Abortion rights are at the centre of a debate set for this afternoon as MPs consider whether to hold a special committee to look at when human life begins.
Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative MP from Kitchener, Ont., introduced a private member's motion calling for the committee. Woodworth says current Canadian law says human life begins when a child has fully emerged from the mother's birth canal, which is based on a 400-year-old definition imported from Britain.
The motion isn't binding, but allows MPs to spend two hours discussing the need — or lack thereof — for a committee to examine the question of when life begins.
When he announced the motion, Woodworth had argued he was simply interested in updating the law to agree with 21st-century medicine. But speaking to Radio-Canada on Monday, he admitted his motion is linked to abortion.
"It certainly allows us to have an honest discussion about the abortion question. How can we honestly discuss all of the complicated issues around abortion if we cannot decide whether or not a child is a human being before the moment of the complete birth?" Woodworth said.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, he cast the debate as one about human rights.
"If in Canada we cannot agree that a law which decrees that some human beings are not human is wrong, then we need to definitely have some discussion about that. That really is the starting point for any just system of laws," Woodworth said.
"It’s a serious debate. It should be addressed."
The motion will get one hour of debate at about 5:30 p.m. ET. Then it drops to the bottom on the order of precedence, and gets another hour of debate when it returns to the top of the list. The House will vote on the motion the following Wednesday, which Woodworth expects will be in June or September, after the summer recess.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said no one in his caucus supports the motion but he plans to whip the vote, or force his MPs to vote along party lines.
"We're resolutely in favour of women's right to choose, so it's very clear for us, and we are absolutely opposed to this motion of Mr. Woodworth," he said.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said he's going to allow Liberal MPs to vote however they want, known as "voting their conscience."
In question period, New Democrat MP Niki Ashton said the Conservatives are rolling back Canadian women’s rights.
"A woman’s right to choose, in Canada, in 2012, is not up to negotiation," she said.
But some of Woodworth's colleagues disagreed.
Conservative Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, who has previously talked about wanting to limit abortion, said he plans to support the motion.
Trost said MPs keep bringing up the issue — despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying repeatedly that his government will not reopen the debate on abortion — "because Members of Parliament are duty-bound by both their constituents and their conscience to argue for things that they feel [are] important."
"Mr. Woodworth feels this is important. He feels this is a thoughtful, proper thing for Canada. And I, like a lot of members, think it’s time that we looked at this in a way that brings compassion to everyone involved."
While Harper has pledged not to raise the abortion issue, it's not clear whether the Conservatives will whip the vote for cabinet ministers or for the caucus as a whole.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who is a practising Catholic, says party tradition is to allow free votes on issues of conscience.
"I'm going to consult my constituents and consider the implications before taking a decision," Kenney said.
"My position is that we must have free votes on questions of conscience."
A spokesman for Harper says the government doesn't usually "communicate its parliamentary strategy" before a vote.
"The [prime minister] has been clear — he will not reopen this issue," Andrew MacDougall told CBC News.
The <a href="http://www.campaignlifecoalition.com/index.php?p=Find_Your_MP" target="_hplink">Campaign Life Coalition provides a listing of MPs who support and oppose abortion rights</a>. The list is based on voting records, previous comments and questionnaire responses. Here is a list of Conservative cabinet ministers who, according to the Coalition, oppose abortion. (CP)
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. (CP)
Minister of Public Safety. (CP)
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. (CP)
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. (CP)
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board. (Handout)
Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. (CP)
Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. (Handout)
Minister of State for Science and Technology and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. (Handout)
Here's a look at the official position of Canada's federal parties, and how the controversial debate has reared its head in recent years. <em>With files from CBC</em>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said that he has no interest in addressing the issue head-on.<br><br>"As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate," Mr. Harper said in April 2011. "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." (CP)
NDP leader Tom Mulcair has stated that his caucus is unanimous in its opposition to the private member's motion calling on Parliament to look at whether a fetus is a human being, but he plans to force his MPs to vote along party lines.<br><br>"We're resolutely in favour of women's right to choose," Mulcair declared. (CP)
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae has stressed that the abortion issue is matter of individual conscience. Rae expressed his personal opposition to reopening the debate, but said Liberal MPs will be allowed to vote "their conscience" rather than force them to toe the party line.<br><br>"Our position on reproductive choice, my position on reproductive choice is very, very clear. It has been for decades. The position is it's a person's right to choose." (CP)
Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost tells Saskatchewan's ProLife Association in April 2011 that the federal government has decided to cut funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a decision he says was influenced by anti-abortion supporters.<br><br>"I cannot tell you specifically how we used it, but those petitions were very, very useful and they were part of what we used to defund Planned Parenthood because it has been an absolute disgrace that that organization and several others like it have been receiving one penny of Canadian taxpayers' dollars," Trost said.<br><br>Maurice Vellacott, a Conservative MP from Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, also calls for Planned Parenthood to be defunded.<br><br>Vellacott says the controversy over the funding "exposed the lies and destructiveness of IPPF's agenda."<br><br>"It exposes what this abortion giant is surreptitiously trying to achieve worldwide."<br><br>International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda approves funding. (CP)
Conservative Winnipeg MP Rod Bruinooge proposes "Roxanne's Law" in 2010, a bill that would penalize anyone who "coerced" a woman into ending her pregnancy against her will.<br><br>"It's not just as simple as feeling pressured to get an abortion; there is a lot of discussion of sex-selection abortion these days, as well," Bruinooge told the Winnipeg Free Press. "It's part of the overall topic of intimidation that goes towards a pregnant woman."<br><br>Bruinooge insisted the bill wasn't meant to force Parliament to wade into the debate banned by Harper, stating that nothing in his bill made it illegal to abort a fetus.<br><br>But the Liberals and New Democrats saw it as a backdoor entry into the touchy topic.<br><br>"How is an abortion bill not an abortion bill?" said then-Liberal MP Anita Neville. "This certainly introduces discussion into the House of Commons and it is a rather sneaky way of doing it."<br><br>Then-NDP leader Jack Layton echoed her concerns. "You have got to wonder what is really going on here."<br><br>The bill was defeated in December of 2010, with 178 votes for and 97 against it. Harper and many Conservatives voted against it and 10 Liberals supported it. The NDP was unanimously against it. (Handout)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda discloses for the first time in April 2011 that Canada will not fund abortions in its G8 child and maternal health-care initiative for developing countries.<br><br>Keith Martin, then-Liberal MP who had defected from the Tories years earlier, expressed outrage. "People here are perplexed and wondering why Canada is rolling back the clock and depriving women in developing countries from having the same rights to basic health care and access to abortion as women in Canada," he said.<br><br>Then-NDP leader Jack Layton accused the Tories of putting Canada on side with former U.S. president George Bush, who reduced support for abortion-related aid.<br><br>"It's picking up the banner that George Bush used to carry, and I think that that's not something that would be supported by the majority of Canadians, that's for sure," Layton said.<br><br>On June 25, Canada pledged $1.1 billion to a global initiative on maternal and child health for developing countries - a disproportionately high amount compared to other G8 countries. Canada did not allow for its share to be used in the funding of abortions. (CP)