A Conservative MP from Kitchener-Centre, Stephen Woodworth, put forth a motion back in February to change the Criminal Code’s definition of a human being found in subsection 223(1). Wednesday September 26, Members of Parliament voted down the motion 203 to 91.

Motion M-312 reads as: “That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth…”

Subsection 223(1) reads as: “A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not (a) it has breathed; (b) it has an independent circulation; or (c) the naval string is severed.”

Stephen Harper himself voted down the motion, but some of his cabinet ministers were in favour. Noted prolife proponent and local Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro was in favour of and voted for the motion. It was treated as a free vote by the NDP, Liberal Party and Conservatives, which means that MPs were able to vote how their constituents felt, not according to party policy.

Local MP Del Mastro, in a pro-life rally at Parliament Hill, told the story of his mother deciding not to have an abortion. “About 36 years ago my mother had to make a very difficult choice,” he notably said to the crowd before he denounced abortion as a “crime” and announced that “[w]e believe in human rights in this country.” In the same speech he pledged that: “The laws will change in this country.”

The proposed motion would have also sought answers to questions like: “what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?” and “is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?”

When it comes to the former question, in Part VIII of the Criminal Code, under the heading of “Abortion”, Sections 287 and 288 do not use the language of ‘human being’ or ‘child’ and therefore even if Subsection 223(1) were to be modified, it would have no impact on the legality of abortion. As for the latter question, the Canadian Medical Association’s policies surrounding abortion do not use the language of ‘human being’ or ‘child’ as well. Instead, they use the language of ‘mother’ and ‘fetus’ when referring to abortion. It is also a CMA policy that no doctor has to perform an abortion if their morals do not permit it.

According to the CMA’s Dr. Robin Saunders, a family physician from Sooke, B.C., and chair of the group’s ethics committee, Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 is a “backdoor path to enacting restrictions on abortion.” The Canadian Medical Association represents 76,000 physicians, interns, residents and medical students across Canada.

Notably, in a guest editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Sanda Rodgers of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and Jocelyn Downie of the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University spoke about the need to ensure access to abortions: “Access to reproductive health care is essential to women’s health, and for some women, abortion is a key component of that care. But not all women in Canada have adequate – or in some cases any – access to abortion.”

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) is calling for the resignation of The Minister for the Status of Women, MP Rona Ambrose, due to her support of Motion 312. “Not only did Ambrose openly defy her Prime Minister’s instruction to his Cabinet to vote against  the motion, she threw women under the bus,” said Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the ARCC. “Her job is to advance the rights and interests of women, so her Yes vote on the motion was a shocking failure and a slap in the face to the women of Canada. She’s proven herself to be unfit for the job and must resign immediately.”

“It’s a disgrace that this motion was even allowed to be brought forward for a vote,” said Julie Lalonde, an Ottawa-based ARCC spokesperson. “It means that our government – including Rona Ambrose – does not trust women, and it means that Parliament believes it’s perfectly acceptable to debate whether women should have basic human rights…”