Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth wants to compel parliament to re-examine the issue of when a fetus becomes a person under the law in Canada. He assures us it is not about abortion. “Whatever view one has on abortion, it would surely be important to know whether or not a child is a human being before birth.” My question to Mr. Woodworth: Why?
Let me count the ways.
Firstly, Mr. Woodworth is a former Catholic school trustee and crusader for the Right to Life movement—for the Liberal party, back before he was outed as a Conservative—so we know where he stands on abortion, if not politics. If he simply wishes to conduct a well-rounded “conversation,” as he claims, he would gather a few experts, intellectuals and clergy in his own drawing room, serve tea and biscuits, and do a little brainstorming to satisfy his own academic curiosity. No harm done. He would not be taking it to parliament. On the other hand, the primary reason an RTL advocate would want to “legally” define when life begins is so that the right to choose can be “legally” stripped from Canadian women.
Secondly, Mr. Woodworth is a lawyer. Once Canadian law recognizes the constitutional rights of a fertilized egg, there will be no end to the litigational possibilities. Imagine: lawyers suing mothers on behalf of miscarried or stillborn fetuses for “failing to provide the necessities of life.” Accuse her of eating the wrong foods, failing to adequately sequester herself during the pregnancy, not practicing her Lamaze breathing often enough, living in the wrong climate, wearing tight clothing, not praying hard enough for a living birth, &c. Proceeds of a successful suit going to the lawyers and the Church? Where does the father fit in? Is he, too, culpable? If that mother smokes a cigarette or takes a sip of wine during pregnancy, does that constitute intent in a murder charge? What if the prospect of giving birth presents a real and significant risk to the mother? Whose constitutional rights weigh heavier, mother or child? What if the pregnancy is the result of a rape? What if the mother carries HIV, knowingly or not? Attempted murder? …well, you can see the endless opportunities for an ambitious lawyer. Beats chasing ambulances.
Mr. Woodworth seems to be concerned that there is currently no law governing abortions in Canada, the previous law having been struck from the books nearly a quarter century ago. What he fails to understand is that there is no need for an abortion law, as the last twenty-three years have clearly demonstrated.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that there is an “eat well” law dating back to the eighteenth century, that compels Canadian citizens to consume, each and every Sunday, at the dinner hour, a meal consisting of Meat-and-Three. Sure, it’s good to have a well-balanced diet, so perhaps it made sense, two hundred and fifty years ago, to force people to do it by law, especially since so many of them were farmers. But what about vegetarians? In order to support the MAT law, the government would have to make vegetarianism illegal, wouldn’t they? What about children who hate vegetables? Will the food police be called in to supervise the “sitting-at-the-table-until-you’re-done” decree? What if the family can’t afford meat, even once a week? Will the government subsidize these families with “meat stamps?”
I know it sounds absurd, but it is no different than a woman’s (or couple’s) decision to have an abortion. There is no debate required, really, to see that, as long as the child is connected to the mother via umbilical cord, it is, by any and all rights, the property of the mother, to do with as she likes—regardless of someone else’s beliefs. If one were of extraterrestrial origin, one could objectively refer to the fetus as a tumor, no different than a goiter, except that a goiter will probably not take care of you in your old age. The goiter/fetus cannot have individual constitutional rights because it is not an individual; it is a physical and measurable extension of the host body (aka: the Mother).
What would Mr. Woodworth do if the Pope stepped out onto his balcony and announced to his flock that a woman should not have a left arm?—that “a left arm on a woman is an offense to the eyes of God.” Somehow I doubt he would introduce a private member’s bill in parliament to have constitutional rights applied to the appendage, even though it is the tradition host for a wristwatch, plus, who would hold the paper steady whilst the host body attempted to write a letter?
Perhaps Father Woodworth would, on top of an anti-abortion law and a Meat-and-Three law, like to legislate mandatory Sunday service for all Canadians. If he believes it is acceptable to impose his Christian morals regarding our diet and birth rights, why should he exclude our everlasting salvation? He doesn’t seem to care that we are not all Christians, or at least do not all fall in line with his moral and ethical compass. To be sure, there is no shortage of examples where leaders of state attempt to control their subjects through the narrow and inflexible lens of religious doctrine. Look at the middle east. Look at the American Tea Party. Look at the tail end of the Roman Empire. The Crusades.
The irony is that his own party, the Harper Conservatives, do no wish to have this discussion, not because it doesn’t fit within the boundaries of their ideology (which is certainly does), but because they are savvy enough to avoid alienating half their voters (aka: Women). They know from experience that the way to office is to steer clear of contentious or polarizing issues. Stick to the babble-fluff, and the stuff that makes good headlines (Tough on Crime!). And Mr. Woodworth ought to know his party does not appreciate members who speak out of turn, or who fail to toe the party line. He was smart enough, it seems, to have got himself through law school, but he can’t see that he’s asking questions that have already been answered with relative clarity, and he also fails to see the risk he takes by opening a door that his own peeps wish to keep shut.
Then again, I reckon he’s only using the Conservative party as a transitional stopover, on his way to his real goal: leader of the NDP. Or perhaps a bishopric. Good luck, sir, and be glad you are free, as a good Catholic, to make the decision for your wife whether or not she has an abortion. Choice is good.