A motion to research the time human life starts was defeated on Sept. 26 in the House of Commons. The initial motion, led by conservative MP Stephen Woodworth this past February, received a 203-91 vote against.
The intent of initiating this motion was to assess the adequacy of the Criminal Code’s definition of when human life truly begins. The –law in question, found under the homicide section, currently states that a child is considered human after birth.
Woodworth believed that the long-standing definition of human life was out-dated and argued that a discussion surrounding the issue was needed.
“A respectful dialogue to update a 400-year- old definition of human being with the aid of twenty-first century information will benefit everyone,” said Woodworth.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not support the motion yet allowed his cabinet to vote in support-of or against the motion at their discretion.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose, House Leader Peter Van Loan, among others, voted in support of the motion.
Winnipeg North Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureaux also voted in support of Motion 312.
In Canada the law does not regulate abortion but it is subject to medical policies and codes of ethics, explained Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Currently, typical abortions are available up to 20 weeks during theinto a pregnancy, anything after that is considered under special circumstances. These special circumstances involve extreme medical conditions, such as severe fetal abnormalities that insure the baby will not survive birth.
Reactions to the voting occurred immediately after through social media. Niki Ashton, NDP status of women critic, tweeted, “Shocked that Min of Status of Women supported clawing back women’s rights. Time for a new minister. Time for an NDP Government.”
Opinions regarding the motion were voiced in the days preceding the vote by different organizations and individuals.
The Campaign Life Coalition, who endorsed two conservative MP’s in Manitoba, fully backed the motion, arguing that a child is a human at conception.
Mary Douglas, national organizer of the coalition, stated that most scientists agree and have proof that life begins at conception. This proof comes in the form of ultrasounds that make it possible to view the pregnancy throughout each stage.
To the coalition, the motion was not a question of abortion but a question of the rights of babies killed due to abortion. Douglas said the option to kill a child is not available when a child is three, four, or even one years of age.
The option of abortion at the time of conception constitutes the same principle for Douglas. Douglas said that there are options available for mothers who are in compromising situations due to rape or addiction and are unable to keep or take care of the child. She argued that there are many loving people out there who want the opportunity to adopt children.
“The child is the one that dies, and the woman is saying I want the right to say whether my child lives or dies,” stated Douglas.
According to Douglas, a woman’s body is no longer her body once there is a child inside. Once conception is complete and the pregnancy is underway, the woman is now responsible for another human being. Douglas argues that abortions are getting rid of our children and our future.
Douglas equates abortion to slavery in that African American people were deemed to be inhuman and had no rights. This belief caused the coalition to state that the law was ridiculous and in need of revision.
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, who received 20,000 signatures on a petition against the motion, disagreed with the Campaign Life Coalition
Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, stated that motion 312 is offensive on a personal level to all women.
The motion states, according to Arthur, that women do not have the mental capacity to decide what is right. She argues that it takes the humanity away from women and by giving rights to a baby before it is even born takes away all rights of the woman.
Arthur argued that women are fully capable of speaking on behalf of the fetus without the interjection of government law or others.
Arthur equated forcing women to having babies as equivalent of reproductive slavery in response to the analogy by Douglas of abortion being equivalent to slavery. An average woman would have 10-15 babies if there were no contraceptives or abortions available to women who are regularly sexually active. This would force them to totally devote their lives to their children, leaving no opportunity for a woman to pursue independent activities that have been fought so hard for.
“It sometimes feels like they want to punish women who have sex with a pregnancy and a child. [It feels like they believe] children should be a punishment and that’s just so twisted and so wrong,” said Arthur.
Arthur stated the choice for some women is difficult, whereas the choice for other women is easy. It all depends on the woman and what kind of a situation she is in. Sometimes there are pre-existing mental issues or problems with the relationship with the father.
Yet, according to Arthur, most of the psychological stress for women has to do with finding out about the unwanted pregnancy. Once the decision is made and abortion is complete psychological distress tends to dissipate and most women are happy with the decision.
“The pro-life and pro-choice arguments are on totally different wavelengths. They just want to ban abortion by law. It’s about controlling women, and if they can’t control them, they’ll punish them instead. Whereas our point of view is very pro women rights, pro equality,” said Arthur.
The NDP caucus as a whole opposed the motion.
If successful, the motion would have called for a committee to examine the law surrounding human life.