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Is Chong's Reform Bill a Clever Attempt to Criminalize Abortion?

12/10/2013 05:57 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST

In a recent editorial, the Globe and Mail applauded MP Michael Chong and his proposed Reform Bill. Because the Globe, as with Chong, believes that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has become too powerful.

The Globe supports Chong's Bill because the objective of this Bill is, according to the Globe, for the Canadian parliamentary system to return to the Westminster tradition (see English, Australian and New Zealand systems) whereby there is more equality between the executive (PMO) and the legislature (Parliament).

I believe that the Globe is missing an essential element of Chong's push for Parliamentary reform.

I am suggesting that Chong's bill, which relies upon the democratic traditions of Westminster and which promotes greater power for individual MPs, is a means, but not an end in itself.

Though Chong's clear intent with this bill is to give more power to the MPs and reduce the power of the Prime Minister and other other party leaders, I believe that possible consequences of this bill are that certain MPs may gain the power to reopen the abortion debate with a view of criminalizing abortion. This should be a wake-up call to the Liberals, NDP, Conservatives and all Canadians who support a women's right to choose.

Please consider the following:

On Sept. 26, 2012, Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative MP, tabled a private member's bill in the form of a motion intended to strike a 12-member, all-party committee to study the definition of when a newborn can legally be considered a human being. At the time this motion was defeated 203-91.

Currently the Criminal Code declares that a child is a human being when it emerges alive from the mother's womb.

If this motion had passed and if Parliament had then passed a follow-up bill amending the Criminal Code to say that life, for example, commenced after 12 weeks in a womb, then any woman and doctor engaged in an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy could be held criminally responsible for killing a human being. For Woodworth and his bill's supporters to suggest that his bill was not an attempt to criminalize abortion is an insult to everyone's intelligence.

Woodworth, and two other Conservative MPs, Kyle Seeback and Leon Benoit backing the Chong's bill, are on record opposing abortion in its entirety.

These three Conservative MPs believe that life begins at conception. I believe that for these three MPs, the act of an abortion is killing a human life and should be considered an offence under an amended Criminal Code.

I believe that this Woodworth motion was a clear attempt by anti-abortion Conservative MPs to reopen a debate on abortion through the backdoor, contrary to Harper's campaign promises and the party's policies, upon which these very same politicians campaigned under the Conservative banner in the last federal election.

During the vote on this bill, Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept good on his campaign promises not to re-open the abortion debate and voted against the motion. Harper had earlier called the motion "unfortunate."

I strongly suspect that Harper and his office used their greater power over individual MPs to ensure that sufficient Conservative MPs voted against the motion, to ensure its ultimate defeat.

Among Conservative MPs who supported this Woodworth motion were:

Michael Chong

Stella Ambler, Ontario MP

James Rejotte, Alberta MP

Larry Miller, Ontario MP

Kyle Seeback, Alberta MP

Leon Benoit, Alberta MP

I think it's no coincidence that these same Conservative MPs are publicly supporting Chong's proposed Reform Bill.

I believe that Chong's bill could theoretically give anti-abortion MPs the upper hand against weakened party leaders, whether they be Harper or Trudeau.

Specifically, anti-abortion MPs could theoretically use their new power to remove Harper and Trudeau, or at least threaten their removal, unless they support a more anti-abortion policy.

In addition, Harper and Trudeau could theoretically be prevented from removing these anti-abortion advocates from caucus and could be prevented from vetoing anti-abortion candidates who take over local riding associations.

There is already evidence that if Chong's bill is passed, certain special interest anti-abortion groups are considering going after control of certain Conservative and Liberal riding associations.

Note 20 years ago, Liberal leader Chretien gave himself veto powers over candidates to prevent this very same development.

Chong's bill is not only Harper's problem, but should be a problem for Trudeau and Mulcair. Trudeau and Mulcair run the risk of having their riding associations taken over by extremists espousing views contrary to their party's respective policies and principles.

As a personal note, the issue of women's rights hits very close to home.

My father was an obstetrician/gynecologist at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital from the 1950s through the 90s.

He treated thousands of Quebec women patients over the years. Many patients came to him on matters relating to reproduction, contraception and family planning. Unfortunately, some of his patients were victims of botched back-alley abortions. I learned at a very early age from my father the necessity for women to gain easy access to secure, safe, clean, affordable and legal abortions. You could say a woman's right to choose is embedded in my DNA.

So I take very seriously any attempt by any politician, regardless of his/her political stripe, to undermine the current laws (or lack thereof) of a Canadian woman's right to choose to proceed with an abortion.

I suggest that the passage of Chong's bill may theoretically empower some anti-abortion MPs to seriously question and potentially undermine a system in Canada that to date has provided Canadian women with safe, secure, accessible, affordable and legal abortions.

Now is the time for such leaders as Trudeau and Mulcair (and their respective pro-choice MPs) to put aside their partisan differences with Harper and stand with Harper in opposing Chong's bill.

Because if this bill is passed into law, it is theoretically possible that anti-abortion MPs of all parties will be given unfettered power to go after Canadian women's hard-earned rights. Thus, Canadian women may face the same horrible conditions endured presently by American women, where a woman's control of her own body and her right to choose, are under assault throughout the United States.

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