If Stephen Woodworth was looking for attention about his quest to use modern medicine to determine when human life begins, he got it. For example, see this story that appeared on CTV Southwestern Ontario.

I agree with Luisa D’Amato whose column in today’s Waterloo Region Record states that no one should be surprised nor alarmed. I certainly am not surprised. Once the Harper Government (formerly the Government of Canada) got its coveted majority government, it was just a question of time. Indeed, I tried to make sure that no one else would be taken by surprise either. Though I’m a bit surprised that Woodworth chose just days before Christmas to make his move since it is one of the holiest times of the year for Christians.

And while I agree with D’Amato that we should not be alarmed, I think we should be concerned and vigilent. I also disagree with her that we should take him up on his desired dialogue.

My position on abortion

Before I go further, I should put my position on abortion on the record.

As a matter of public policy, I support a woman’s choice to decide what she will do when she learns that she is pregnant. Especially as a man, we should not dictate to a woman what happens to her body over what is effectively a year of her life.

On a personal level, I oppose using abortion to deal with the vast majority of unexpected pregnancies.

I think there can be a difference between what is policy for the public good and personal ethical decisions. I reconcile the difference by placing an emphasis on preventing unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place. If we substantially reduce or eliminate the need for abortions, the need to define when a human life starts becomes more of an academic question.

I believe we must effectively address the root causes of poverty so that there’s little if any risk of bringing a child into a home struggling to meet basic needs.

I believe that we need to promote the use of contraception.

I believe we must encourage women to consider and choose adoption as an alternative.

I believe that education (both small ‘e’ and big ‘E’) plays a critical role in preventing unexpected pregnancies. Supports are needed for example to prevent teenage pregnancies. Teens who get pregnant need to have counselling and supports to make their decision on whether to keep their child and more to help them from becoming trapped into a life in poverty.

Woodworth’s gambit

Woodworth on the other hand is more interested in making abortion illegal than in preventing unexpected pregnancies. While on the Waterloo Region Catholic School Board, he famously led the fight to prevent public health nurses in the board’s high schools even though the nurses had agreed to not talk about contraception or abortion. The primary concern was that Catholic morality be placed before the “public health agenda” which presumably included preventing risky sexual behaviour that teens were engaging in whether or not they had access to public health nurses. In short, his right wing Catholic agenda was the most important consideration.

So don’t be fooled by his apparently rational desire to engage in a public dialogue, assisted by modern medical science, on when human life begins. His agenda is clear cut. He wants human life to be defined to be starting at conception or as close as possible and to be illegal after that point. He ran as a Liberal when that party was in power and provided the best venue to make abortion illegal and he switched to the Conservatives when they were expected to form the government. I expect the membership of his riding associations for the two parties are strikingly similar. He hasn’t changed his personal priority.

What I think he is trying to do is to put out a trial balloon in the hopes that enough people including liberal women commentators like D’Amato agree that a dialogue is needed to update an antiquated dialogue. He avoids being pinned down, even by the likes of Kady O’Malley, that his objective is related to abortion. I suspect he hopes that enough people will support him that Parliament will lead the desired discussion. We saw how few people it takes to get the federal government to act to end the long form census or ban wearing hijabs in citizenship ceremonies, so the bar is pretty low.

This approach neatly skirts around Harper’s prohibition on passing legislation to outlaw abortion. When the dialogue results in a new definition of human life, the government will have no choice but to enact laws to protect it at whatever point that science determines. The federal government selectively chooses when science is a fact and when it acts upon the facts, so that plays to Woodworth’s advantage.

Coming from a politician with a more neutral position on abortion or from a respected group of doctors or scientists, I might find the call for a dialogue compelling. But we’ve effectively had a compromise on this thorny issue in place since 1991 and there has been no groundswell of voices calling for answer to when a group of cells moves from sub-human to human. So be sure to look this Trojan gift horse in the mouth to see what it really contains.

Woodworth loves to play word games. I suspect he prides himself on fancy rhetorical footwork worthy of Mohamed Ali. He never allows himself to be pinned down. He bobs and weaves around just about any policy issue. Pick any issue you like and have a dialogue with him on Twitter, you’ll see exactly what I mean. He refuses to answer a direct question even when I tried to do so around his opposition to funding International Planned Parenthood and what that might mean for women in Canada. He appears to relish the type of slippery logic that gives both lawyers and politicians a bad name.

I recommend that we respond, “Even if a dialogue on when human life begins could be beneficial, we do not trust you and the Harper government to lead the dialogue and act on it. Instead, we want your government to act to eliminate poverty and prevent unexpected pregnancies both across Canada and around the world. ”

“Oh, and by the way, let’s take care of the economic uncertainty!”

4 thoughts on “My perspectives on abortion & Stephen Woodworth’s gambit

  1. I agree. I commented on that article (written by D’Amato), and mentioned that laws do nothing to stop abortion any way. If that were the case, don’t you think abortions in places where it is illegal or not easily available would be completely abortion-proof? Changing societal mentality towards abortion and preventing unwanted pregnancies like you said, are the only way you can limit abortion. Carrying pickets and shaming people into thinking abortion is wrong does.not.work. Prohibition never works. Please let’s direct our energy into something more useful.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You’ve demonstrated how the issue is more complex than a scientific definition of when life begins or even a moral/ethical position on the same issue. It reinforces why my position as a matter of public policy is different than my personal view and why the current situation seems to work as an acceptable compromise.

Leave a Reply