The fourth hour of debate on the motion of Dr. Gus Mitges (Grey0Simcoe) to amend the Charter of Rights to explicitly protect the unborn child took place on Thursday, April 2. Six Members of Parliament spoke to the motion, five in favor and one against.

The dissenting MP was long-time abortion proponent Svend Robinson (Burnaby). Predictably, he stated his support for the concept of “freedom of choice”, and removal of abortion from the Criminal Code. In doing so he used a reference that recent recommendations of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women abortions need not be performed in hospitals, federal and provincial governments should finance free-standing abortion clinics, and abortion should be removed from the Criminal Code.

Civil rights

Lawrence O’Neil (Cape Breton – Highlands – Canso) once again spoke in defense of the rights of the unborn child. He reiterated his conviction that abortion ‘is a violation of the civil rights of the unborn child.” He focused on the argument of the ‘right to control our bodies” and showed that legally this right is limited by the rights of others, specifically in this case, the right of the unborn child to life.

Imposing morality

Bob Corbett (Fundy-Royal), one of the few MPs who in 1981 would not support the Charter because it did not include the protection for the unborn child that Mitges’ Motion seeks to insert, quoted several letters from his constituents stating their opposition to abortion. He easily dismissed the pro-abortion argument that pro-lifers should not impose their morality on others by saying, “I do not believe that it is really a matter of imposing opinions of morality on others, but a question of defending the rights of those who cannot defend themselves. I submit that unborn children are human beings who, by reason of their physical and mental limitations require special safeguards and care including appropriate legal protection.”

Jon Oostrom (Willodale), who speak frequently in defense of the unborn child in Parliament, based his speech on scientific and medical data. He included many scientific references on the beginning of human life and facts of fetal development, concluding that “life is not started, it is transmitted.” “Once life has begun it has the right to reach its natural end,” he said. “By destroying life to ensure one’s economic and social success the human race is losing its honour and dignity.”

Moose Jaw MP Bill Gottselig also spoke in favour of the motion. In his speech he noted that the Criminal Code reform of the abortion law in 1969 “completely replaced judicial control after the fact with medical control before the fact” by giving responsibility for applying legislation to the medical profession. He pointed out for the benefit of his constituents that he was prepared to make “a choice” on this difficult issue and stand up in the House of Commons and let that choice be known. Mr. Gottselig stated, “The unborn cannot help themselves, except as their tortured bodies offer evidence that moves those already born. If the suffering of the defenceless does not arouse our compassion and move us to act on their behalf, nothing evil will.”

Perhaps the most interesting speaker of the day was Dave Nickerson, the Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic, and former Minister of Health and Social Services for the Northwest Territories. He began his speech noting the amount of mail he had received on the motion and was of the opinion that if this were a true measure, then a majority of his constituents support the motion. Given the geographic area of Mr. Nickerson’s constituency, this indicates that pro-life lobbying efforts have been truly nation-wide. While he would make exceptions for abortion in cases of risk to the life or health of the mother, or pregnancy resulting from rape, he condemned the concept of abortion on demand. He defended the right of religious communities and churches to enter into debate on this “moral and ethical” question.

Fifty minutes of debate remained before a vote is called on the motion. The current Parliamentary schedule would place this on or about May 11. Pro-life lobbying efforts will continue until the day of the vote, with telegram campaign planned for the final day before the vote.

The Interim will publish the names of those MPs voting for and against the motion in a future issue.