A Conservative Party MP from Kitchener, Ontario, Mr. Stephen Woodworth, has called for a committee to be empanelled, in order to decide on the rather modern question of when, during gestation or afterwards, human life begins, citing dissatisfaction with our current legal definition, imported via our British roots, of life beginning at birth. Not surprisingly, and against statements from the Prime Minister's Office telling us that the situation is otherwise, most reporters and commentators are seeing this as the first step toward reopening legal debate on Abortion, and, less surprisingly, Mister Woodworth plays for the vehemently pro-life team, being a devout Catholic and all (he formerly served on a Catholic private school's Board of Directors). Canada, of course, removed all legal barriers to abortion in 1988, though the practice is still regulated by the Canadian Medical Association, whose position is that the law does not need reform.
My commentary is below the jump.
There are any of a number of reasons people end up tending toward either extreme on the abortion debate (and I do mean extreme: like so many other things, this is a complex issue with no yes/no answer), and, frankly, I land somewhere in the middle. I believe that in a free society, laws cannot be imposed that are supported only on religious grounds, regardless of that religion being in the majority (Canada is 77% Christian, of those, 43.6% Catholic, according to the 2001 Census), or the minority. The next biggest religious demographic are those citizens claiming no religion as their own, and while many see democracy as rule-by-majority, that's not always the best definition of the term.
Take me, for example. I'm more-or-less anti-abortion. However, I take that as a personal, moral position. It would be wrong of me, as a man, to impose a law that would protect Christian morality by enforcing it upon women who stand a decent chance of not being Christian. Further, I believe there are situations where an abortion is warranted. I also believe, and have been snickered at for believing, that the biological father of a child to-be-aborted should be able to enjoin or otherwise stay the process, on the condition that he becomes the child's formal, legal guardian at birth, and that the natural mother is absolved of any responsibility for the child, unless she takes that responsibility willingly, and I've formed that position largely due to an irrational fear that, were I to father a child out of wedlock, the mother would seek to berid of it regardless of any feelings I might have on the issue... entirely unreasonable given my present, longtime partner's views on parenthood and abortion rights.
To the matter at hand, though, which is the question of the committee, I have only a few things to say. The first is that I find the practice of using a back-bench MP to call for its formation is absurd on the part of the Conservative Party, especially when they turn around and say "Ah, but we don't want to debate abortion! We'll happily allow the formation of the committee, but it has nothing to do with abortion, don't you worry!"
The second is to say that this might be a question without a satisfactory answer. The argument that life begins at conception has biological and theological bases. The argument that life begins at birth has traditional and logical bases. For myself, I'm inclined to believe that, while spiritual life might begin at birth, biological life can't really be legislated on... it becomes a function of the viability of the foetus, and different foetuses develop at different rates, depending on a range of factors from genetics to the mother's environment. What is viable for one child might not be viable for another, and so on. It's a question that the parliament really isn't fit to tackle.