In the week before Christmas, a Conservative Kitchener-area MP, created a media storm when he issued a press release saying it was time for Parliament to reconsider the country’s antiquated Criminal Code provisions which do not acknowledge the child in the womb as a human being.
Section 223 of the Criminal Code deals with homicide and Section 223(1) defines human being as a child that “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. Section 223(2) defines killing a child as homicide when “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.”
Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener-Centre) noted in a Dec. 22 press release that “Canadian law provides no human rights protection whatsoever for children before the moment of complete birth.”
Woodworth said the Criminal Code provisions are based on 400-year-old law, “first formulated prior to the seventeenth century, when an early version of it was recorded in Coke’s Institutes of Law.” He added, “in those times, medical science and principles of human rights were not sufficiently advanced to challenge such a law.”
The implication of the law is that “in Canada a child is legally considered to be sub-human while his or her little toe remains in the birth canal, even if he or she is breathing.”
The immediate reaction in the slow news week before Christmas was that the Tories were trying to re-open the abortion debate and Woodworth’s individual comments were somehow indicative of Stephen Harper’s “hidden agenda” on abortion. Pro-abortion activist Joyce Arthur said that no one just wants to debate abortion, but rather re-open the debate with an eye to banning abortion.
But Kitchener Record columnist Luisa D’Amato endorsed Woodworth’s suggestion that the issue be debated and said it need not affect access to abortion: “Speaking as a feminist with socially liberal ideas, I agree with Woodworth that it’s a good idea to have this conversation, and I don’t think anyone should be afraid of it.”
In an interview with The Interim Woodworth said his recent comments are part of a process that began in October 2010 when he highlighted the absurdity of the law in comments before the House of Commons and repeated at the 2011 National March for Life. Now he is finalizing his plans to introduce private member’s business in February – either a private member’s bill or, more likely, a motion – that would encourage Parliament to debate the status of the child in the womb.
“I am trying to promote a respectful dialogue on these issues,” said Woodworth. “It is a priority for me to raise an issue which has such fundamental implications for human rights.”
He said the debate should focus on “modern principles and evidence” noting that scientific and medical knowledge has advanced considerably in the four centuries since the common-law definition of human being was codified, as have views on expanding human rights.
Woodworth told The Interim as well as other media including Sun News and the CBC that Parliament has an obligation to consider this issue.
Deflecting questions about abortion, he said “good laws have to be founded on sound facts and principles.” He said “like a straw sofa, archaic laws create a foul odour” and that a “law not informed by modern principles and evidence creates an odour in the whole legal and political system.”
“The important question is whether this 400-year-old Canadian law is supported by 21st century medical science and principles of human rights,” Mr. Woodworth said. “Perhaps Canadians should at least examine this question.”
Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said “the question is not so much ‘what is human?’ but ‘when is human?’”
Noting that the law is out-of-step with medical capabilities and modern scientific knowledge, she said, “parliament needs to examine” the Criminal Code provisions that do not recognize the child in the womb as human, and “debate whether they make sense in twenty-first century Canada.”