By Don Hutchinson and Faye Sonier
EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger joined other Canadian leaders in signing the Declaration of Support for Parliamentary Study of Canada’s Legal Definition of “Human Being” . His endorsement, on behalf of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) stands alongside those of other organizations and individuals who agree it’s time – perhaps past time – for a parliamentary committee to study Canada’s antiquated law that says a child becomes a human being only “when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”
The Declaration is the result of the effort to encourage Parliamentarians to do the right thing. Jointly authored by several organizations, it comes from the realization that we, as Canadians, can accomplish things better working together than we can pursuing similar goals separately.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said Parliament is the only institution in Canada that can make legal determination in regard to the best interests of the child prior to birth, just as Parliament has made similar decision in regard to children after birth. Parliament has done that by defining when a child becomes a human being. With developments in medicine and science over the last century, many Canadians are convinced that it’s time to revisit this outdated law.
Subsection 223 (1) of the Criminal Code, the section proposed to be studied in MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312, was drafted based on scientific and medical knowledge of centuries long since passed. It was also accompanied by a companion section in the Criminal Code that noted the interest of the state in the pre-born child. That section was revisited by Parliament in 1969 and its revised form struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 in R. v. Morgentaler because the amended form did not allow equal access nation-wide to therapeutic abortion committees. In a split decision, the court identified concern for the right to security of the person for pregnant women because of the inconsistent access to the committees. The court was, however, unanimous that Parliament retained the jurisdiction to make decisions about Canada’s interest in the pre-born child.
Since that time, the courts have been faced with many challenging situations dealing with the pre-born child – potential medical malpractice lawsuits, at least one case dealing with intentional effort to kill a child in the womb, and efforts by children’s aid societies to protect children in the womb from abusive mothers. In all of these situations, the courts have felt bound by the decision of Parliament to avoid debate and any declaration of whether or not Canada has an interest in children prior to birth.
In fact, Motion 312 is not about abortion. It’s about a parliamentary committee studying and reporting back on the state’s concern for the best interests of the child prior to birth. It is Parliament’s responsibility to examine that issue. Realistically, it will necessarily involve consideration of whether Canada’s abortion law should be changed from no restrictions to some form of restriction, even though that is not the primary focus of the proposed committee.
The Prime Minister stated in an interview earlier this year with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, “If you want to diminish the number of abortions, you’ve got to change hearts and not laws.” Yet polling by some of Canada’s most reputable polling firms – Angus Reid, Ipsos Reid, Abacus Data, and Environics – suggests that Canadians hearts are overwhelmingly in support of the Government of Canada declaring an interest in the life of the pre-born child through legislation that at minimum would prevent abortion when the child is old enough to survive outside the womb and address the matter of the increasing number of sex-selection abortions being performed in Canada. That information is summarized in the report, Abortion Polls in Canada: A Compilation by Topic of Opinion Polling in Canada from 2007-2012.
So what will happen if Mr. Woodworth’s Motion 312 passes? We can tell you what won’t happen. Abortion will not be criminalized in Canada. Abortion access will not be restricted in Canada. A child in the womb will not be granted human rights. A child in the womb will not be deemed a person in law. If the House of Commons passes Motion 312, a dozen Members of Parliament, imaginably some pro-life and some pro-choice, will meet from time to time as a Special Committee. As federally elected representatives they will examine a provision of a federal law. They will study the Criminal Code’s legal definition of ‘human being’, listening to expert evidence, and then report back to Parliament with some proposed answers to the questions put before them.