Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing criticism for breaking campaign promises by allowing a motion in Parliament that seeks to reopen the debate on what constitutes a human being, which critics believe might lead to restrictions on abortion.
Canada remains one of the few nations in the world without legal restrictions on abortion, although practices and regulations vary between its provinces. In a March 2010 poll, Canadians largely expressed themselves in favor of the practice, with 52 percent stating that they were pro-abortion, while only 27 percent said they were pro-life. The remaining respondents either did not answer or remained neutral.
A bill put forward by Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Woodworth seeks to reopen the debate by establishing a committee that will allow experts to give their opinions on when life begins and if unborn babies should be protected by law, the Ottawa Citizen reported. Current Canadian law declares that children in the womb are not human until fully born.
Even questioning abortion appears largely shunned in Canadian politics, and critics have apparently slammed Harper for not immediately turning down the motion, which will be voted on in June or September – even though the Conservative leader said that he will be voting against it.
"This particular motion was deemed votable by an all-party committee of the House," Harper said on Thursday. "I think that was unfortunate. In my case, I will be voting against the motion." According to the Ottawa Citizen, despite declaring his opposition to such a committee, the prime minister is being accused of breaking election promises in which he said he would not reopen the debate on abortion.
"We should not return to using coat hangers (or) vacuum cleaners," insisted New Democratic Party member and women critic Niki Ashton.
"This is the Conservative party's 'Trojan horse' agenda. During an election and even here in the House of Commons, they tell Canadians one thing and then they win . . . a majority government and we see what they truly mean. If the prime minister didn't want a woman's right to choose to be debated, we wouldn't be here tonight."
One pro-life MP, Liberal member John McKay, said that a division exists within his party on the abortion issue, but did not want to participate in the debate because he believes it threatens unity between "friends."
"You end up arguing among friends," he said. "Who wants to end up arguing among family?"
"Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society. There will always be dire situations where some women may have to choose the option of abortion," said Government Chief Whip Gordon O'Connor. "It cannot be eliminated.
"I cannot understand why those adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their belief on others by way of the Criminal Code," he added
Stephen Woodworth, however, has explained that there are many Canadians who still do not accept the notion that "birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being," and has questioned why exactly other Parliament members are so reluctant to hear experts simply talking about the issue.
"Motion 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question," he said, CBC reported.
"What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?" Woodworth continued. "If you care about the truth you will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth."
Earlier this year, Woodworth attracted the support of Christians in the country, particularly the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The group insists that the country's Criminal Code does not recognize a child in the womb as human although doctors declare a fetus's viability as early as 20 weeks gestation, according to the CBC.