Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Canadian Parliament to face the "personhood" debate

Sharable ad from the "Not Yet Born" blog,
linked from Stephen Woodworth's official site.

If there's one issue Canada's majority Conservative government would rather not talk about, it's abortion. Not covered by any specific legislation since 1988, the deeply divisive medical procedure is something many Canadians, regardless of their personal beliefs, just don't feel comfortable talking about in public.

That may soon change, however, as Kitchener's Conservative MP, backbencher Stephen Woodworth, has convinced his party to let him have an hour of Parliament's time to discuss Motion 312, his request that "a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth."

The Honourable Member has positioned himself as the Canadian champion of this cause, similar to the American anti-abortion Personhood movement.

In his own words:
“Canada’s 400 year old definition of human being says children are not human beings until the moment of complete birth”, he said.  “I’ve concluded that modern medical science will inform us that children are in reality human beings at some point before the moment of complete birth.  Canadians need to know there’s no human rights for children before complete birth.
A respectful dialogue to update a 400 year old definition of human being with the aid of twenty-first century information will benefit everyone. Whatever view one has about other issues, does it make medical sense in the twenty-first century to say that a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth?  Members of Parliament have a duty not to accept any law that says some human beings are not human.”
The complication, of course, comes when we try to determine what makes a developing human a "person".

In the United States, the debate is a religious one:
"Personhood is a movement working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as persons who are 'created in the image of God' from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions."
 This has resulted in attempts to overthrow the legality of abortion in some states, such as Mississippi (where the failed "personhood amendment"would have given full legal rights to a fertilized egg) and Ohio (where the "heartbeat bill" pending debate would ban abortions at the first recordable sign of cardiovascular activity around 9+ weeks).

Mr. Woodworth is proposing a "scientific" approach to determining what makes  human a "person" under the law. But such definitions will by their very nature be philosophical, since the definition must be clarified to be tested: does a heartbeat make us fully human? Reaction to outside stimulus? Observable brain activity? The ability to survive outside the womb? Or simply having been fertilized, and therefore having become genetically distinct from the mother?

This is a classic "slippery slope", an it slides in two opposite directions. On one end is the total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. On the other is the ability to terminally abort a healthy full-term baby. (Nobody really wants the latter, but it's what Mr. Woodworth is implying as the problem.)

In the end, it will come to the same argument about whose rights triumph: a self-aware pregnant woman's control over her own body versus the state's power to compel her to carry the developing human inside her to term. And it will be ugly.

1 comment:

  1. if the government is so interested in abortions, maybe they should disallow all abortions, and instead make the woman give birth and then take the child away and raise it on it's own? if they want it that badly, here it is - it's yours and you raise it. in the meantime, don't tell me what to do with myself.