Female parliamentarians are blasting a Conservative MP who is moving forward with what they call a backdoor attempt to threaten abortion rights.
Carolyn Bennett, a Liberal MP and medical doctor, says Stephen Woodworth’s plan to ask Parliament to study the point at which a baby becomes a human being is a waste of time.
Bennett says she is “fed up” with answering letters from concerned women asking if the federal government will strip them of their rights. “It’s quite clear what this is about. This is questioning a woman’s right to choose,” she says. “This issue is closed. For him to try and reopen this when the prime minister promised that he wouldn’t is really dishonourable on the part of this minister. He is wasting the time of this House and worrying the women of this country.
“I just think this is despicable.”
For his part, Woodworth told media at the opening of Parliament Sept 17 that he wants a debate on the issue. “Let's have an open-minded and open dialogue about our 400-year-old definition of a human being,” he said. “Until a child’s little toe pops out of the birth canal, that child is not recognized as a human being in Canada. Think about that.”
His private member's bill, M-312, will head to a final hour of debate on Sept 21, with a vote likely next week. If it passes, the motion heads to committee. Even Woodworth admits he does not have enough support for it to pass.
Still, he passionately defended the motion, saying that he is asking only for a “dialogue on when life begins.” Talking about abortion is a distraction, he says.
When asked what the implications are for women, Woodworth shrugged. “Options will depend on the evidence."
The Supreme Court has already decided on abortion, he admits. "Deciding when a child is a human will not settle our abortion laws. Will abortion become illegal? No. Canadians will be better informed."
Woodworth hopes that “women may think twice about abortion” if Canada redefines when life begins.
New Democrat MP Françoise Boivin, critic for the status of women, arrived at the end of the press conference to underscore to reporters that Woodworth’s motion would not change Canadian law. She says this is an attempt to impose restrictions on women.
NDP MP Olivia Chow says the prime minister has been clear that he has no plans to reopen the abortion debate.
“So if this Tory member of Parliament wants to make a liar out of his party leader, so be it,” she says. “It’s women who should have the right to choose. This is just a backdoor way to get into that debate.”
Bennett agrees. Likewise, she questions why the prime minister has been silent on Woodworth’s motion.
“[Harper] is clearly trying to have it both ways,” she says.
Last year Conservative whip Gordon O’Connor defended a woman’s right to choose without legal restrictions. He says he stands by his words.
Woodworth acknowledges he doesn’t have Harper’s endorsement.
“I like the PM. He says he is against it but hasn't expanded on his reasons," he says.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty notes that, while he is anti-choice, he plans to vote against the motion.