Canada has no abortion law.
I find this troubling.
In 1969, the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau decriminalized abortion. Abortions could occur, providing a committee of doctors deemed it necessary for a woman’s health. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled that caveat within the law was unconstitutional and cancelled the law, ultimately punting it back to Parliament to create a new law.
Parliament never did, so Canada has no abortion law.
All Canada has is a definition of child, which states that a child is not considered a human being until it has exited the womb.
Unlike other Western countries, which have determined restrictions on abortion – including gestational age limits – in Canada, it is perfectly legal for a woman to abort a baby at full-term, rather than to deliver it. Because it’s a woman’s right.
There’s something wrong with this.
Two weeks ago, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth put forth a motion asking to strike a parliamentary committee to review the definition of child under Canadian law. The motion was defeated.
What followed was a media frenzy, pouncing on the “right-wing Christian Conservatives” in Harper’s cabinet – including Rona Ambrose, minister for the Status of Women, who evidently wanted to “strip away women’s reproductive rights in Canada.” A poster circulated widely on social media sites stated, “Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women just voted to criminalize abortion.” Mainstream media outlets claimed the Conservatives were “re-opening the abortion law debate in Canada.”
Evidently, people failed to read the nuance of this story.
For one thing, Canada has no abortion law – we have a vacuum -- so “re-opening the abortion law debate” is a misnomer. For another, Ambrose voted in favour of striking a committee to re-examine the definition of child under the law, which is hardly a vote to criminalize abortion. Finally, as far as I can tell, we’ve never had a debate on abortion in this country, at least not since the 1960s – and certainly not within the lifetimes of women who would currently be affected by such a discussion.
In the interest of full disclosure, I qualify as neither anti-abortion nor pro-choice. I’ve always been rather wishy-washy on the subject of abortion. On the one hand, I think women should have some say on whether or not to carry a baby to term, particularly in cases where there has been abuse or where a woman is not positioned to care for a baby for a wide variety of reasons and of course where there is a medical reason. I’ve supported slightly less than a handful of girlfriends as they’ve made the choice to abort or not and I like to think I’ve done so without judgment. I’ve also been a consistent supporter of stem cell research.
On the other hand, having been through three pregnancies myself and all the ultrasounds and prenatal testing that goes along with that, I believe there is a point where the fetus should qualify as a child under the law, long before it exits the womb. At some point, the right of the fetus must be equivalent or greater than mine, as a woman. What that point is remains a huge grey area for me and, I would wager, for most Canadians.
Ultimately, it’s a shame that MPs, including the prime minister, voted against a motion that may have helped to clarify this issue.
This is not merely an issue of the “Christian right.” If their voices seem the loudest, perhaps it’s because they have stronger convictions. If pro-choice representatives in Parliament feel so strongly about women’s rights, let them be brave enough to raise the issue in the House, fill the vacuum, create a law and put the issue to bed once and for all.
Because, in the absence of a law, we are left with empty rhetoric. Do we prefer a Canada where pro-choice advocates feel comfortable overtly defaming cabinet ministers, calling them anti-feminists and suggesting – mistakenly – that they would see a return to the “backroom butcher” type of abortions that occurred in Canada prior to 1969? On the flip side, do we want reams of anti-abortion protesters to gather at busy intersections – as they did at Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard last week with placards reading “stop killing babies”? This helps no one and hurts many.
The empty rhetoric should be replaced by a national conversation. Let’s talk about it and see if we can figure out, under the law, our collective values on abortion, grounded in science and ethics because currently, Canada has no abortion law and frankly, that’s a problem.