Friday, May 11, 2012

Okay, let's talk about abortion.

Normally I stay the ever-loving fuck away from anything written in the Toronto Sun, but today's an exception. Today was the annual March for Life, a protest held in Ottawa calling for abortion to be outlawed. I suppose this year is a bit special since not only do we have a Conservative majority in Parliament, a back-bencher MP from Kitchener, Ontario, Stephen Woodworth, tabled a bill in Parliament just a few weeks ago calling for a special committee to be formed to discuss when life begins. He says our current definition isn't scientific, or something like that.

Now, I'm not a biologist, but I think it's safe to say that, scientifically speaking, a fetus is alive. I think that's something both pro- and anti-choicers can agree on. I'll even go as far as to say that life begins even before conception, since both the sperm and egg cells that go on to form a zygote are alive. That scientific enough for you, Mr. Woodworth?

It comes as no surprise to me that columnists for the Toronto Sun would like to see the abortion debate re-opened. A choice quote: "Canada is the only developed nation without any restrictions on abortion."

Anti-choicers like Woodworth see that as a major hole in Canadian law. I, on the other hand, think that's something other countries should strive for.

Quick history lesson, here. In 1969, Canada began allowing women to have legal abortions, but only if they could convince a panel of doctors (known as a Therapeutic Abortion Committee, or TAC) that one was medically necessary. This requirement was challenged by Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who set up an abortion clinic that specifically catered to women who wanted abortions, but didn't have TAC certification. Morgentaler wanted to challenge Canada's existing abortion laws, and he finally succeeded in having those laws struck down in 1988. Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative party was in government at the time, and they twice tried to pass new abortion legislation. The first bill didn't pass the House of Commons, and the second was defeated in the Senate. (I knew there was a reason Canada had a Senate!) There have been some backdoor attempts to outlaw abortion since then (Woodworth's bill being one of them), but no bills changing the legal status of abortion in Canada have been brought forward since Mulroney. Anyone curious can read more on the subject on Wikipedia.

 Woodworth's bill doesn't propose making abortion illegal, per se, but it's not fooling anybody, either: by examining the point at which life begins, Woodworth is trying to grant legal rights to a fetus, thus outlawing abortion once again. At the moment, a baby only gains rights after it has fully emerged from the birth canal. From the Toronto Sun article I previously linked:

It would be perfectly legal in Canada to kill a baby that was halfway down the birth canal because there is no protection for life until the baby is fully delivered and breathing on its own.
Let's be realistic, here: no one is going to decide to terminate a pregnancy halfway through giving birth. In Canada, less than 1% of abortions occur after 20 weeks. When they do occur, they are almost always because the fetus has already died or will have serious birth defects, or because the woman's health is at risk if the pregnancy continues. An abortion at that stage in the pregnancy is done because it's medically necessary. They become less safe as a pregnancy continues, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to find a doctor who will preform a late-term abortion for that reason. There are plenty of medical reasons why abortions don't happen at 40 weeks gestation, and legal limitations on abortion are unnecessary.

Some anti-choicers are faux-feminists, especially when it comes to sex-selective abortions:
We can’t even discuss the problem of sex-selective abortion in Canada in a rational way, at least not in our legislatures.
Two recent papers by the Canadian Medical Association Journal have shown what many people have known for years. Immigrant women from certain Asian countries, namely China, India and South Korea, are obtaining abortions when they find out they are carrying a girl. Girls are unfortunately not valued in some cultures and so they are aborted before they even have a chance at life. The result is a gender imbalance with far more boys born in these certain communities than nature would have.
Is this the country that we want? A country where girls are aborted simply for being girls, where our most vulnerable, those without a voice of their own, can have their life taken away from them?
Surely a civilized and mature country like Canada can do better than this.
We do not demonstrate that we value women by taking rights away from them. If those people truly cared about the issue of sex-selective abortions, they'd be working hard to ensure that woman have all the opportunities men do. There is still a problem with misogyny in Canada, and people who claim to value girls should be trying to eliminate that, not trying to outlaw abortion.

Woodworth isn't trying to outlaw abortion, though; he simply wants to form a committee that will look at updating a 400-year-old definition of when life begins so that it's more in line with modern medical and scientific advances. I've already established that a fetus is alive, though. The thing is, if we're going to discuss the legal definition of when life begins, we should not be having a scientific discussion. This isn't about science; it's about rights.

Namely, it's about whether or not we let the rights of one person infringe upon the rights of another.

Here's the thing: for 40 weeks, a fetus lives inside the body of a woman.  It is wholly dependent on her for survival and nourishment, and it does so by taking nourishment from her. Finally, it exits her body, and painfully so. Furthermore, in spite of all our medical and scientific advances, pregnancy and birth are not completely safe. Does a fetus have the right to steal nourishment? Does it have the right to injure, and possibly kill?

Or, put it this way: do we give those rights to a parasite?

It might sound crass, but a fetus and a parasite have a lot in common. We do not give rights to a parasite; in fact, should a human being become infected with one, we generally seek its removal. Why, then, are people trying so damn hard to force a woman to keep her fetus-parasite?

One can also look at it this way: we do not force people to share their bodies with another person, even if it means that the other person will die. No one is forced to donate their organs, or their blood, or their bone marrow (which I've heard is quite painful). Yet some will argue that a woman must share her body with a fetus, something we'd never force her to do if that fetus was an adult.

This is what Woodworth and his ilk want. Fortunately, even under Stephen Harper, arguably Canada's most conservative Prime Minister ever, it won't happen. Abortion won't be discussed in Parliament, not because people don't care about the issue, but because it's been decided, already. It was decided in 1988 in the Supreme Court, and again by the failure to pass legislation restricting abortion under Mulroney. It's long past time for Woodworth and others who would try to limit abortion to just give it up, already. At this point, it's just a waste of Parliament's time, and a waste of my tax money.

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