CLC report revisits the 1969
legalization of abortion in Canada
With each federal election, the number of parliamentarians in the House of Commons who personally remember the introduction of the 1969 Omnibus Bill (C-150) that legalized abortion, dwindles. Recognizing this trend, Campaign Life Coalition national affairs director Karen Murawsky recently decided it was past time to produce a new report explaining how the Omnibus Bill reforms were instituted.
Additional pressure to further understand the reforms that took place in 1969 has also come from the growing view among pro-lifers that it is necessary to change Section 223 of the Criminal Code, not simply to see a new law introduced which offers protection for unborn children. Section 223 defines a human being in law, and does so in a way that offers no protection for unborn children.
The previous law did not recognize them as human beings either, but seeing them as “potential” humans, it imposed penalties on those who harmed them. The 1969 changes not only permitted abortion, but also other harm to unborn children, to the surprise of many people, not simply pro-life activists.
In 1997, for example, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Winnipeg’s social services department could not coercively prevent a pregnant woman from sniffing glue despite the odds that her addiction would negatively impact her unborn child. The court said it couldn’t consider the child’s well-being because he wasn’t considered a child in Canadian law.
Then, in 1999, the court ruled that a young handicapped boy could not sue his mother for injuries sustained while in her womb due to a car accident which left him permanently injured with cerebral palsy.
Karen Murawsky explains in her report that the change in the law which eliminated the protection granted to a child even before the law recognized him as a human being took place through the same Omnibus Bill (C-150) that legalized abortion. Clause 18 of the Omnibus Bill is the portion of the law that specifically addresses abortion in what was section 251 of the Criminal Code. (Due to many other changes made to the Criminal Code during the past 30 years, the section numbers of the law relating to abortion have changed.) It kept abortion as a crime, but permitted exceptions which in practice essentially gave Canada abortion on demand.
However, in order for this abortion-permitting change to be legal, Mrs. Murawsky explains, Bill C-150 also had to change what was section 195 of the Code. “Clause 14 of Bill C-150, in order to create a situation in which abortion could be legal, and to bring the Code into line with the amendments of Clause 18, amended section 195 by adding … to subsection 2.” The subsection was changed to read: “A person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.” Previously, the words “after becoming a human being” were not part of the clause.
The explanatory notes for the legislation read: “This amendment, which adds the [aforementioned] words, would make it clear that subsection (2) of section 195 is applicable only in respect of the death of a child that occurs after the child becomes a human being. Subsection (1) defines when a child becomes a human being and is not changed.”
Subsection 1 reads: “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 whether or not (a) it has breathed, (b) it has an independent circulation, or (c) the navel string is severed.”
Section 195 is what we now know as section 223.
Another change also had to be made. Clause 15 of the Omnibus Bill added the phrase “in the act of birth” to section 209 of the Criminal Code. As a result, subsection 1 of this section of the code came to read “Every one who causes the death, in the act of birth, of any child that has not become a human being, in such a manner that, if the child were a human being, he would be guilty of murder, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.”
“This addition would free from culpability someone who performed an abortion,” explains Mrs. Murawsky in her report. Section 209 is now section 238 of the Criminal Code.
Clauses 14 and 15 were clearly arranged to remove legal protection from the child before birth, so that Clause 18, the abortion amendment, could proceed unhindered, concluded CLCÕs national affairs director.
The need to change section 223 was front and centre in the brochure produced for a pro-life protest which took place on Parliament Hill during the unveiling of the Famous Five statue on the east side of the Parliament buildings last October. This message is also part of the 4th annual March for Life demonstration, to be held in Ottawa this May. Pro-lifers are being urged to “demand repeal of section 223 of the Criminal Code of Canada.” Canadian Alliance MP Garry Breitkreuz has also raised the issue in a motion he first introduced in Parliament in December 1999, and which was debated March 22 after he reintroduced it in the current Parliament as M-228. The motion urged the federal government to redefine Òhuman beingÓ to include unborn children.
Mrs. Murawsky’s report also explains the abortion-related aspects of the process which led to the passage of the Omnibus Bill. “In February, 1966, the House of Commons referred the matter of revision of the abortion law to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare …. The Harley Committee presented an interim report to the government of Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson on December 19, 1967, advising a revision of the abortion law in Canada.
