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Abortion should be debated continuously

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An old Slovenian proverb proclaims a good fart is worth nine doctors. And that may be true. But even if it is true, no matter how beneficial it might be, health-wise, we don't rip one in the office or anywhere else in polite society.

It's our wives and our children who have to endure our health-care program in the privacy of our homes.

In that sense, farting is similar to political life in Canada. Everything has to be etiquette-ally correct or politically correct, depending on the circumstances.

We saw an example of that this week when a Conservative member of Parliament suggested the abortion debate should be re-opened.

Stephen Woodworth, an Ontario Tory, has introduced a motion that would require Parliament to re-examine the issue of when a fetus becomes a person, a person being someone whose life and liberty are protected by Canadian law.

Canada is the only Western nation that has no law restricting abortion. A fetus does not become a person in the legal sense until it has emerged from the womb. It can be killed as it emerges from the birth canal if the mother exercises her "right to choose," as we euphemistically call it.

Personhood, is, in the legal sense, a completely arbitrary thing.

It can be defined and redefined by parliamentarians and, these days, by the courts. As someone once said, no one's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.

In Canada, women were not considered to be persons until the early 20th century, although, unlike the 21st century fetus, they could not be killed with impunity.

The law is as capricious as the people who make it.

Woodworth's argument is both simple and legitimate: he wants to re-examine the issue of when a fetus becomes a person. The Supreme Court ruled that the previous abortion law violated the rights of women and sent it back to Parliament to revise. The Liberal government of the day declined to do that, and subsequent governments have never found the political courage to address the issue.

Woodworth argues "most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly represents the reality of who is a human being. When you consider a child before birth, do you see a living child with a beating heart and 10 human fingers? Or do you see the child as an object and an obstacle, even a parasite?"

His motion has no hope of passing.

All opposition parties, as well as most of the Conservative government MPs, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has remained true to his word that he would not re-open the abortion debate, are adamantly against it.

Most Canadians, we are told, are against it as well. Unborn or unexpected children are often seen as objects or obstacles or simply as being of the wrong gender. In the absence of a law restricting abortion to certain circumstances, they can be vacuumed out of the womb on the basis of a woman's right to choose.

But even though Woodworth's motion has no hope of passing, that does not mean the issue of abortion should not be debated. It should be, continuously and publicly.

There are fundamental principles here a democratic society needs to resolve, not on a political basis but on a moral one, and we need some politicians who will take a stand on that moral ground.

On the one side, there is the widely held argument for a woman's right to choose. It is hard to dispute that, but in truth a woman does not have the right to choose to take the life of another person. A simple act of Parliament and a stroke of the governor general's pen could declare that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception.

And it is hard to dispute that. Without interference, from the moment of conception to the moment of birth, the difference in the child is only quantitive; there is no qualitative difference at all. Kids are kids, whatever stage they are at.

Woodworth's motion may be hopeless, but it does not have to be useless if it can unlock the shackles of political correctness that have bound us for so many years. We should be able to debate publicly about abortion without one side being damned as dinosaurs and the other evangelized as angels.

It is an issue that matters profoundly, whichever side of it you are on. Stephen Woodworth may be farting into a windstorm, but if he can renew this debate, he will have done his country some service.

tom.oleson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 A19

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