Alex Binkley on women's right to choose

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ... 

The Binkley Report 

Let’s have a real abortion debate

Beware of the anti-abortion creep

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Maybe someday, Parliament will have a real abortion debate.

The latest chinwag on the issue was a one-hour session triggered by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s proposal that MPs study when life begins. He doesn’t accept it’s at birth as the law currently stands.

By his rationale, Parliament would set a date at which a fetus is considered human. If our legislators did that, then abortion opponents would keep trying to push the date further and further back to reduce a woman’s chances of receiving one. It would be a form of anti-abortion creep.

His motion was talked out and didn’t come to a vote, but it appeared he would have been defeated by a large margin because no MP spoke in support of him. There were a couple of notable speeches by Government House Leader Gordon O’Connor and Niki Ashton, the feisty NDP MP from Churchill, who made a good run for the party leadership and is now the party’s critic for women’s rights. More on them later.

If MPs want to talk about abortion even though most Canadians are satisfied with the law the way it is, how about thinking about what leads women to choose an abortion instead of subjecting us to the predictable palaver about the legal rights of the unborn. In my experience, most women wish, under the right circumstances, to be mothers. So deciding to terminate a pregnancy is no easy choice.

Rather than piling on legal consequences for an abortion, how about approaching it from the view of what’s required to encourage women to take an unintended pregnancy to term and raise the child or put it up for adoption. There’re plenty of single mums out there struggling financially to raise their kids so obviously the cost of raising kids is a big concern. There’re certainly many others that never enter the current anti-abortion debates.

The pro-lifers always talk about the sanctity of life, but I don’t recall hearing them urging higher benefits or tax breaks for parents or supporting fund raising campaigns to feed starving kids around the world. They certainly can raise money for their anti-abortion lobbying.

In his speech, O’Connor, a soft-spoken usually colorless minister, demolished his caucus mate’s arguments. The Supreme Court has accepted the life begins at birth law. It was also “declared that the right to liberty guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting private life. The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount and take precedence over that of the state.

“Abortion is a very serious and long-lasting decision for women, and I want all women to continue to live in a society in which decisions on abortion can be made, one way or the other, with advice from family and a medical doctor and without the threat of legal consequences,” he said. “I do not want women to go back to the previous era where some were forced to obtain abortions from illegal and medically dangerous sources. This should never happen in a civilized society.

“Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society,” he continued. “There will always be dire situations in which some women may have to choose the option of abortion. No matter how many laws some people may want government to institute against abortion, abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition.

“I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one,” he added.

Ashton started off talking about the f-word. “I will be using the f-word, yes the f-word, feminism, the approach that sees and understands well that women and men must be equal and that women of my generation will be taking that word back to say that we do not want to go back; we want to move forward.”

While the Harper government has delivered a number of setbacks to women’s issues, “Perhaps the most pointed attack on women has been in the area of reproductive rights. Here we are again today, debating a Conservative motion that essentially would reopen the debate on a woman's right to choose.”

Ashton has shown she’s a match for any of the Conservatives when it comes to the political equivalent of a hockey face wash.

She said she was inspired when the day before the debate, “many young women came together in front of Parliament to stand up and speak out for our right to choose. Like me, many of these young women, some of whom were not around in 1988, were very young when this decision was made. We know from history books of the women and men who fought hard to have a woman’s right to choose respected. We have read in our history books how Canada slowly, through the work of so many people outside and inside Parliament, became a model for the world with respect to gender equality.

“We have all known that we have to go much further, but the reality is we are only going backward under the government. … My message is that this issue has been decided. A woman's right to reproductive choice is a human right. In Canada, in 2012, a woman's right to choose is not up for negotiation.”