Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeatedly swears that he will not reopen the abortion debate in Canada. He swore it while he was campaigning, he swore it during his minority government, and he swore it when he won a majority. Despite the fears of many Canadians that he was going to bring forward a far-right agenda, Harper says there is nothing to worry about: abortion rights will not be debated under his watch.
So why, then, is he allowing a backbencher to bring forward a motion to Parliament today that will do just that?
Abortion was legalized in Canada in 1969 and completely decriminalized in 1988 after Dr. Henry Morgentaler carried out a court battle with the Canadian Government. The Supreme Court of Canada declared that forcing a woman to continue with a pregnancy against her will was a direct breach of her rights to “security of the person” which are protected under the Charter Of Rights. The government of the day attempted to enact new laws around abortion, but failed, and no laws have applied to regulate abortion in Canada since that day in 1988.
But a backbench MP from Ontario has decided that the law needs changing. And he wants Parliament to debate it from a new angle: When life actually begins. Right now under Canadian law, life begins when a child is born alive, emerging from the body of its mother. Stephen Woodworth wants to change that, which would – he hopes – have a drastic impact on the legality of abortion in Canada. He hasn’t communicated exactly when he believes life begins, but based on some of the more draconian measures governments have been taking in the US (including one proposed law that says life begins before conception), it’s a dangerous path to walk.
What has prompted this new attack on a woman’s right to choose? Is the abortion rate in Canada so unbearable that something has to be done? Hardly. The abortion rate in Canada has been consistently dropping, based on the last data available from 2006. So despite what some believe – that declaring abortion completely legal would lead to a flood of terminated pregnancies – the truth is that better sex education, better access to contraception and shifting social norms will do a better job at preventing abortions than any law.
Stephen Harper is well known for controlling his caucus with an iron fist. So why is a backbencher seemingly going against his own leader’s stated wishes and reopening the debate without permission?
Unless, of course, he had permission all along, and is doing this with Harper’s blessing.