When Life Begins

It’s always a good idea to start off with something as controversial as abortion, right? The Conservative Party of Canada knows as well as I do that this topic might not be the best icebreaker, whether it’s for a dinner party or a legislative assembly, which is why they’ve been relatively quiet about the topic regardless of individual opinion. However, that’s about to change with the recent introduction of a private member’s motion calling for a committee to re-examine when life begins. Stephen Woodsworth, a Conservative MP, has introduced this bill, which would establish a committee to examine the question of when life begins. Woodsworth claims to want to re-examine the definition we currently have for when life begins, which he says is an outdated definition imported from Britain.

If Woodsworth is looking for authentically Canadian laws that eschew British origins, he won’t find many. Most of our laws are imported from Britain, and seem to work perfectly fine, even when they’re old. That’s not a reason in itself to reject his motion. The more troubling part is that there’s little that this motion can do other than revisit abortion laws. There are really only three outcomes of revisiting this definition: the law stays the same about when life begins, the law changes it to a later date, or the law changes it to an earlier date. Changing it to a later date would be obviously incorrect, so what Woodsworth is trying to do is to see if life begins at an earlier date. I don’t think I’m being even remotely controversial in drawing this conclusion about his intentions.

So what happens if life is thought to begin at an earlier date? It shouldn’t really matter. Abortion laws weren’t struck down because the Supreme Court didn’t care about fetuses. Abortion laws were struck down because the Supreme Court thought that they were an undue limitation on the liberty of women. So, revisiting the definition of where life begins is not in itself problematic. On the other hand, there is no good reason for why anyone would want to revisit the definition of when life begins otherwise. And if you support the autonomy rights of women, this first step towards revisiting abortion laws is troubling, if supported by other MPs. Generally, though, given the politically-sensitive Harper government and the recent Alberta election, where the most conservative province in Canada rejected social conservatism in Wildrose Party candidates, this bill isn’t likely to get through.