Svend Robinson’s Private Member’s Bill, C-238, to remove abortion from the Criminal Code, was defeated in the House of Commons at the end of October.
MPs successfully used the tactic that has been used by pro-abortion Mos in the past to block private members’ bills seeking tighter control on abortion. That is, debate following the Bill’s second reading continued until the Speaker ruled that time for private members’ business had expired. This prevented a vote on whether the Bill should go to Committee for study.
Robinson (NDP) asserted that the effect of his Bill would be to “allow a woman to make this very important decision herself on consultation with her doctor.” Current abortion regulations, he said, are “one of the very serious illustrations of inequality in Canada today,” since they limit legal abortion to hospitals with therapeutic abortion committees, without requiring that every publicly-funded hospital set up a TAC.
To establish support for this Bill, Robinson read the Canadian Medical Association’s policy on abortion as well as that of the New Democratic Party. The CMA also recommends that abortion be removed from the Criminal Code, approving abortion on “non-medical, socio-economic grounds” which it believes does not constitute the same thing as abortion on demand. While the CMA would still restrict abortions to accredited hospitals, the NDP wants “special clinics for sterilization and abortion procedures.”
To introduce theological support for his position Robinson quoted Tom Harpur, who lectures at the Toronto School of Theology. Harpur sees abortion as “the lesser of two evils.”
Robinson criticized the cutback in funding for Planned Parenthood, stating that increased funding to that organization would reduce the number of abortions and ensure “access to contraception and sex education in our schools.”
Jim Jepson (PC London East) was the first to respond to Robinson’s argument. He stated that the Bill’s intent is to fully legalize abortion. “The said thing about this Bill,” he said, “is that it will allow and even encourage women to have abortions.” Mr. Jepson called the Bill “simply bad policy,” since it “neither discourages abortion nor discourages women from getting into circumstances of an unintended or unexpected pregnancy.” Mr. Jepson spoke of the role of legislators in the abortion debate:
“The laws of society must reflect its highest moral aspirations…When laws are changed to accommodate unacceptable practices, invariably those practices become acceptable conventions and create new norms. As legislators, Mr. Speaker, we must accept the challenge to make laws that will have the best possible effect on Canada and Canadians.”
Mr. Jepson said the “staggering figure” for abortions, indicates as “abusive freedom, and a repudiation of responsibility.” He criticized the insensitivity of people who speak of “unwanted” pregnancies when there are “thousands of people who would do anything to give that baby a home.”
After graphically describing the methods of abortion, Mr. Jepson closed by saying, “The time has come that the majority of Canadians who clearly oppose the senseless killing of infants receive their rightful voice in this matter, and silence once and for all the voice of the moral minority of Canada.”
The next speaker, John Oostrom (PC Willowdale) opposed the Bill because, he said, “There is a lack of consensus for major change in the abortion law and because I believe that the existing law strikes a somewhat fair balance for Canadians who hold opposing views.”
Mr. Oostrom went on to place the Canadian situation into “an international context,” detailing legislation in other countries.
Despite his opening statement that would indicate his support for current Canadian law, Mr. Oostrom concluded his comments coming down more on the pro-life side. Modern technology, he said, gives us medical evidence that life begins at conception. In his view, Section 15 (the “equality” section) of the Charter “protects all life.” Therefore, he continued, “if this entity is life we are actually contravening our laws as well as our morality…We must be sure that when we do move to change our laws on abortion that the defenceless of our society must and will be fully protected.”
Another Conservative, Bill Attewell (Don Valley East), also generally supported pro-life and opposed the Bill. “Mine is a moral and religious point of view,” he said, “from which I cannot be dissuaded. I have a strong conviction about how important life is.”
Mr. Attewell supports adoption as a viable alternative to abortion, unless the mother’s life is in danger. However, Mr. Attewell does not seem to be aware that these circumstances rarely, if ever, arise today. He said,
“I am told that some places in Canada are not in a position to have a hospital review committee made reasonably accessible to the woman who may be seeking the committee’s assistance. As the Hon. Member who introduced this Bill said something like 75 per cent of abortion are performed by a relatively small number of hospitals. I cannot believe that we are making this service as fairly and justly as we should to all parts of the country.”
David Kilgour (PC-Edmonton-Strathcona) just managed “to go on record with pride as being opposed to this Bill.” As he began to speak to the Bill, the Speaker ruled that the time for private member’s business had expired.
Legal counsel for the unborn child
Lawrence O’Neil (PC, Cape Breton Highlands-Canso) is sponsoring a Private Member’s Bill, C-254, which would amend the Criminal Code to allow legal counsel for the unborn child to be present at Therapeutic Abortion Committee meetings.
Section 251 of the Criminal Code would be amended to include the following subsection,
Every unborn child shall be represented, at a meeting of a therapeutic abortion committee held pursuant to subsection (4), by counsel appointed by the Minister of Social Services for the province in which the hospital referred to in subsection (4) is situated. 5.1
Bill C-254 received its first reading in the House of Commons on November 6. A date for second reading has not yet been set.