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Tory MP concedes ‘abortion’ motion lacks support

Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth speaks with the media about his motion to study the definition of the human being during a news conference in Ottawa, Sept.17, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A Conservative MP is passionately defending his motion that would require Parliament to study the point at which a baby becomes a human being – one that critics say is a back-door attempt to criminalize abortion.

But Stephen Woodworth concedes he is unlikely to get the support needed to move the initiative forward.

The second round of debate on Mr. Woodworth's motion to examine the law that says a baby becomes a human being when it emerges from the birth canal will be held on Friday afternoon. A vote will be held the following Wednesday.

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With Prime Minister Stephen Harper having made it clear he does not support the motion, Mr. Woodworth cannot count on broad support even within his own caucus. Which is probably the reason he booked the National Press Theatre on Monday to remind reporters that his motion merely asks for a study of the issue. It would not change abortion laws, he said, adding that Canadians should not be afraid of the debate.

"Until a child's little toe pops out of the birth canal, that child is not recognized as a human being in Canada," said Mr. Woodworth. It is a law, he said, that "dehumanizes and excludes an entire class of people" and is an assault on the principle of universal human rights.

The Conservative MP said his motivation for pressing forward with the motion is "irrelevant" and the discussion of abortion is a "distraction."

But he also said Canadian courts have left it up to Parliament to tackle the abortion situation – there are currently no laws governing the practice. It is an issue that could be resolved, said Mr. Woodworth, "beginning with an informed review of evidence and principles which is a necessary precursor to reaching a consensus."

When the motion was before the House of Commons last spring, Mr. Harper dispatched Conservative Whip Gordon O'Connor to make an eloquent defence of a woman's ability to have an abortion without legal ramifications. That angered many people in the anti-abortion movement who had hoped that a Conservative government, once in majority, would take steps to restrict the procedure.

But Mr. Woodworth's motion has also infuriated those on the other side of the debate who fear that access to abortion is being challenged. Dozens of protesters picketed in front of his constituency office in Kitchener, Ont. last week. And many MPs of all stripes feel the same way.

"At this point I am not optimistic that I will come close to the 50 per cent required to pass this motion, although I continue to want to meet with Members of Parliament and to try to convince them of that," he said. As for Mr. Harper's opposition, Mr. Woodworth said he likes the Prime Minister "but I think it would be an immature view of politics to think that because you like and admire someone, you ought never to disagree with them."

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When Canadians have differences, they have a respectful dialogue, said the MP.

By saying babies are not human beings until they are born, Mr. Woodworth said people can convince themselves that aborting a fetus is not the same as killing a human being – much like plantation owners in the deep south prior to the American Civil War convinced themselves that black slaves were not human. "Have we really lost a consensus in Canada," he asked, "that the dignity and worth of every human being must be recognized?"

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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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