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Doctors call on Ottawa to reject ‘backdoor’ attempt to recriminalize abortion

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth takes part in the March For Life rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 10, 2012. Mr. Woodworth is pushing for legislation to have fetuses declared persons.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada's doctors have sternly rejected what they see as a stealth attempt to recriminalize abortion.

At the general council meeting of the Canadian Medical Association on Wednesday, delegates called on the federal government to reject attempts by a Conservative backbench MP to amend the Criminal Code so that a fetus is defined as a human being.

"This constitutes the criminalization of abortion or any form of contraception," said Dr. Geneviève Desbiens, a urologist from Valleyfield, Que.

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"This change could even prevent a pregnant woman from travelling or taking certain drug treatments," she said.

Dr. Desbiens also warned that doctors who counsel or provide abortion services could become criminals.

Currently, subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code states that a fetus "becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother…"

Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative MP from Kitchener-Centre has tabled a private member's bill to have the part of the Code changed. Motion M-312 is slated to go to a vote in Parliament this fall.

The CMA, which represents the country's 76,000 physicians, interns, residents and medical students, has a policy saying that abortion is an ethically acceptable medical practice as long as the fetus is not viable.

Dr. Robin Saunders, a family physician from Sooke, B.C., and chair of the group's ethics committee said M-312 is a "backdoor path to enacting restrictions on abortion." The CMA has a long history of supporting free choice.

But John Ludwig, a family doctor from Omemee, Ont,. said physicians should not accept the current state of affairs. Canada does not have an abortion law.

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He said abortions should not be allowed after a gestation of 20 weeks. "The current (Criminal) Code is ancient and needs to be revised," he said.

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