Motion 312

One of the most contentious issues facing the 41st Parliament has nothing to do with law and order or fiscal restraint.  It has nothing to do with the procurement of stealth fighters or environmental stewardship.  One of the most contentious and potentially divisive matters before the 41st Parliament is Motion 312, filed by my colleague, the MP for Kitchener Center, Stephen Woodworth.

The Motion seeks to set up a Special Parliamentary Committee to examine the 450 year old definition as to when human life begins.  The Criminal Code currently states that a child becomes a human being when “it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother whether or not it has breathed, it has independent circulation or the naval string is severed”.  Mr. Woodworth believes this definition is inconsistent with modern medical technology and would like to re-examine it.  He states his motion is not an attempt to re-open the abortion debate.  But his argument is specious in that regard.  If he gets the answer he wants (that human life begins sometime before complete birth), what is he going to do with that information except to use it to re-open the abortion debate???

My feelings on the abortion issue are complex and have evolved over time.  I have strong libertarian values, which would suggest that I should be comfortable allowing a woman to control her own body.  However, family members, who have struggled with reproductive challenges, have taught me the intrinsic value and preciousness of human life.  For the reproductively challenged, an unwanted pregnancy is inconceivable, as they languish in queue for years in order to adopt an “unwanted child”.

I have come to the conclusion after years of deliberation and inner debate that I am both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life.  That does not make me bi-polar; it means that this matter extremely complicated, with multiple methods of examination, resulting in potentially polarizing conclusions.

I am in my personal life pro-life.  I believe that all life has value and struggle with the notion (after having seen ultrasounds of pregnant women) that a fetus, not completely exited from its mother, is not human life.

However, and it’s a big however, I am mindful that many, many, people disagree with this.  I understand and respect their arguments and do not impugn their motives.  As I am tolerant towards individuals who feel differently, I am prepared to allow them the freedom to choose differently than I would if in their circumstance.  In that regard, I am pro-choice.  I am not prepared, as a legislator on this contentious issue, to impose my opinion on others; although, ultimately I would hope that they will choose life.

This brings us to Motion 312.  There is a vacuity in Canadian law which I believe Parliament must address.  When the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) struck down Canada’s abortion law in 1988, the issue was, in fact, not settled.  The then law was struck down due to procedural inconsistencies from varying Hospitals’ Therapeutic Abortion Committees.  The Court expressly invited Parliament to draft an abortion law that was fair, reasonable and consistently applied across the country.  Parliament attempted this seemingly impossible task in 1991 and although a bill passed the House of Commons, it was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

A void exists in Canadian law regarding this issue; Canadians are perhaps unique among western democracies in that we have neither sanctions nor regulations approving abortion or the rights of fetuses.  The void in Canadian law means there are currently NO LEGAL restrictions regulating the process.  Theoretically, a very late term procedure, if performed, would not attract criminal sanction.

Governments and Parliaments have been reticent to deal with this issue given how controversial and divisive the issue can be. Families and even political parties, who normally agree on everything, find themselves in bitter disputes debating the rights of the unborn versus the rights over one’s own body.

Accordingly, given how divisive this issue is, I concede that if the matter were settled, it ought to remain so.  However, this matter has never been settled in Canada; at least not since 1988 when the SCC ruled in R. v. Morgentaler.  So Parliament must do what the Supreme Court invited it to do in 1988: fill a vacuity in Canadian law, no matter how divisive and polarizing that debate will be.


