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Abortion: The debate is on, like it or not -- Part one

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On December 21, 2011, backbench Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth issued a statement calling for the Canadian government to investigate its lack of abortion legislation, and called for human rights protections to be extended to the fetus:

"Canadian law provides no human rights protection whatsoever for children before the moment of complete birth. This results from an unusual Canadian statute which defines a human being as a child who has completely proceeded in a living state from the mother's body, whether or not the child has breathed. This means that in Canada a child is legally considered to be sub-human while his or her little toe remains in the birth canal, even if he or she is breathing."

Statements in interviews that have followed suggest that he may be considering a "personhood" or "heartbeat" approach, but Kitchener Centre MP Woodworth says he hasn't decided how he plans to try to tackle this. He does not yet have a Private Member's Bill in the queue, and is listed at 42nd spot in the list for consideration of private member's business, so if he introduces a bill, it could proceed to second reading as soon as February.

When Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost's claim about "defunding Planned Parenthood" came to light during the election campaign, Stephen Harper assured voters that he had no intention of reopening the debate. Canadians accepted this, while in the U.S., far right strategists used the "defund Planned Parenthood" rallying cry to launch a nationwide flurry of several pieces of legislation, charity funding cuts and underhanded tactics against abortion in a wave that no one anticipated could happen in 2011 and under a government seen as progressive... all without "reopening" any debate.

No similar legislation has been proposed as yet, but it's clear that Canadian anti-abortion groups and some MPs have already decided that the debate is on. That is, except for provinces where abortion is already unavailable.

The reopening of the debate was inevitable

The reopening of the debate was inevitable. It was inevitable because one side framed its argument around the idea of a fetus being a mass of cells or tissue and bristled at any suggestion that it might be something more. It was inevitable because one side of the debate named itself with a word (choice) that -- via anti-gay rhetoric -- has been devalued and re-spun into something that is perceived as a whim or delusion (possibly to the eventual chagrin of those engineering the spin, considering that faith, too, is a choice). It was inevitable because the devaluation of choice has resulted in a loss of libertarian allies who have been otherwise hijacked by an Ayn Rand-ian ideal. It was inevitable because the choice side of the debate was afraid to debate, not wanting to reopen and risk losing the hard-won fights from decades ago. It was inevitable because a new generation of people who never experienced those debates are hearing mostly a one-sided argument, and confronted with visceral ultrasound and surgical photos to emotionally herd them into step. It was inevitable because one side of the argument knew that it could bide its time and come back with a vengeance.

And it has a running start. Meanwhile, south of the border, where this same status quo existed less than a year ago, anti-abortion media are already declaring a victory of sorts. Writing in the National Catholic Register, one writer discusses a revelation she had while reading news reports of reality TV star and mother of 19, Michelle Duggar's miscarriage:

"At first I moved on from these posts with nothing more than a glance; I didn't want to dampen the Christmas spirit by reading the inevitable vitriol about those wacky pro-lifers and their obsession with 'fetuses.' But then I noticed something shocking:

'Wait a sec...nobody is denying that this is a baby!'

... I believe that we have just witnessed the tide turn."

Whatever side you take on this question, be aware that no one is served well by a one-sided debate. Responsible society must at least listen to a myriad of arguments and weigh the value of both. One-sided arguments miss or even deliberately erase some important truths that must be remembered and mitigated if and when possible.

I write as someone who has not experienced having to consider abortion, who is not likely to ever experience this, and who has never been party to a discussion on whether to abort. I don't speak for anyone who does fit those criteria. But I do speak, because I see the politics of fear and silence setting up a dangerous scenario in Canada.

Over the next short while, I will be delving into the anti-abortion upsurge that has happened south of the border, how it's already started to filter into Canada, what's at the heart of the debate, and what the implications are.

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