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Saturday, March 17, 2012

A letter against Woodworth's anti-choice motion

As you've heard by now, MP Stephen Woodworth's anti-choice motion is going forward in the house. If you don't know anything about it yet, keep reading.

For a pretty good overview, check out this article by Mercedes Allen in Rabble, which also includes the text of the motion.

I am sharing my own letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for you to use as a template for your own, to cut and paste and change as you see fit. The letter I have sent is below. Underneath that, you will find email addresses to the PM, Bob Rae, Nycole Turmel, and Elizabeth May and I also urge you to write to your own MP. Remember, the leader of the ND is about to change, so keep that in mind if you write after next week. It is important to get these letters in now. The motion will be considered in the House at the end of April. Here it is:

Dear Prime Minister,

Your fellow MP and Conservative member, the Honourable Mr. Woodworth, is asking Parliament to decide when a fetus becomes a human in Motion M 312. I urge you to reject this motion and to stop this attempt to infringe on the rights of women. You have promised Canadians repeatedly that you will not reopen the abortion debate. Unfortunately, that is what the passage of this motion will do. 

Mr. Woodworth argues that the Criminal Code bestows legal “human being” status on infants born alive and finds this problematic because if the “little toe” is still in the birth canal, the infant has no protection. His characterization misrepresents existing laws. The motion proposed by Mr. Woodworth can have only purpose, and that is to bring legal restriction to abortion services in Canada.

The Criminal Code section 223(1) states that “a child becomes a human being within the meaning of the Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not a) it has breathed; b) it has an independent circulation; or c) the navel string is severed.” To be clear, Section 223(1) conveys that a live born child, even if it hasn’t breathed, even if it hasn’t established independent circulation, and even if it is still attached to the mother by the umbilical cord, is a human being. Further, Mr. Woodworth is simply wrong to imply there is no legal protection to the infant during birth. The very next point in the Criminal Code, Section 223 (2) says that “a person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.”

His “little toe” argument is a red herring. Even if what he says were true, which it is not, Mr. Woodworth is describing a situation which may exist for a split second in real life. Once the head and shoulders are delivered, the rest of the body is delivered very quickly. The toe does not linger in the birth canal. His musings are intended to make the public think that abortions are being performed on fetuses up to the due date of the pregnancy, and to provoke in Canadians an image of a fetus being terminated during delivery. No such thing happens.

The vast majority of abortions in Canada are performed during the first trimester. The practice, although not regulated by law, is regulated within the medical profession, where all medical procedures are best regulated. Second trimester abortions are rare, and most often performed in the presence of a severe fetal anomaly or when a threat to the life of the mother exists. Fewer than one percent of Canadian abortions are undertaken after 20 weeks, and none are performed on an elective basis after 24 weeks. To imply otherwise is disingenuous and even alarmist. 

The anti-choice movement’s concern for fetuses is one that can only be acted upon at the expense of the rights of women. Two persons cannot exist in one body and both have rights within that single body. This impossible situation threatens to take personhood away from the woman in order to give it to the fetus.  

If women do not have the right to exercise control over our own reproduction and our own bodies, we simply are not free. Control of our bodies would reside outside ourselves, in the hands of others whose ideas and beliefs we may not share and who cannot know our consciences or the circumstances of our own lives as we do.  

There are precedents that help us understand what happens when personhood is given to the fetus. In the United States, where personhood rights have been given to fetuses in 38 States, laws are used primarily to prosecute pregnant women who use drugs and alcohol, pregnant women who refuse a caesarean or who have a stillbirth or miscarriage. These cruel prosecutions scare pregnant women in need of prenatal care away from authority figures. A better option is to ensure women have access to all the health supports they need. 

Ironically, according to the Guttmacher Institute, limiting access to abortion does nothing to reduce abortion in the end. As the Guttmacher Institute notes, “Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates.”  (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html). Every country in the world in which abortion is illegal still has abortion. When abortion is illegal and clandestine, it is dangerous to the health of women and maternal deaths rise. Alternately, when abortion is legal and women have all the health supports they need, including unfettered access to contraception, abortion rates inevitably go down. 

Finally, if this motion were to pass, it cannot resolve any resulting conflict in rights between the pregnant woman and the fetus. It will muddy waters that have been relatively calm in Canada for over a generation. This is what it is meant to do. Our system, a system in which abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor and in which abortion is a regulated medical practice within the medical profession like all other medical practices, works. It works, except in the eyes of those who will not rest until abortion is illegal.

The people who wish to make abortion illegal would be happy to force their moral and religious agenda on all Canadians. Since the Morgentaler decision, a woman’s right to choose has been challenged in Parliament nearly forty times. These attempts to infringe on abortion rights are often couched in other terms, as is Mr. Woodworth’s motion. Even if any of them were to succeed, it is highly unlikely any attempt to take a woman’s right to control her body away from her will pass a constitutional challenge. But women would suffer in the meantime, and the fabric of Canadian society would be strained  as we currently see happening in the United States in which the debate over women’s health has reached absurd heights. The Supreme Court of Canada has already rightly determined that impeding a woman’s access to abortion violates her right to life, liberty, conscience, equality and security. Women are no less human now than we were when this ruling was made, no less in need of our rights, and no less in need of our rights when pregnant. Nothing has changed.

I urge you not to accept this attempt to re-open the abortion debate in Canada and not to allow this threat to women’s rights to go any further. We can trust women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Our current system has worked for over a generation. There is no reason to change it. I look forward to your reply.


Your name here (and don't forget your address)

To find your own MP, look here
To email the Prime Minister stephen.harper@parl.gc.ca
To email Bob Rae bob.rae@parl.gc.ca
To email Nycole Turmel Nycole.Turmel@parl.gc.ca
To email Elizabeth May


Added March 21: Here is another sample letter from ARCC that you might also consider using as your template.

The Abortion Monologues is now an e-book. Look for it here on Smashwords.

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