This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.
The Blog

Arthur response #1

Some readers might wonder why I'm debating Stephen Woodworth on the grounds of this misleading and offensive debate statement (which he provided). I saw it as a good representation of Woodworth's entire misguided effort, which is doomed to failure for obvious and common sense reasons.

The main reason is that it completely disregards women's rights; but first I'd like to deal with another glaring weakness that is prominently displayed in the above debate statement, in the motion itself, and in Woodworth's many media statements.

As a stalwart member of the anti-abortion movement, Woodworth is already a true believer in the anti-choice presumption that fetuses are "human beings" who deserve rights. Apparently unable to separate his personal beliefs from the issue at hand, he falls into the logical fallacy known as "begging the question." This occurs when the premise of a position is used as proof for the position. The question he says he wants answered is whether a fetus should be considered a human being -- that is, a child. Yet his premise simply assumes it's a "child" and "human being" from the outset, one whom the law unjustly "deprives" of being recognized as such.

So what is the point of the motion if the answer is already a foregone conclusion to Woodworth and his supporters? More ominously, what is the point of convening a Parliamentary Committee stacked with a majority of anti-choice Conservatives who will simply apply the same foregone conclusion to the proceedings, regardless of any opposing evidence or testimony?

Apparently, the point is to press their advantage in a Conservative majority government so they can win a political victory over the bodies of women. Because underlying the motion is a profound disrespect and lack of trust for women and a total dismissal of their basic human rights and welfare. Hardly a promising launch pad for an initiative in an advanced democratic society that enshrines the rights and equality of women into law.

The real intent of Motion 312 is to bestow legal personhood on fetuses as a way to re-criminalize abortion. But this is essentially impossible in Canada now, as it would violate women's established constitutional rights in Canada under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to life, liberty, bodily security, conscience, and equality. These rights are all directly implicated in women's decisions around pregnancy, and have been solidified in a number of Supreme Court cases since the 1988 Morgentaler decision, including Tremblay v Daigle, Dobson v Dobson, and Winnipeg Child & Family Services v Ms.G.(D.F.). The justices have said that a fetus must be born alive to enjoy rights, and that the law has always treated a pregnant woman and her fetus as one person. The intimate connection between the two means the fetus cannot be considered in isolation, and imposing a duty of care on a pregnant woman towards her fetus would result in extensive and unacceptable intrusions into her bodily integrity, privacy, and autonomy.

The Supreme Court also stated in Tremblay v Daigle: "The task of properly classifying a foetus in law and in science are different pursuits." Woodworth, his motion, and the debate statement all suffer from the same fundamental confusion between the medical and biological aspects of "what is a human being" and the legal and social aspects of personhood.

Fetuses are biologically "human" in the sense that they are composed of human tissue and DNA, but they are not "persons." Personhood is a socially and legally constructed concept, and it is bestowed upon birth for very practical and obvious reasons.

Clearly, it is pointless to examine "modern medical information" to see if the fetus is a human being, because even if the committee reaches its foregone conclusion, women's rights cannot be arbitrarily removed or even "balanced" with fetal rights. It is impossible for two beings in the same body to exercise competing rights in any meaningful or just way. The biological or medical status of the fetus is irrelevant anyway, because women need abortions and always have. It's a matter of survival for them and their families, so much so that when abortion is illegal, women will resort to unsafe abortion at risk to their health and lives. That's why abortion was legalized in the first place.

Although the motion's underlying target is legal abortion, it also represents a serious danger to the rights of all pregnant women. I recently read a news article about "pro-life" El Salvador where abortion is completely banned for any reason and fertilized eggs have full rights as persons. In 2010, a mother of two was sentenced to prison for 30 years without a trial for having a miscarriage that was suspected to be an abortion. She died in jail several months later from untreated cancer, which was apparently what caused the miscarriage.

Could this kind of dystopian nightmare ever happen in Canada? It seems unlikely, but the path that Woodworth wants us to travel ends logically with such consequences. In fact, his motion raises the same issues that mobilized Canada's women's movement in 2008 when the "Unborn Victims of Crime Act" passed second reading. That bill would have treated a fetus as a separate legal entity under the law when a pregnant woman was assaulted.

At the time, the pro-choice movement sought help from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women in the U.S., which has fought for the rights of hundreds of American pregnant women arrested or prosecuted for drug or alcohol abuse, refusing a Caesarean, experiencing a stillbirth, or even attempting suicide. Fetuses have legal personhood rights in at least 38 states and the laws are used primarily to arrest pregnant women under child welfare laws. Thousands more have been subjected to punitive and counterproductive interventions on the basis that women's behavior during pregnancy constitutes child neglect or abuse.

Woodworth should know better than to think that Canadians would ever allow him to take Canada down the same cruel road as the U.S. My hope is that by the end of this insulting farce - which has got women really pissed off - the women's movement in Canada will have united to become a force so strong that no anti-abortion or fetal personhood law will ever have a hope of passing, under this or any future Conservative government.

Popular in the Community

Suggest a correction
This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada. Certain site features have been disabled. If you have questions or concerns, please check our FAQ or contact