Abortion In Canada: Stephen Woodworth And Brad Trost Become Voice For Silent Social Conservative MPs

First Posted: 02/11/2012 10:05 am Updated: 02/13/2012 4:36 pm

Abortion Canada Woodworth
Tory MPs Stephen Woodworth, left, and Brad Trost have become vocal advocated for fresh debate on Canada's abortion laws. (CP)

When pro-life Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth stood in front of a podium facing a room packed with journalists Monday he knew he wasn’t facing a friendly crowd.

“You’re here to get a nice controversial story,” he told reporters at the National Press Theatre as he began pleading with them for support.

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Since December, Woodworth has taken to the media circuit telling reporters, the public and his constituents that he believes babies who are still in the womb should be recognized as legal human beings and that legislation which only sees them as human once their toes have seen daylight makes no sense. He has filed a motion calling for the formation of a special committee to determine when a human being is formed and, based on that conclusion, what the consequences would be of recognizing a fetus as a human being before it leaves the womb.

“At some point in your life you made a commitment, a personal commitment to the truth,” the Kitchener MP told journalists. “At least that’s what the rest of us expect of you. Has anyone here abandoned their commitment to the truth? Don’t you want truthful laws?”

A calm and friendly fellow with a gentle demeanor, Woodworth told reporters that what he is proposing is not to blow open the abortion debate but rather to have a discussion about an outdated 400-year-old law.

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It’s a tactic that those who champion abortion rights are fearful of, but that self-described pro-life politicians suggest is the only route open for them.

“I’ve learned that whenever you hear the term ‘reopen the debate’ that is simply code for they want to recriminalize abortion,” Joyce Arthur, the executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada told The Huffington Post Canada.

“They have to be more covert about it and sneaky and say ‘Oh it’s not about abortion, we care about the human rights and the rights of women’ but really that is just a cover,” she said.

While Arthur worries opponents of abortions are using different tactics to sell their message, the opponents themselves worry the message isn't being heard by the government at all.

The Conservatives are “hypocrites,” suggested Mary Ellen Douglas, a national organizer with Campaign Life Coalition.

“They claim that their MPs can say whatever they like and then they send in another MP from the Prime Minister’s Office to shut them down before they can do anything,” she said in an interview this week. “That’s hypocritical.”

It’s time to reopen the abortion debate, Douglas argued. “It is 40 years time to reopen it. It never should have happened in the first place. And what is (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) afraid of, you know? He has a majority … I don’t know what his fear is. But whatever it is, it is certainly holding him back,” she said.

Campaign Life Coalition has spent decades working with MPs and trying to get legislators who oppose abortion elected to Parliament.

“These MPs should be able to speak their minds and their conscience and act that way,” Douglas asserted.

“We have to have politicians with morals. In visiting MPs, I’ve had some politicians say to me, ‘I am personally opposed but I can’t impose that on other people.’ Excuse me? …That’s what we elect you for, to stand up for the moral issues! We don’t elect you to go there and blend in with the woodwork. We expect you to earn your money."

Now that the Conservatives have a majority, Douglas is hoping some backbench MPs will start speaking out.

They’ve been relatively silent because they fear losing their position and being disciplined, she said.

“Having the courage to stand up and do something often leads to some kind of discipline. They certainly need a jolt of courage,” Douglas added.

Unsurprisingly, Woodworth’s motion raised questions once again about the Conservatives’ hidden agenda but the government was quick to distance itself from its MP’s motion. Their efficient response led most media outlets to describe Woodworth's actions as going rogue.

Woodworth himself seemed caught off guard when a journalist informed him during his news conference that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, a man whose voting record used to reflected a pro-life stance, had just issued a press release saying the Conservative government would not reopen the abortion debate.

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MINISTERS WHO OPPOSE ABORTION

Woodworth won’t reveal what conversations, if any, he has had with the Prime Minister. But he told HuffPost he doesn’t like to surprise anybody and “it shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

The married father of three refused to discuss the feedback he has faced from fellow caucus members on not raising the abortion issue, although he acknowledged a range of views have been expressed.

“Some people are nervous when such an issue is raised. Some are supportive, some probably take the opposite point of view, I’m not sure I would call any of it pressure,” Woodworth said.

“Suffice it to say, I’ve filed my motion and I’m proceeding with it and I don’t expect to fall off the face of the Earth because of that,” he added, with nervous laughter.

Woodworth said he’s thought about the tricky position he’s placing some of his colleagues in —people such as cabinet ministers Vic Toews, Lynne Yelich and Jason Kenney (who ignored a request for interview) — who may feel caught between voting against the government for whom they speak or voting against their deeply-held religious beliefs.

“I have thought about it, yes. I haven’t come up with any grand conclusions,” Woodworth said.

He believes his motion has been watered down to such a point that it should not anger his peers.

“I have drafted a motion which is about as mild as I can think of to deal with the issue that I have raised. You know, I haven’t proposed any answers to any questions, I haven’t proposed any legislation that would compel anyone to do anything, I have simply requested a study,” he said.

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