Motion 312, which would have called for an examination of when human life begins, was defeated in the House of Commons Wednesday night by a vote of 203-91. Predictably, the “Nay” forces were claiming victory and many in the Pro-Life crowd required consoling. Neither reaction was warranted; certainly any celebrations were premature.
As I told Alberta Talk Show Host, Rob Breakenridge, the sad reality is that the vote on Motion 312 resolved nothing. This matter would keep coming back until Parliament has the courage to deal with it in a fulsome and respectful manner. Refusing to study a matter does not resolution of an issue make.
I did not know how prophetic my prediction would be: on Thursday morning, while Canadians were still digesting the result of Wednesday’s vote, Langley MP Mark Warawa introduced Motion 408, which calls on Parliament to “condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination”. Here we go again!!
This motion was both predictable and unavoidable. With 91 (87 Conservatives) wanting to study when human life begins, deciding not to study something does not qualify as a final decision.
I am the poster boy for neither camp in this ultra-polarized debate. But I am a lawyer and a Member of Parliament, who has put considerable thought into this matter. I voted “yea” on M-312 largely because I believe Parliament must do what the Supreme Court asked it to do in 1988: craft a law that was constitutional, fair and consistently applied. When the Court struck down the 1968 abortion law, it did so because of unfair and inconsistent operation of the voluminous Therapeutic Abortion Committees. It did not come even close to affirming a woman’s unfettered right to choose.
Even esteemed Feminist Jurist, Justice Bertha Wilson’s concurring minority opinion “supports a permissive approach to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy and a restrictive approach in the latter stages…….reasons for having an abortion would, however, be the proper subject of inquiry at the later stages of her pregnancy when the state’s compelling interest in the protection of the fetus would justify it in prescribing conditions”. The Judgment went on to leave to “the informed judgment of the legislature” exactly when and what those conditions might be.
Contrary to popular myth, R. v. Morgentaler does not stand for a woman’s unfettered right to choose. Anybody who says otherwise has either not read the decision, doesn’t understand it, or most likely is being deliberately disingenuous. The Supreme Court of Canada expressly invited Parliament to take on this complex and polarizing issue and thereafter craft a law that was constitutional. Since 1988, Canada has had no restrictions on the procedure. Even many pro-choicers are surprised, if not offended to learn, that late term and sex selective abortions are legal in Canada. That is the result of having no restrictions. But that was not the intent of the Supreme Court when it struck down the flawed and therefore unconstitutional law in 1988.
Canada’s legal vacuity when it comes to abortion makes it unique among western democracies. Even “liberalized” European states such as Finland and Sweden place some restrictions on the procedure based upon the gestation period (unfettered at the beginning; increasing conditions towards the end).
As Mr. Warawa’s Motion demonstrates, this issue will not go away until Parliament has the courage to finally deal with it. The issue is settled neither in the minds of many Canadians nor apparently in the minds of 91 Parliamentarians. After a fulsome debate, we might decide to have no law regulating this procedure; alternatively, we might decide to place some restrictions perhaps based on gestational limits. I don’t want to prejudge that debate. But the issue will not go away until Parliament accepts the Supreme Court’s 1988 invitation to have an actual and conclusive debate on the issue.