When MP Stephen Woodworth addressed the Kitchener Pro-Life Forum, he was given rock-star treatment, getting a standing ovation when he was introduced. The applause was an acknowledgement of his work bringing forward for debate a private member`s bill, M-312, which if passed would require Parliament to re-examine the Criminal Code definition of human being using modern scientific evidence. Currently, Section 223 (1) of the Code says that a preborn child does not become a human being until it has fully emerged from its mother. The Conservative MP from Kitchener Center says that understanding of human being in the eyes of the legal system is based on a 400-year-old law.
Woodworth answered the critics of M-312 by stating what the motion does and does not do and remarked on some of the peculiar or ironic criticisms launched against him and the motion since he announced in January his intent to ask Parliament to shine the light of modern evidence on the issue.
Woodworth stated clearly what the current law says.
Section 223 (1) of the Criminal Code says: “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.”
Woodworth has spoken against this archaic understanding of human being for years at the annual National March for Life in Ottawa and in the House of Commons, complaining that it does not make sense that the preborn child is not recognized as a human being in law as long as “it has one toe” inside her mother. The child does not “magically transform” from non-human to a human being simply because it is separated from his or her mother.
Woodworth said that the basis of the law goes back at least four centuries, but that scientific knowledge has progressed since then and much more is known about fetal development than the age in which the original law was written.
Critics accuse Woodworth of wanting to re-open the abortion debate, ban abortion, and rescind the 1988 Supreme Court decision. He answered all those complaints.
Woodworth reminded people that M-312 is a motion, not a bill, and therefore would not alter an law. “It proposes a study, not legislation, and is focused solely on Section 223 (1).”
He pointed to the irony of defenders of Section 223 (1) refering to him as wanting to return to the Dark Ages when they are defending a 400-year-old law and oppose using modern scientific evidence to scrutinize the law.
He defended himself against charges of re-opening the abortion issue when “the abortion issue has never been closed.” He noted that the 1988 Morgentaler decision left it to Parliament to define when abortion could be permitted, even as it knocked down the limited restrictions of the therapuetic abortion committees created in the 1969 law. He quoted from Supreme Court Justice Bertha Wilson, the most feminist and pro-abortion judge on the Court at the time, who said that Parliament could examine the issue of abortion using all disciplines while she and her colleagues could only consider the law. Woodworth noted that all he is doing is asking Parliament to use the discipline of science to examine whether the preborn child has the traits of a human being and philosophy and law to determine if those findings have any significance to how and when we apply human rights to the child in the womb.
As for the charge that he is reversing the SCOC`s 1988 decision and abridging the so-called woman`s right to choose, he said that as a motion, if M-312 is passed, no law will be affected. Furthermore, the word abortion does not appear in the motion at all. “M-312 is only about Section 223 (1). It`s not about abortion.”
Woodworth said “a good lawyer” would be able to argue that abortion can be kept legal even if the the definition of human being were to include the preborn. He said regardless of the policy implications of a possible redefinition of human being, it is wise to follow the science and recognize the child in the womb as a a human being. Section 223 (1) “dehumanizes and excludes a whole class of people,” Woodworth said, and if the state can deny “basic human rights” by denying “the inherent human value” of a group of people, then the government denies the value of all human life because of the implicit message that “you only the value the government assigns to you.” He described such thinking as dangerous.
Woodworth noted that “no opponent of M-312 defends Section 223 (1)” saying “they will talk about everything else but Section 223 (1).” He condemned the political climate that resists honest debate on his motion, asking “Have we lost the consensus that every law must be based in fact? Should a 400-year-old law be forever immune to democratic review and remain frozen in law forever?”
Watching the debate on his motion less a week after the Kitchener forum, the answer among some parliamentarian seems to be a resounding yes.
Parliament gave M-312 its second hour of debate on Sept. 21 and was scheduled for a vote on Sept. 26.