Motions and emotions 

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Local MPs John Weston and Mark Strahl voted on Sept. 26 in favour of Motion 312, which seeks a parliamentary examination of when human life begins. Many, myself included, see this as a covert attack on Canada's abortion laws.

In a free vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and most ministers voted "no." The motion, put forward by MP Stephen Woodworth, was defeated 203 to 91.

Not having known Weston's views I emailed a few questions. His response:

"The current definition of human life is 400 years old. According to this definition, which is found in Section 223 of the Criminal Code, a person becomes a 'human' only after being born and completely clearing the mother's body... Parliamentarians should not be reluctant to discuss it...

"Some supporters of M-312 would exhort MPs to prohibit all forms of abortion. As a staunch proponent of human rights, including women's rights, I do not adopt their position.

"Some opponents of M-312 believed that any discussion of the definition of 'human' must be avoided, as it would inevitably lead to a prohibition of all abortions... I do not accept that extreme either.

"If there are any other 400-year-old definitions in our law that may be out of step with medicine, science, or common sense, I would support reviewing them."

Weston did not say how he differed from MPs who want full abortion bans. Support full access for all? Access only for women with health risks? Rape victims?

The "400-year-old" reference is to British Common Law, upon which much of our parliamentary democracy is based. Its origin is a statement by Sir Edward Coke in 1642. That this and not "morality" is touted as reason for M-312 is interesting, after all the Magna Carta is even older.

Joyce Arthur of The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada says: "The Criminal Code definition of human life was enacted in 1892 and placed under the Homicide section, apparently to clarify the difference between abortion and infanticide. Canada had enacted restrictive abortion laws in 1869 based on an 1803 statute of England, and Section 223 was added later to make a strategic distinction about when a fetus becomes a child in order to clarify these laws.

"Woodworth's notion of an unjustly outdated definition of human life rests on misleading statements about the foundations of Canadian law."

When it comes to parliamentary democracy, majorities rule; whoever drives the vehicle can replace any wheel on it. They can go for square wheels, if they want. We in the passenger seats must mark the direction the driver is taking and decide if we like it.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), there were 93,755 abortions in Canada in 2009. When abortion was illegal in this country, women could go to the U.S. for them; no woman I have ever known to have had one or consider one has done so without huge trauma.

I'm against restricting access to abortion services because no society exists where abortions do not take place. Not Canada, not anywhere. There are either safe abortions or unsafe abortions. This makes it a health and poverty issue. Restricting access disproportionally hits lower-income women and means personal catastrophes that can get passed on to the wider society.

The World Health Organization says five million women worldwide are hospitalized yearly with abortion-related complications. Unsafe abortions account for 13 per cent of maternal deaths, or 67,000 per year. Almost all abortion-related deaths occur in developing countries. They are highest in Africa, where there were 650 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions in 2003, compared with 10 per 100,000 in developed regions. And 220,000 children worldwide lose their mothers yearly from abortion-related deaths.

The Harper government cut funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Kairos, both supporters of abortion services in developing nations, ironically as abortion levels fell worldwide because of improved birth control use.

Closer to home, the Whistler Women's Centre has been watching the debate:

"The very clearly stated goal of Woodworth's motion, to change the definition of when life begins, is simply a backdoor way of limiting Canadian women's basic and fundamental right to choose. There is a disturbing erosion of women's rights happening quietly in Canada, and that... a third of parliament, including Rona Ambrose, the Status of Women minister, voted in favour... is deeply troubling," wrote Kelsey Rose, women's resource worker, in an email.

M-312 is over. So why am I writing about it? Because supporters of a woman's right to choose should not take it for granted. A new motion, M-408, by Langley MP Mark Warawa, was submitted within 24 hours. It condemns the discrimination against females via sex selection abortions.

It is illegal for medical professionals to tell parents the gender of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. According to 2009 CIHI data, 1.9 per cent of abortions (552) took place after 21 weeks. The number due to gender selection is unknown.

Gender selection is an emotional topic. M-408's timing shows that opponents are trying to win hearts and minds in any way that works in order to criminalize abortion.

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