when does human life begin? – canadian parliament to vote on studying the question

Last week I wrote a post for the NCR Today blog, on a controversial motion in our Canadian parliament. Motion 312 is a private member’s motion put forward by Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Woodworth. It calls for the House of Commons to form a special committee to study the question of when human life begins. Presently, under the Criminal Code of Canada,

“A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”

Though a pro-lifer himself, Woodworth insists that the purpose of the motion is not to reopen the abortion debate – something that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised not to do. All Woodworth wants is an “open-minded, evidence-based study” on a 400-year-old Criminal Code definition of a human being.

On Sept. 18, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement in support of Motion 312, inviting “all members of the Parliament of Canada to take into full account the sacredness of the unborn child and each human life.” Also, about 60 high-profile groups and individuals have signed The Declaration of Support for Parliamentary Study of Canada’s Legal Definition of “Human Being.”

A Catholic Register article describes the one hour debate last Friday, and the atmosphere in the House of Commons at the time. According to the article, only 30 to 35 MPs attended the debate which took place during the final hour of the House of Commons’ agenda dealing with private member’s business. The government’s chief whip, Conservative MP Gordon O’Connor, told the House in the previous hour of debate that the government would not support this motion. During the actual debate on Motion 312, O’Conner seemed to be taking notes on Conservative MPs who rose to speak in favor of the motion.

Conservative MP David Anderson defended the motion, “We need to recognize that a majority of Canadians believe that human life begins long before a person is born. We can understand that if the evidence establishes that a child does in fact become a human being before the moment of complete birth, then subsection 223(1) has some major problems and it is actually a law that dehumanizes and excludes a whole class of human beings from legal protection.” (Today, Immigration Minister and a prominent Cabinet Minister, Jason Kenney, announced that he will vote in favor of the motion.)

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen’s argument described the view of most who oppose the motion, “The member for Kitchener Centre’s desire to open up this debate has an end goal of changing the legislation to enable the fetus to be declared a human being…We are all very aware that such a change in the definition will place Canada directly on the regressive path to banning abortions.”

The vote is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

(More thoughts to come….)