By Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, Apr 26, 2012
Canada’s “consensus” on our unlimited abortion licence — any time, for any reason, fully funded by tax dollars — is a strange one. First of all, it’s not really a consensus, as only a minority of Canadians, when polled, support the extreme position we currently have.
Yet the faux-consensus is apparently so essential that any attempt to moderate Canada’s abortion enthusiasm is thought to be unpatriotic, as if adopting, say, French or German abortion policies would be to accede to the most retrograde social policies imaginable. At the same time, the faux-consensus is so fragile that every attempt must be made to prevent any discussion about it.
This odd consensus produces odd behaviour. This week, Conservative backbench MP Stephen Woodworth has a private member’s motion coming up for debate in the House of Commons. Given that Stephen Harper is committed to maintaining the status quo, pro-life MPs must resort to nibbling around the edges of issues that perhaps, one day, under certain circumstances, might lead to questions being asked about why Canada has the most extreme abortion licence in the world, save for China, where abortions are sometimes compulsory.
Woodworth’s motion directs that a committee of the House be struck to examine the definition of a human being in the Criminal Code. Section 223 of the code states that a “child becomes a human being” when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.” If Woodworth’s motion were to pass, a House committee would be charged with examining “what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth,” and the legal and legislative consequences of such a determination.
It’s pretty anodyne, as far as it goes. It’s not a motion about a law, but only a study. Nonetheless, the normally gentlemanly Justice Minister, Robert Nicholson, did not even wait for Woodworth to finish his press conference on the motion back in February before issuing a statement condemning it. That was rude behaviour, unbecoming toward a parliamentary colleague, especially a member of his own caucus. The Justice Minister’s position is that it is intolerable to ask whether it is medically accurate for the Criminal Code to state that a child actually being born is not a human being.
Other oddities abound. For example, the Liberal Party of Canada passed a “science and policy” resolution at its recent convention, calling for more attention to be paid to science in the formulation of public policy. It declared that the “stature of Canada is declining in the international scientific community because government policy is made with little regard to scientific knowledge” and that “scientific knowledge is critical to address many issues confronting Canadians, ranging from resource and environmental issues to food safety and supply”.
It will be of interest to see what Liberal MPs do on Woodworth’s motion. How important is science in public policy after all? Critical for the environment and food safety, but not when deciding who is a human being or not? One would expect that the pro-science camp might be eager to hear what genetics and embryology have to say about the development of the human being in utero.
There is ambivalence from some in the pro-life camp about Woodworth’s motion, insofar as it will have little practical effect. After all, it is obvious that the unborn child is a human being. What else could it be? The more relevant question for the purposes of the law is what protection does this class of human beings deserve? After all, in a country where the “Persons Case” is one of the most famous milestones in jurisprudence, it is obvious that just being a human being — even a fully grown adult — does not automatically mean being treated as a person bearing rights.
“Even if they were declared to be ‘human beings’ in the biological and medical sense, this would not change the practical necessity of giving them legal personhood only at birth,” explains Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. Everyone knows a child on the threshold of birth is a human being. It takes a judges and politicians to deny that human being the right not to be destroyed.
What today’s debate in Parliament will bring remains to be seen. Perhaps it might bring some clear thought and courageous witness. Or perhaps it will be just another frustrating episode in the perpetuation of a “consensus” that has been imposed on a country which never seems altogether accepting of it.