Calgarians respond to possible change in definition of personhood

The issue of abortion is about to join F-35s and the federal budget as the next major controversy in the House of Commons.

Stephen Woodworth, MP for the Ontario riding of Kitchener Centre, recently submitted a private member’s bill that, if successful, would form a Parliamentary Committee to examine the current definition of personhood. The motion will receive two hours of debate — one on Monday, April 26 and a second in late spring — before it is voted on before the House of Commons.

The specific law that Woodworth wants the 12-member Parliamentary Committee, which would predominantly be made up of Conservative MPs, to examine is found under section 223 of the Criminal Code; subsection 1: “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 navel string is severed.”

Since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s abortion laws due to Section 7 rights in the Constitution, Canada has had no laws governing abortion in the Criminal Code. Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government unsuccessfully attempted to re-introduce legislation in 1990 that would penalize doctors for performing abortions when it was not medically required.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has historically steered away from the issue, stating in April 2011 that his government has “no intention of opening up those issues.” Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson has responded specifically to Woodworth’s motion by stating that, “The Prime Minister has been very clear, our government will not reopen this debate.”

But the debate has been re-opened, at least for two hours. To help readers of the Calgary Journal better understand the politics and opinions on the upcoming motion, reporter James Wilt interviewed four Calgarians with specialized knowledge about the issue of abortion: Jane Cawthorne of the Calgary Pro-Choice Coalition; Stephanie Gray of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform; Bruce Foster of Mount Royal University; and Wendy Lowe of the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre.

 Jane Cawthorne has been active in the reproductive rights movement and various social justice and women’s rights organizations since the mid 1980s. She is a writer and the writer of The Abortion Monologues, a play about abortion that has been performed numerous times in the US and Canada. Cawthrone is currently on the Board of Directors of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada and of the Calgary Pro-Choice Coalition. She is also a former volunteer and board member with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre and past chair of Planned Parenthood Alberta.

Stephanie Gray is the executive director and co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), which is based in Calgary. Gray has been involved with the pro-life movement since she was a child, and grew up attending pro-life protests and demonstrations. Since co-founding the Centre in 2001, Gray has debated dozens of opponents about abortion; she says that the Centre addresses the issue from a human rights approach grounded it philosophy and science. The CCBR attempts to change public opinion about the issue through the Genocide Awareness Project demonstrations and postcard campaigns.

 Wendy Lowe has been the executive director of the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre (CPCC) since 1988. The Centre serves as crisis counseling centre, and offers a variety of services such as information, free pregnancy tests, peer counseling and pre-natal and parenting classes. Lowe describes the Centre’s position on abortion as pro-life; counselors won’t refer clients for abortions, but will provide post-abortion care if the client decides to pursue that option. The CPCC belongs to the Canadian Council of Christian Charities.

 Bruce Foster is an associate professor and the acting chair of the department of sociology and anthropology at Mount Royal University; between 2005 and 2010, he was the former chair of policy studies. His research focuses, according to the Mount Royal University website, are “right-wing political thought and activism, the intersection of politics and faith, and populist parties and social movements.”