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MPs have 'duty' to debate rights of unborn, backbench Tory argues

An protester waves anti-abortion placards on Parliament Hill in 2006.

Bill Grimshaw/bill grimshaw The Globe and Mail

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth has restated his interest in examining the point at which a person becomes a human being, saying he will decide in February how to open that discussion in Parliament.

It is a debate that could have profound ramifications for access to abortion.

"My inclination is that I probably will be looking at a motion," Mr. Woodworth said in a telephone interview on Wednesday after issuing a second news release to state his opposition to Canadian law which declares babies to be human at the moment they have fully emerged from the birth canal.

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"Where I want to end up is to just remind Parliament of its duty in this case, its duty to inform itself," he said. The MP for Kitchener-Centre in Southwestern Ontario said it is a "foundational principle in Canada that we don't say people are human if we know they are."

As with his first release on the subject, which was issued in December, the missive sent to reporters by Mr. Woodworth on Wednesday did not mention the word abortion.

"I am not shying away from the fact that the question of whether or not a child is a human being is relevant to the issue of abortion. It certainly is," Mr. Woodworth said.

But "I don't think it necessarily resolves the issue of abortion," he added. "And, more important, I think that the question of whether any law should declare that a person is not a human being without good reason is a greater worry than the issue of abortion."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during the spring election campaign that a Conservative government would not bring forward any legislation to restrict access to abortion and that any such legislation would be defeated.

But Mr. Woodworth is not the first Conservative MP to raise matters related to abortion. Like the others, his activism does not appear to have been condemned by the Prime Minister's Office.

Mr. Woodworth would not comment Wednesday on any discussions he may have had with Mr. Harper or his staff. "I have a practice of keeping private conversations private," he said. "But I can tell you, I am very comfortable as a member of Parliament, with raising an issue with such important implications."

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Members of the opposition say it is clear, given the strict control that the Prime Minister exercises over his caucus, that Mr. Harper has sanctioned the efforts of MPs like Mr. Woodworth to restrict abortion. And they say this challenge of the law is an attempt to make abortion illegal without addressing the real question.

Mr. Woodworth maintains the law dates back 400 years, to British common law, and was written at a time when the judges and the courts could not ascertain whether a child was actually a human being or that it would be born alive. Science has evolved since then, he said.

In fact, Mr. Woodworth added, it may date back as far as 900 years. That just "drives the point home that this is a principle based on a totally irrelevant understanding of what it is to be a human being."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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