“Two days later, December 21, 1967, Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced a government bill in the House of Commons, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code. The bill received first reading and became commonly known as the Omnibus Bill because it ran to 72 pages and 104 clauses, dealing with many aspects of criminal law …. The Calgary Herald reported at the time that Trudeau felt that, “These amendments would have a better chance of passing if they were included in a bigger, diverse bill with its obvious advantages of psychological inertia” (Dec. 20, 1967).
The report goes on to explain that the final report of the Harley Committee was presented in the House March 13, 1968, recommending abortion only if a pregnancy, “will endanger the life or seriously and directly impair the health of the mother.” The committee rejected abortion for socio-economic reasons. “Shortly thereafter, the Liberal leadership convention was held, giving Pierre Trudeau leadership of the party. An election was then called for June 1968.
“The Omnibus Bill died on the Order paper, only to be re-introduced by Justice Minister John Turner on December 19, 1968 as government Bill C-150.Ó After second reading it was given to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs on March 4. It received third and final reading in the House on April 16, 1969. “Real Caouette led the Creditistes in a three-week filibuster and abortion was debated from April 25 to May 9. The final vote came May 14, 1969. The bill was passed and Canada now had a law that allowed abortion.”
Excerpts from Motion 223 Debate
Following are excerpts from the debate that took place in the House of Commons, March 22, on Motion 223. The motion was introduced by Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz (Canadian Alliance, Yorkton-Melville), and called for a change in the definition of “human being” to include unborn children. The motion did not come to a vote, because it had earlier been deemed “non-votable” by the committee on private members’ business. The debate was still important, however, since it revealed or further clarified the positions of several MPs, and because it ensured that abortion would be raised early in the new parliament.
This is the most important issue facing Canada today. In fact, this issue is more important than anything that has been debated in the House since May 1991…. For 10 years now successive governments have buried their heads in the sand on this life-and-death issue. I will correct myself: it is not a life-and-death issue, it is only a death issue.
The unwillingness of the government to even debate the issue, to even study the issue, to even ask Canadians what they think about the issue is criminal negligence if, in fact as I contend, these one million unborn were human beings. Does the government really think it can ignore the fact that 100,000 babies are being killed every year? Does it actually think there are no consequences for its actions?
How many have watched a video of what actually happens to a baby during an abortion? After watching any video that depicts the truth, no one can doubt that what is being killed is a human being.
Anti-life activists approve of killing the most weak and defenceless human beings. I am trying to save them. Who is standing on the high moral ground? Abortion is not a complex issue. It involves the honesty of answering one simple question: What is the unborn?
(Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health)
The concerns that motivated the member for Yorkton-Melville to introduce this motion in the House are entirely respectable. They are very important and deserve serious examination.
All the research done by scientists and researchers, funded through Canada’s health research institutes, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is reviewed according to the standards contained in the tri-council policy statement on ethical conduct for research involving humans…. For example, the section of the policy statement dealing with research using gametes, zygotes, embryos and foetuses emphasizes how very central respect for human dignity remains in any ethical, political or social debate.
[T]his is not some esoteric topic that we are trying to impose here…. The issue is this: are we as Canadians comfortable with the definition that is already there, or should we, based on whatever considerations we believe to be correct, amend that definition? We are not going back to the middle ages by reviewing the question, which is already in the Criminal Code.
There is no legal right to abortion in this country, according to the Supreme Court of Canada. That is a misstatement of the Morgentaler decision.
There is no consensus … but does that mean there is no truth? There was no consensus that the earth was round. In fact I would say that the majority of people thought at one time that the earth was flat. Did that make the earth flat? No…. Is what is inside the womb a human being? That cannot be decided by consensus. It is either a truth or it is not. Let us look at that.
[Referring to comments made by Mr. Charbonneau]: Do you not find it interesting that on the one hand it is perfectly acceptable and legal in Canada at the present time to kill an unborn child at any point of its development, right up until it comes out of the womb, yet on the other hand we are wringing our hands about the ethics of experimentation on zygotes? Where is the logic in that?