Monday, December 15, 2008

Re-Opening The Abortion Debate

When I started this blog I did it with the idea that there would be no sacred cows, and no topics too controversial. Well there are few issues more contentious and more polarizing than that of abortion. A good many Canadians likely want to maintain the status quo and avoid any further discussion, content to let a sleeping dog lie as it were. But this is an issue that is not going to go away, no matter how quiet things appear at the moment.

For those who identify themselves as Christians of the born again, evangelical or fundamentalist stripe the Pro-Life movement is more than a belief, its a crusade. And many were looking to Stephen Harper, a member of an Evangelical Protestant church1, to champion their cause. Mr. Harper though has left many of them disappointed and disillusioned.

There had been a private members bill put forward by Conservative MP Ken Epp. The bill would have ensured that a criminal would receive separate punishment for killing an unborn child in a violent attack on a pregnant mother. Members of the medical profession however protested, fearing prosecution for carrying out ‘legal’ abortions. The Pro-Choice lobby as well was up in arms, fearing that such a law would enshrine fetal rights and could later be used as a means to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion.

Mr. Epp’s bill however was superceded by a new bill introduced by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, one which would have bolstered penalties for those who assault pregnant women. But with the calling of the October 14, 2008 election all this is now rendered moot. I strongly believe the Conservatives want to avoid opening up this debate, especially when faced with a minority parliament and the prospect of another election at any time. Canada is after all a largely secular nation, and the imposition of any laws based on a particular set of religious beliefs is a political landmine nobody wants to step on.

The Conservatives have worked diligently to achieve electoral success in places like Ontario and Quebec, and to distance themselves from the ‘scary’ tag applied at earlier times to their Reform/Alliance predecessors. Opening up a debate on abortion, (with many Conservative MPs stridently Pro-Life) could hamstring the party’s ability to win seats in urban centers in and around cities like Toronto and Montreal. Perhaps with a majority in the house action could be taken early in a mandate, with the hopes that it would fade from the public’s conscious as the next election neared.

But talking about the political implications ignores the true debate. Is abortion right or wrong? I will state my bias here and now and tell you that I am Pro-Choice. While I do regard abortion as a negative choice, it is one nonetheless that I feel should be left up to a pregnant woman in consultation with her doctor. Anyone who thinks they can ban abortion totally is living in a fool’s paradise in my opinion anyway. If it is once again criminalized that won’t stop it from happening. Those with means will simply travel to a jurisdiction where it is legal, or go to a back room where the procedure will be done anyway…and most often in an unsafe and un-medically supervised manner.

Ideally we should be able to reach a compromise, one where a woman is still free to choose, but with certain limitations. My own opinion is that once a fetus has developed to the point that it can survive autonomous of the mother, that it should be given protection under the law. I don’t know what that point is and I can’t be bothered to look it up…but I would suggest we look at the earliest a preemie has survived and then add perhaps a month.

Obviously this would do little to satisfy those who view life as starting at conception, as well as those who favour abortion on demand. But isn’t that the quintessential Canadian solution? One which pleases neither side, but could perhaps be workable.
Any thoughts?


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