Members of the Canadian Parliament spent the second hour today debating Motion 312, which says Canada should re-examine when human life begins.
Motion 312 proposes that, with so many significant advances in medicine, Parliament should revisit Canada’s current definition of human being. In the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 223 states that “a child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”
MP Stephen Woodworth today urged Members of Parliament not to shield Canada’s definition of human being from democratic review or from advances in modern understanding.
“This law, by denying the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, is the most unimaginably unjust law possible and has no place in Canada” he said. “Parliament should not treat it as frozen in time forever.”
When challenged about abortion, Woodworth points out that even Justice Bertha Wilson, who championed abortion rights in the Morgentaler decision, wrote that Parliament should review this question by “informing itself from the relevant disciplines,” the very proposal embodied in Motion 312.
“I’ve heard that some Members of Parliament are wrestling with their consciences over Motion 312,” Woodworth remarks. “I say give in to your conscience; you are only useful to your Leader, your Party, and your constituents when you bring your conscience and your ideals to your decisions.”
The CBC provided more information about the debate: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/09/21/pol-when-life-begins-debate.html
Opposition MPs questioned the motives behind a call to study the Criminal Code definition of a human being, suggesting it naturally leads to a debate on criminalizing abortion.
NDP and Liberal MPs raised the question in speeches Friday that called for their colleagues to vote against Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion to study when life begins. Woodworth’s private member’s motion would set up a special parliamentary committee to examine the current definition of a human being. That definition says a child becomes human when it has fully exited its mother’s body.
MPs spent an hour last April debating the motion. Friday was the second allotted hour of debate, with a vote coming next Wednesday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said Canadians don’t want to reopen the debate on abortion. He said last April that he will vote against Woodworth’s motion.
Woodowrth’s closing remarks appear below:
Mr. Speaker, our great democracy was founded on the promise that two founding nations in conflict could reconcile their differences peaceably. Generations of Canadians have lived – and died – to defend the dream of universal human rights and honest laws so necessary to fulfill that promise.
These ideals created unity out of diversity and made Canada a bright beacon of hope.
The sweep of history for 400 years has brought ever greater recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. That bedrock foundation anchors Canada’s essential character.
We are here in Parliament to honour that vision of Canada. We are here to seek out a spirit of compromise amid passionate debate. We are here to embrace advancing knowledge in the service of universal human rights.
Motion 312 honours those essential duties. Motion 312 seeks merely to shine the light of 21st century knowledge upon our 400 year old law which decrees the dehumanization and exclusion of a whole class of people, children before complete birth.
About abortion, I say this: recognizing children as human before the moment of complete birth will not resolve that issue.
Even Justice Bertha Wilson, who championed abortion rights in the Morgentaler decision, wrote that Parliament should “inform itself from the relevant disciplines”, the very proposal embodied in Motion 312.
Recognizing the reality that children are human beings before complete birth will affirm the hallowed principle that human rights are universal, not a gift of the State which may be cancelled by subsection 223(1).
It would be a triumph of leadership to insist that our definition of human being must not remain frozen in time forever, immune from the light of advancing knowledge, immune from democratic governance, and immune from the spirit of open dialogue.
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It would honour our commitment to honest laws to recognize a child’s worth and dignity as a human being before the moment of complete birth if the evidence establishes that as fact.
It would fulfil our shared vision of Canada to allow, despite extreme and intransigent opposition, a mere study about human rights even if modern evidence might cause some to question our laws.
Or will Parliament reject those Canadian ideals? Is THAT what Parliament has come to?
I thank, and many Canadians thank, the Members who stand with me against that dismal view.
Yet we in Parliament cannot ourselves sustain – we cannot protect – we cannot without help safeguard – this great vision of Canada. The hope of a Canada governed by honest laws rests in the heart of every Canadian. The pledge offered by countless Canadians to the high principle of universal human rights will not be overcome by any decision of this Parliament. We may safely place our confidence in the certainty that Canadians will not rest content with the perpetual absence of open dialogue on this issue.
There is no more noble undertaking than to fulfill that essential promise of Canada. Join me in the conversation so necessary to reconcile Canadians. Thank you.