Brent Rathgeber Headshot

Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, Canada Needs a Clear Ruling on Abortion

Posted: Updated:

One of the most contentious issues facing the 41st Parliament has nothing to do with law and order or fiscal restraint. It has nothing to do with the procurement of stealth fighters or environmental stewardship. One of the most contentious and potentially divisive matters before the 41st Parliament is Motion 312, filed by my colleague, the MP for Kitchener Centre, Stephen Woodworth.

The Motion seeks to set up a Special Parliamentary Committee to examine the 450 year old definition as to when human life begins. The Criminal Code currently states that a child becomes a human being when "it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother whether or not it has breathed, it has independent circulation or the naval string is severed." Woodworth believes this definition is inconsistent with modern medical technology and would like to re-examine it. He states his motion is not an attempt to re-open the abortion debate. But his argument is specious in that regard. If he gets the answer he wants (that human life begins sometime before complete birth), what is he going to do with that information except to use it to re-open the abortion debate?

My feelings on the abortion issue are complex and have evolved over time. I have strong libertarian values, which would suggest that I should be comfortable allowing a woman to control her own body. However, family members, who have struggled with reproductive challenges, have taught me the intrinsic value and preciousness of human life. For the reproductively challenged, an unwanted pregnancy is inconceivable, as they languish in queue for years in order to adopt an "unwanted child."

I have come to the conclusion after years of deliberation and inner debate that I am both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. That does not make me bi-polar; it means that this matter extremely complicated, with multiple methods of examination, resulting in potentially polarizing conclusions.

I am, in my personal life, pro-life. I believe that all life has value and struggle with the notion (after having seen ultrasounds of pregnant women) that a fetus, not completely exited from its mother, is not human life.

However, and it's a big however, I am mindful that many, many, people disagree with this. I understand and respect their arguments and do not impugn their motives. As I am tolerant towards individuals who feel differently, I am prepared to allow them the freedom to choose differently than I would if in their circumstance. In that regard, I am pro-choice. I am not prepared, as a legislator on this contentious issue, to impose my opinion on others; although, ultimately I would hope that they will choose life.

This brings us to Motion 312. There is a vacuity in Canadian law which I believe Parliament must address. When the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) struck down Canada's abortion law in 1988, the issue was, in fact, not settled. The then law was struck down due to procedural inconsistencies from varying hospitals' Therapeutic Abortion Committees. The Court expressly invited Parliament to draft an abortion law that was fair, reasonable and consistently applied across the country. Parliament attempted this seemingly impossible task in 1991 and although a bill passed the House of Commons, it was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

A void exists in Canadian law regarding this issue; Canadians are perhaps unique among western democracies in that we have neither sanctions nor regulations approving abortion or the rights of fetuses. The void in Canadian law means there are currently no legal restrictions regulating the process. Theoretically, a very late term procedure, if performed, would not attract criminal sanction.

Governments and Parliaments have been reticent to deal with this issue given how controversial and divisive the issue can be. Families and even political parties, who normally agree on everything, find themselves in bitter disputes debating the rights of the unborn versus the rights over one's own body.

Accordingly, given how divisive this issue is, I concede that if the matter were settled, it ought to remain so. However, this matter has never been settled in Canada; at least not since 1988 when the SCC ruled in R. v. Morgentaler. So Parliament must do what the Supreme Court invited it to do in 1988: fill a vacuity in Canadian law, no matter how divisive and polarizing that debate will be.