8 comments for “Motion 312

  1. September 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Brent, I congratulate you for supporting your fellow Conservative MP/lawyer Stephen Woodworth’s sensible motion to review the legal status of the fetus. The Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion law on procedural grounds in the 1988 Morgentaler decision. However, the court confirmed that saving unborn children from abortion is a valid legislative objective — that society has a compelling interest in protecting fetal life. A majority of the judges ruled that Parliament is constitutionally permitted to enact a procedurally fair criminal law that bans elective, non-therapeutic abortions procured for socio-economic reasons, but allows therapeutic abortions medically necessary to preserve maternal physical or psychiatric health.
    An attempt by the last Conservative majority government to pass criminal abortion legislation was blocked by our unelected, unaccountable Senate in 1991. Since then, abortion on demand in Canada has killed approximately two million unborn babies. Our Conservative majority government should address the abortion epidemic by re-criminalizing non-therapeutic, medically unnecessary, elective abortions.
    Over 20 years ago, esteemed human rights lawyer/Liberal MP David Kilgour and I drafted a bill to re-criminalize abortion except in cases of sexual assault, gross fetal abnormality, or serious threat to maternal health. Balancing society’s compelling interest in the lives of unborn children with pregnant women’s autonomy rights, the proposed bill offered compromise between an outright abortion ban and unrestricted abortion on demand. The latter of those extremes has represented the status quo in Canada for nearly a quarter of a century. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Harper appears to lack the courage to address this abhorrent vacuity in our federal law.
    The Prime Minister opposes Motion 312 for fear of re-opening the debate on abortion, an issue as divisive today as slavery was in the days of President Lincoln — and just look what happened to Honest Abe for daring to touch that political third rail! Nevertheless, the federal government should reconsider Canada’s unrestricted abortion status quo. Why? Sir William Liley, a pioneer in prenatal medicine, once described an aborted eight week old human fetus: “There are all of the components of a baby still but in a macabre jig-saw puzzle, and in the debris in the suction bottle one can recognize one pigmented eye, a fragment of brain to the left. One can find all four limbs dismantled, a rib cage, an eviscerated torso, the abdominal viscera have all become detached and are just a slurry, and a short segment of cord.” That’s why.

  2. Cara Carter
    September 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    You are pro-choice if you recognize that ending a pregnancy is a personal choice. That’s the definition of “pro-choice”. I also could not imagine ending my own pregnancy but I recognize that others need and deserve that choice.

    Every child deserves to be a wanted child.

    Please do not support M312, sir.

  3. Sarah
    September 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Motion 312 is about much more than abortion. It’s about safeguarding the inalienable human rights of every human being.

    The human status of the fetus is not a matter of opinion. We’ve known since the 1800s that the fetus is a human organism, a complete and distinct member of the human species—not a body part of its mother nor a parasite.

    Canada has a law on the books that strips away the inalienable human rights of certain human beings on the grounds that other human beings don’t value them.

    That means Section 223(1) has dire implications for each one of us BORN human beings, too.

    Thank you, Mr. Rathgeber, for supporting this common-sense motion. Canadians, and Canada’s Parliament, can indeed be mature enough to tackle contentious issues for the sake of safeguarding the inalienable rights of all human beings.

  4. Michael Smeding
    September 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Brent, I strongly thank you for taking up the position to open up the debate as described in Motion 312. I can also understand and respect that you must unbiasly represent all members of your constituency, whether they be pro-life or pro-choice. Indeed, I too am both pro-choice and pro-life.

    As citizens of Canada, we as individuals have the choice as to whether or not we wish to try bring life into this world. Our actions dictate that choice. How we allow our society to mold itself dictates that choice and that choice will ultimately have consequence, whether one defines it be good or bad. We as human beings should bear the responsibility of such actions together as a community, country, and civilization. This is how I define pro-choice.

    However after the choice is made, regardless of how it was made, the unborn, living, child should receive all the rights and privileges of a human being. Just as slavery was abolished, and racial discrimination is not tolerated, so too should the extinguishing of unborn life be fought against. The unborn child, once conceived, should have that RIGHT to life, just as you or I have that same right. This is how I define pro-life.

    Both groups, pro-choice and pro-life can coexist. The choice is simply being made at the wrong time.

    Brent, I again thank you for your intension to vote in favour of opening the debate as outlined in Motion 312. I eagerly await the results of the debate.

  5. Joey Leroux
    September 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    I wanted to express my appreciation for your ability to see the situation as it is and not try to distract from the reality of Canada’s complete lack of solid, rational law concerning the unborn and abortion.

    While we disagree on how our views ought to shape the nation, it is heartening to see that we can still agree there does indeed exist a problem, a gap to be filled, and Motion 312 is a promising vessel for that purpose.

    Thank you for choosing to vote for Motion 312, and God bless, always and all ways.

  6. Matthew
    September 25, 2012 at 8:57 pm


  7. Maria
    September 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you for supporting Bill 312. Though it was defeated, this issue will never go away. We need to recognize that a fetus is a human – going through the birth canal does not change a fetus into a human being.

  8. Delaine
    September 27, 2012 at 10:22 am

    THANK YOU Mr. Rathgeber for making a stand for human life! I am a woman who gave birth to one of our “human” children, very much alive but sadly too young to survive, and had our baby been considered “human” the “specialists?” may have been forced to be more proactive when trouble showed up before the loss, so anyone standing against it was completely illogical to us! We are not in your riding, but wanted to let you know it was noticed and appreciated across this great nation. God bless you!