphemisms. For my part, I have no problem with acknowledging the facts at all.

    As Cliff Huxtable memorably said on the Cosby Show, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” Presently, the right claimed by Cliff Huxtable accrues to pregnant women at common law. Let it be codified and let us be done with it. The common law of 400 years ago, when it was a great controvery to say that the Earth circled the Sun, can certainly be updated to be in accord with what we now know of human conception, in utero development and the beginnings of human life.

    Let us not pretend that there’s some possibility that anything other than a human being will be the product of a human woman’s pregnancy, no matter how unwanted, how disabled, how genetically or morphologically abnormal that human being will be. Let us accept the fact that the right of exposure (i.e. the right to decide on the life or death of any baby born) that accrued to the pater familias in Roman times, now accrues to pregnant women during the term of her pregnancy. Is that so hard to accept and state as the law of the land? I say it is not.

  4. Chris, I enjoyed reading your passionate response which raised a few more questions for your consideration.

    #1. Can a woman’s choice be altered by viewing a Sonogram of their unborn child? Texas lawmakers hope so with the new Sonogram Law which outlines how doctors must deal with woman seeking abortions. The state is hoping to reduce the 80,000 abortion it performs per year.

    #2. Can a late-term abortion pose a medical/health risk for the mother? Canada has well-defined medical parameters for performing abortions safely.

    #3. Is there a Charter remedy which preserves the rights of the unborn child? Is adoption a reasonable alternative?

    #4. Is the mother the legal guardian of the unborn child?

    #5. Is the mother and unborn child at a greater risk of harm if the mother’s rights to an abortion are denied?

    #6. Does the unborn child become a Canadian citizen before or after he or she is born?

    If Mr. Woodworth’s motive is to encourage dialogue, discussion and debate, in order for all of us to gain a new perspective on this issue, then he is doing his job and that is a “good thing”.

  5. Interesting questions for sure. I don’t know the answers. However, some of the things I mentioned above, I’m quite certain that they, at least are true. To reiterate, the facts are:

    1. All human conceptions result in human beings.
    2. Women are the arbiters of whether any given human being lives or dies before birth, without restriction.
    3. The law provides no protection to the lives of human beings before they are born.
    4. Human being in utero do have certain rights at law (though I’d have to back to my law school notes to state what those rights are).
    5. It is unlikely that any change to the lack of an abortion law in Canad is forthcoming in the near future.

    Why keep pretending they are not? I can deal with that reality and sleep in good conscience. Why can’t society as a whole? We accepted gay marriage. Why can’t we accept and clearly state the fact that the mothers of children born in Canada get to decide if those children will live or die up until the time that child is born at which point the law says the children get to live? Is it really so hard? Or is it somehow giving women too much power?

    Anways… I rant away and should stop.


  6. Chris, I have found the issue of maternal supremacy and the legal status of the unborn child an important topic of interest to me. This government has made it clear they will not reopen the debate but a change of government, in the future, may see the abortion laws revisited. Perhaps Bill C-484 called the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act”, which was tabled by this government, will be re-introduced and become law one day.

    While you have accepted the “fact that mothers of children born in Canada get to decide if those children will live or die up until the time that child is born” then you also accept that the law nullifies any rights a unmarried father (common law) may have to legally adopt and/or assume primary custody of his unborn child not wanted by the mother. Could the presumptive shared/equal parental rights, sought under the Divorce Act, some day be applied to the legal rights of unmarried fathers to claim their unborn child?

    I hope that the dialogue will continue (rational rants and all) knowing this issue raises more question than answers.

    You really kept your old law school notes….I am suitably impressed!

  7. With respect to the issue of the father’s involvement with their unborn children, I do believe that the SCC has ruled on that issue (though that case was long before my law school days and I don’t remember the case name nor do I care to look it up right now).

    The decision was, in a nutshell, a woman’s body is her body and she can do with it (and the fetus inside it) as she pleases, father’s interests be damned . The pragmatic advice for men from that case is “Be careful who you inseminate.” She may just kill off your child while she can. If it’s born, you’re on the hook for at least 18 (or is it 22?) years. Also, if you’re not careful, and in truth even if you are careful, she can take your child away from you (the vast majority of time) and interfere with your fathering your child (that’s fathering which is substantively more than siring though that gets little enough respect these days) for any reason whatsoever. Yes, I know, it’s great being a guy in this day and age. If you stay single, at least you get to keep some of your own money (after HMQ takes her cut).

    Do I acccept this (i.e. a woman’s right to kill my unborn child)? The fact is, it doesn’t matter if I accept this or not. It is the law and thus determinitive.

    Frankly, I don’t care that much (until of course I do care and then it will be a different story). I’m fine with women being the arbiters of life and death for all, regardless of whether it’s my child a woman might choose to kill. It’s been otherwise in the past (back in the pater familias days for example) and that’s just the way it is these days. Maybe 500 years from now this situation will be considered barbaric (heck some think it’s barbaric now), but I live now and I’m not too worried about what our descendents will think of us. If they’re like me, they’ll think we were pretty dumb but doing the best we could given the tools we had, pretty much like I think of our predecessors (except for the Klanners. Those folks were just evil. Were then, still are today).

    These are indeed topics of some interest, but a decision must be made. As it stands, we have decided as a country (due to our fearless politicians) to leave it to the courts (i.e. the common law or as some fools, who don’t know history or law, like to call it “judicial activisim”). Thus, the law is what it is, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. I suppose that is called freedom, but we can all see how much people like freedom. Mothers (slightly less than third) aren’t wholly on the side of the unborn’s freedom to live. Members of certain cultures aren’t wholly on side with the freedom of female unborn to live. Some aren’t wholly on side with mothers’ freedom to not be on side with their unborn children’s freedom to live. Feminists aren’t on side with the freedom of the majority to impose its moral values on others through the law.

    Worst of all, NO ONE is on side with my freedom to be free from these vexing questions about life and death and the mockery of that seemingly sound rule that “Thou shalt not kill.” Which isn’t to say that I’m pro-life, just that the rule is both sound and clear and thus has some merit in principle. This is probably why some people have to argue (so they can argue in good conscience I imagine) that there is an actual possibility that prior to a child actually being born, a woman might have been gestating something other than a human being, say like a cat or a whale or a Tyrannosaurus rex or some other such thing and thus it’s always a “miracle” when a child is actually born rather than a larvae like in the movie The Fly. Anyone who remembers high school biology or grew up on a farm with farm animals would view such a line of reasoning as nothing but utter B.S., but a lot of folks don’t take high school biology and grow up in cities nowadays. Ignorance is rampant and I blame our education system for that. I suppose I’m digressing excessively and should stop.

    I apologize for my horrific grammar, sentence structure and diction, but jeez louise, this topic annoys me something fierce.

    Can’t we just let the common law evolve over time and leave it be? It’s worked for hundreds of years before now, I’m sure it will work into the future passingly well. Let it go people. People have been killing people from the beginning. The fact that mothers kill their children shouldn’t be that surprising all things considered, nor all that unsettling given the history of our species. Just be glad that they are at least restricted from killing you after you’ve vacated their bodies.

    M. Diane Kindree, it’s been a pleasure interlocuting with you. I trust that my addition to the conversation has been enlightening and worthwhile.



  8. Chris,

    “Why, what’s the matter that you have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness.” William Shakespeare

    The Bard was a master at using language effectively and persuasively (3 key components): rhetoric, dialectic and grammar…thus freeing the “frosty-spirited rogue” within and retaining his head until the end of his life. ;)

    Have a Happy (Valentine’s) Day!