By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
The defeat of Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 Sept 26 had been expected, but the level of support, including that of ten cabinet ministers came as a welcome surprise to pro-life groups and to political journalists.
Defeated 203 to 91, Motion 312 was supported by 87 Conservatives, a majority of the 163-member Tory Caucus, as well as by four of the 35 Liberal MPs.
Harper had pledged not to reopen the abortion debate, joining Motion 312 opponents who said changing the definition of a human being to include unborn children would lead to the criminalization of abortion. He and his chief government whip Gordon O’Connor had said the government would not support the motion.
Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code declares an unborn child in the womb is not a human being until after the moment of complete birth. If it had been passed, the motion would have set up a Parliamentary Committee to examine the definition of a human being found in the subsection in light of the latest medical and scientific evidence.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a devout Catholic, was the first cabinet minister to publicly announce he would be supporting M-312. Though his vote was anticipated, those of Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose, Government House leader Peter Van Loan, National Revenue Minister Gail Shea, Trade Minister Ed Fast, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue, International Cooperation and CIDA Minister Julian Fantino, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Diane Ablonczy, and Minister of State for Seniors Alice Wong were not.
Harper respected the House tradition of free votes on private member’s business, something the New Democratic Party was not prepared to do, according to Woodworth at a news conference following the vote.
“NDP Members, with their extreme personal preoccupation with abortion, actually suggested that we give the prime minister power to veto Private Members’ Motions!” he said. “Can you imagine! They propose to take away one of the most effective democratic tools left to MPs in the face of an MP’s diminishing role!”
“If you are willing to sacrifice important democratic institutions like the independence of private members’ business just because of a personal preoccupation with abortion, what won’t you give up?” he asked.
Woodworth said he’d done his job by exposing Subsection 223(1), “the most vile, most unjust law in Canada.”
Though opponents of Motion 312 have said the abortion debate is settled and the courts recognize a right to abortion, Woodworth pointed out Justice Bertha Wilson in the 1988 Morgentaler decision left the question of protection for unborn life to Parliament.
That means the question of how to honor universal human rights in Canada “will remain open and unresolved,” he said. “That remains Parliament’s responsibility, however hard we might try to avoid it.”
“This issue was never closed, it’s not closed now and will never be closed if we in Parliament continue to stick our collective head in the sand,” he said.
He remarked on the huge volume of mail mostly in favor of the motion, the hundreds of petitions with thousands of signatures that showed both women and men supported it. The volume of mail was so big it clogged up the Parliamentary post office, he said.
“I want Canadians to remember that no great issue is ever determined by a single vote in the House of Commons,” he said. “It remains for the Canadian people to rise up even more strongly in defence of honest laws and universal human rights, which are so shamefully violated by subsection 223(1).”
“I think Canadians will conclude that much of what was said by those speaking against Motion 312 in the Parliamentary debate lacked any logic or coherence,” he said. “Many speakers against Motion 312 showed they were willing to abandon time-honored Canadian values in a single-minded personal preoccupation with abortion no matter how grave the consequences.”
Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas congratulated the MPs who had the courage to vote for the motion.
“We hope this will give them the courage to continue to bring up the issue in Parliament as often as it takes to obtain a law,” she said. She said all of the identified pro-life MPs except for a couple were accounted for in the vote. But many others not identified as pro-life also supported it.
“The point is they were presumably voting on freedom of speech,” she said, noting “pro-aborts” have said the issue like this “cannot even be discussed in Parliament.”
“Although the Motion was defeated, it was very encouraging to see the subject brought forward, as well as the groundswell of support through meetings with MPs, e-mails, letters, phone calls and petitions,” said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry.
“We thank Mr. Woodworth for proposing the motion, and all those MPs who supported it and thereby kept respect for life on Canada’s agenda,” she said in a statement. ““This particular motion has been defeated, but the debate on this issue, which many Canadians believe is anything but ‘settled,’ will continue until Canadian law recognizes the humanity of the unborn.”
Andrea Mzrozek, founder of the influential group blog Pro-Woman Pro-Life, congratulated the MPs who voted in favor of Motion 312, specifically Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose “for recognizing that Canadians can ask questions about when life begins.”
“ProWomanProLife recognizes that women across Canada have many different views on abortion, which are probably neither firmly in the pro-life nor the pro-choice camp,” said Mrozek. “However, since M-312 called only for discussion, voting in favour of it is a vote for debate and democracy and that can only be a good thing. Minister Ambrose is to be commended for having an open mind.”
Mrozek said the motion served all Canadians well by advancing “our ability to respectfully ask questions and debate the issue of when life begins.”
“There is a stranglehold on freedom of expression around abortion, a dictatorial attitude that somehow all women are supposed to be fervently pro-choice,” adds Mrozek. “This is simply not the case; women don’t have one mind on this issue, as with so many other issues.”
WeNeedaLAW.ca director Mike Schouten defended Ambrose against an attack by Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) spokeswoman Joyce Arthur who accused the Status of Women minister of throwing “women under the bus” and described her vote as a “slap in the face to the women of Canada.”
“The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada is a group of extremists who advocate for abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy,” said Schouten in a Sept. 27 release. “Not only does Ms. Arthur continually misinterpret the Supreme Court decision in 1988, she also advocates for the legality of late-term and sex-selective abortions.”
WeNeedaLAW.ca represents a grassroots campaign to bring about federal restrictions on abortion.