|photo from the straight|
"We don't want to re-open the abortion debate" is a popular line deployed by the majority MPs in Ottawa when a minority of Conservative MPs - backbenchers like Stephen Woodworth – bring up a woman’s right to choose.
As I have documented before, there have already been backbencher attempts at re-opening "the debate.” The most prominent attempt was by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth who felt that all members should get together to discuss what legally constitutes life.
And so, after many Canadian women became rightfully pissed off and tweeted, blogged, marched, signed petitions and spoke up in parliament, the Woodworth-induced outrage subsided for a while.
Unfortunately, as I was tuning into the ever-entertaining circus that is Question Period yesterday (for my non-Canadian readers, this the live televised proceedings of parliament in which members of all parties can address various issues and policies) I learned that the "debate" was emerging once again. Megan Leslie, the NDP Health Critic, asked the Prime Minister why the issue is being raised yet again.
In response to Leslie, Harper replied:
"I think all members of this house, whether they agree with it or not, understand that abortion is legal in Canada and this government, myself included, have made it very clear that the government does not intend to change the law in this regard”
Why then, did a trio of Conservative party members – Maurice Vellacott, Leon Benoit, and Wladyslaw Lizon – go out of their way to compose and sign a letter to the RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson regarding abortions after 19 weeks and the “killing of born children”?
First of all, as many of us know, the Harper government tends to silence any in-party dissent (such as during the lead-up to the CNOOC deal) so why is abortion the exception?
Why does this particular practice, which neither involves nor impacts any of these white Conservative men, continue to surface? What are the possible repercussions for women’s reproductive justice, sense of bodily autonomy, and access to health services and resources in Canada?
The content of Vellacott and Co.’s letter, however, seems even more troubling as they discuss the possibility of women being charged with homicide. Rather than discussing the concept of “life” and who is considered legally “human,” this letter alludes to a potential criminality of pregnant women or women who, for whatever reason, require abortions at or beyond 19 weeks of pregnancy. These late-term abortions, however, are very rare in Canada as 90% of all abortions take place in the first trimester.
But I digress,
The CBC news article features part of the letter to the RCMP Commissioner on their website, it reads:
“From 2000 to 2009 in Canada, there were 491 abortions, of 20 weeks gestation and greater that resulted in live births," reads the letter dated Jan. 23.
"This means that the aborted child died after it was born.”
It is quite clear in this letter that the authors, similar to Stephen Woodworth, have confused human children with developing fetuses in their interpretation of Criminal Code Section 223(1). In Section 223(1) of the criminal, a fetus becomes a human after it completely emerges from a woman’s womb, breathes on its own and has an independent circulatory system.
These statistics, which were gathered by the MPs from a blog called “Run with Life,” was followed by a reference to Section 223(2), which contradictorily defines homicide of a child as causing injury to a child “before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.”
This definition of human, however, does not seem to match the definition in Section 223(1).
These MPs feel, because of this seemingly contradictory set of laws, that “late-term” abortions (those after 20 weeks) do constitute child homicides under the Criminal Code Section 223(2) even though Section 223(1) disagrees. These Conservative MPs feel that these alleged “killings of children” must be investigated by the police as the “killing of Canadian children may continue to grow if these apparent crimes are not investigated, and the perpetrators prosecuted.”
However, unlike Stephen Woodworth who held a televised, public debate on his interpretation of Section 223(2), Vellacott and Co. took a much more furtive approach by directly contacting the head of the RCMP, suggesting he take some form of legal action.
Leon Benoit, one of signatories, spoke about the letter in Ottawa yesterday:
"But I thought the letter said exactly what I said — there was an attempted abortion, the baby was born alive, then killed."
He continued, "In fact, that's not what it says. It says there was an attempted abortion, the baby was born alive and died as a result of the injuries caused through the attempted abortion, so I just wanted to correct the record as to what this is about."
Benoit continues on to say that the 19-week mark is not really an issue for him (like the letter suggests) in fact, he’s mainly concerned about this supposed “botch” abortion wherein a doctor allegedly killed a baby that fully emerged from a woman’s womb. But why then, does the letter say something much different?
Yesterday unlike in the letter, Benoit asserted that there was AN attempted abortion and THE baby was born alive then killed – indicating there was ONE incident of a born-baby being killed. The letter he signed, on the other hand, alludes to far more of these incidents.
Nevertheless, this letter—like the Stephen Woodworth debate—is part of a much larger campaign by Harper’s Conservatives to challenge the legal status of abortion in Canada.
As Canadians, we must stand up and defend women’s human rights. We must understand that all of these attempts are dangerous and may impact all Canadian women.
Let us all stand up, like Megan Leslie did in Question Period yesterday, and remind the Conservative Party of Canada that abortion is NOT murder.