A Conservative MP is calling on Parliament to take another look at the rights of the unborn, potentially reopening the debate on abortion in Canada.
Stephen Woodworth sent a news release out Wednesday suggesting Canada should revamp its laws to recognize the human rights of unborn babies — most specifically, the right to life.
Woodworth cites an Angus Reid survey that suggested 79 per cent of Canadians incorrectly believe Canadian law protects the fundamental human rights of children before birth, in the later stages of gestation.
"In fact, the opposite is true,” Woodworth said in his press release. “Canadian law provides no human rights protection whatsoever for children before the moment of complete birth.”
Parliamentarians, he told The Huffington Post Canada, should discuss the issue and bring in ethicists and medical professionals to offer their expert opinion as to whether it makes sense, in the 21st century, to say that a child is not a human being until the moment of “complete birth.”
“I think of regardless of a person’s views on abortion, it would be important to know whether a child is a human being before birth,” Woodworth, a member of Parliament’s “pro-life” caucus, said.
“It seems to me that to make those decisions, you need to proceed from a factual, accurate basis,” he added.
Asked if he is trying to reopen the abortion debate, Woodworth said he was trying to “shed light on it” so that whatever debate occurred was not based on “inaccurate principles.”
“If it was (up to) me, I would say a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, but I am not a medical expert, I am simply suggesting that we look at the medical evidence on this thing,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged, the question he is raising is the first step towards recognizing the rights of the unborn, potentially granting them the right to life. That could, in turn, pave the way for abortion laws that determine whether or not a woman can chose to terminate her pregnancy.
“I think it would inform the abortion debate,” he said.
Woodworth acknowledged that he had discussed his press release with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He also suggested the issue had been raised in caucus and that the timing of his press release — after the House of Commons had finished sitting, MPs had scattered to their ridings and the national media was heading on holiday — had been strategically negotiated.
“Whatever conversations I have privately are private. But I can tell you that my position is that this is an important issue and I didn’t want the end of the year to go by without having raised it,” the Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre said.
This is not the first time anti-abortion advocates in the Conservative caucus have piped up. During the election campaign, Harper was forced to react to news that one of his backbench MPs, Saskatoon — Humboldt’s Brad Trost, was bragging he had helped “defund” Planned Parenthood.
At the time, Harper had pledged that as long as he was prime minister, the Conservatives would not open the abortion debate.
"The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister,” Harper said during the campaign.
When Planned Parenthood received federal government funding this fall, Trost wrote an open letter warning the Conservative Government to brace itself for more decent among MPs who oppose abortion.
“The government only responds to pro-life issues and concerns when we take an aggressive stance. We will apply this lesson," he vowed.
Woodworth, who described himself as less “confrontational” than Trost, said he first tried to raise the idea of a debate on the rights of the unborn last year. But his 60-second statement in the House of Commons “really didn’t get noticed much,” he said.
Personally, Woodworth added, he believes the unborn should be protected.
“I would err on the side of protecting children before birth,” he said, although declining to say when life should begin to be protected.
“I have a variety of points of view on that and I’d rather wait until I see the evidence.”
Even though, Harper may not agree, Woodworth said, he believes a debate should be allowed to take place.
“I’m not disappointed if everybody doesn’t agree with me, that’s okay, but let’s at least figure out what the evidence is, what is the medical evidence?,” he said.
Canadians are quite capable of having an intelligent debate on the matter, he added.
But without a private members' bill or even a motion, Woodworth has little chance of getting debate started without the Conservative government's approval.
“I’m not for closing any options and certainly a motion in Parliament is an option and I’ll figure that out in the new year,” he told HuffPost.
This is not the first time, Conservative MPs have tried to pave the way for changes to Canada’s abortion stance.
In 2010, Tory MP Rod Bruinooge introduced a private member's bill that would have added new criminal penalties for those who coerce women into terminating a pregnancy. Harper voted against the bill and it ultimately failed.
However, four years ago, Harper did vote in favour of a private member's bill introduced by Tory MP Ken Epp which would have treated the unborn as separate victims when mothers are attacked or killed. Many saw the bill as an indirect means to prevent abortions. The government eventually blocked passage of the bill.
Canada currently has no laws regulating abortion.
You can read the complete text of Woodworth's release on Facebook.