Today I feel the need to state, unequivocally, that I am pro-choice.
For the past few months I have been watching US institutions’ “War on Women” unfold with a mix of horror, disbelief, anger, and smugness. Horror that people like Todd Akin, who are in positions of power (power that allows them to shape public policy), are so ill-informed and so ill-willed towards women that they can make a comment stating that pregnancy cannot occur if a rape is “legitimate”. Disbelief that a Congressional panel on reproductive rights that did not include a single female panelist could possibly be convened or considered credible in a supposedly first world country. Anger that this is considered an acceptable topic for negotiation in the first place–a person’s rights over their own body do not suddenly become fluid or something which must be negotiated with the government just because that person happens to be a woman. Finally, smugness because I thought that at least I am safe from this idiocy up here in Canada.
Silly girl. Of course I’m not safe. Enter Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth and Motion 312 to show me why. In a nutshell, Mr. Woodworth would like to reopen the abortion debate, under the guise of convening a House of Commons committee to “study” Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which states that a fetus achieves personhood (and therefore human rights) only upon exiting its mother’s body.
The language used in Woodworth’s M-312 is incredibly problematic. Specifically, I am concerned with the third question Woodworth would like his proposed committee to examine: “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?”
The problem with this language is that it is misleading. Woodworth claims he wants merely to “study” Subsection 223(1) and ask questions of it, but by framing his question by referring to a fetus as a “child” with “fundamental human rights”, he is not asking a question. He is making the claim that a fetus is a child with human rights.
Whether you agree with this claim or not, to present a motion under the guise of “examining” or “questioning” a legal definition when it is actually an attempt to impose your own personal moral views onto this legal definition is underhanded. Mr. Woodworth, if you want to try to keep women from having abortions because you believe unborn fetuses should possess rights as persons under the law, just say so, right in your motion. Don’t pretend to ask a question while simultaneously stating what you believe to be the answer.
[Side note: Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, wrote an excellent series of counter-arguments against M-312. These counter-arguments include a more in-depth analysis of Woodworth’s misleading use of language, and his misinterpretation of the Section of the Criminal Code he wishes to examine. I recommend reading them.]
According to CBC News, both Prime Minister Harper and Conservative whip Gordon O’Connor have denounced M-312 as an attempt to reopen the abortion debate and do not believe it should proceed. It is predicted this motion will not get far. So why am I upset?
I am upset because even with Canada’s long tradition of (technically) secular politics, even though women have been recognized as persons under the law since 1929, even though women make up half the population, an elected official in the Canadian Government still feels that it is appropriate for him to use his position of power to impose his own personal morality on Canadian women through legal channels. I am upset because as much as Harper said he does not want to reopen the abortion debate, the fact that this motion has been made in the first place (and Harper doesn’t let just any old motion from his party see the light of day, he doesn’t work that way) effectively reopens the abortion debate. I am upset because M-312 has found itself some public support (in the usual, predominantly religious, places) and I am worried that even if this particular motion isn’t able to proceed, the Conservatives will decide there is enough leverage to officially reopen the abortion debate in the future.
M-312 as a Parliamentary motion is simply NOT appropriate. Not because Stephen Woodworth is not entitled to his moral beliefs (he is). Not because these are not questions women will be examining with their doctors and within their own consciences (they likely do). This motion is inappropriate because Stephen Woodworth does not have the right to use the power of law to inflict his moral beliefs on women’s medical decisions or their bodies.
Some people think that being pro-choice means believing that everyone should be having abortions all the time, or that being pro-choice means being anti-children. That’s simply not the case. I love children and I will love to have children of my own someday. Being pro-children can exist harmoniously with being pro-choice. I respect the gravity of what having children means enough that I understand why a woman who becomes pregnant might choose not to do so.
I know there are situations that feel like grey areas. Woodworth claims that declaring life to begin at complete birth is an arbitrary line. But it’s the most concrete line we’ve got. Any legal definition of life that was drawn at any point before complete birth would be much more arbitrary (zygote? fetus?) and would be much more likely to infringe on the rights of women to use contraceptives, for example, or to engage in any activity which may endanger their physical body (examples of this can be found in the US–in the state of Indiana a woman was charged for feticide after a failed suicide attempt, even though attempted suicide is not a crime in Indiana). Besides, late-term abortions, which at this time Woodworth seems most anxious to prevent with M-312, are incredibly rare in Canada and most doctors would perform them only in the case of extreme danger to the life of the mother. A woman going through these tragic circumstances should not have to be fighting a legal battle as well.
I am pro-choice because I believe that abortion should not be criminalized. I am pro-choice because I believe that a person’s body belongs to them alone. I am pro-choice because I believe any government intervention in the medical and moral choices of a pregnant woman is inherently discriminatory; it strips a woman of her personhood and violates her human rights. I am pro-choice because I know that women are capable of making informed medical decisions for themselves. I am pro-choice because I can’t possibly know or imagine the various scenarios (emotional, medical, financial, or otherwise) which may cause a woman to choose an abortion, and I do not know what I would choose if I were in her place. I am pro-choice because I trust a woman to make the right decision for her.
And I am pro-choice because I trust myself. I trust my moral compass. I trust that I will never take reproductive decisions lightly, whatever decisions I might have to make. I trust my intelligence and my capability to be sole sovereign over my body.
I do not trust MP Stephen Woodworth with any power to make decisions about my body, or any person’s body, and I do not believe he, or any politician or lobby group, has the right to do so.