The Abortion ‘Debate’ and Refusing to Engage

28 May

Anti-choice Canadians are likely feeling pretty heady right now with Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312, which seeks to examine when a fetus becomes a human being within the meaning of the Criminal Code. Despite being absolutely trounced in the House of Commons during the first hour of debate, the antis may be down but they are certainly not out. Round 2 is Thursday June 7, and the vote is June 13. We cannot let our guard down yet.

Woodworth asks pro-choicers what are we “afraid of,” why are we afraid of the “truth” since all he proposes is that we “look at the evidence.” As NDP MP Boivin pointed out, this would be the first time that the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) would be interested in evidence and science. Well I am here to tell Mr. Woodworth that I am not afraid of the evidence, I am not afraid of the ‘debate’, and I would be happy to ‘debate’ him, if only he would agree to stay away from logical fallacies, references to religion/god, and actually look at the evidence.

Antis have taken to quoting Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, who wrote the decision for the majority in the R. v. Morgentaler in 1988, the case that declared Canada’s abortion restriction unconstitutional. Despite finding that the criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional, she left the door open for Parliament to legislation when she wrote,

I think s. 1 of the Charter authorizes reasonable limits to be put upon the woman’s right having regard to the fact of the developing foetus within her body. The question is: at what point in the pregnancy does the protection of the foetus become such a pressing and substantial concern as to outweigh the fundamental right of the woman to decide whether or not to carry the foetus to term?

Antis have jumped on this as “support” from feminist ally Justice Wilson to restrict later term abortions, or at least have a ‘debate’ about them. Andrew Coyne of the National Post, in criticizing pro-choicer’s staunch “defence of the status quo” wrote,

…it is dishonest to pretend [R. v. Morgentaler] means the matter has been settled, now and forever, or that dissenters from the status quo are, by definition, extremists.

He has unfortunately missed a glaring fact: when Justice Wilson wrote that decision she could not have anticipated that almost 25 years later Canada would still have no abortion law and that statistics would show that 90% of abortions occur between 0 and 12 weeks, 9% between 12 and 20 weeks, and only 0.4% after 20 weeks. When she wrote that she could foresee limitations on later term abortions, she could not have known that women could be trusted to make the correct moral decision relating to termination. I can only speculate as to whether Justice Wilson would have made that statement had she known that abortions after 20 weeks are incredibly rare but I can certainly criticize those who, knowing those facts, still continue to quote her when suggesting that not having the ‘debate’ is ‘anti-democratic,’ as Mr. Coyne does.

Antis have been throwing out the statistic that 70% of Canadians think there should be some law surrounding abortion, ie, later abortions. Unfortunately, there are serious problems with the question and the context in which it is asked. When anti-choice MP Rod Bruinooge came out with “Roxanne’s Law,” which would make forced abortion illegal, Canadians were asked if they believe that “forced abortions” should be illegal. Well of course nobody believes that a woman should be forced to have an abortion (the question pro-choicers asked in retort was whether a woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy…). What rarely made headlines was the facts that a) it is already illegal to force a woman to abort, b) clinics will not perform abortions unless they are certain that the woman is not being coerced, and c) forced pregnancy is far more common than forced abortions. The whole notion of ‘choice’ is that every woman should have achoice. In fact, pro-choicers believe that women who ‘choose’ abortion because they can’t afford another child is hardly a choice. We’d prefer those women have access to affordable day care and a chance to get a better job so that she can support another child, but the antis never seem keen on that solution.

Questions like “should there be abortion laws” or “should forced abortion be illegal” are always asked in a contextual vacuum. In order to be able to rely on the responses as a legitimate representation of opinions, controlled questionnaires must be used. I’ll take this time to note that I have a B.A. in Psychology, which teaches one a great amount about statistics and the proper way to poll people for accurate results. In order to obtain legitimate responses you must poll a representative cross-section of the population, and the poll cannot be voluntary lest you get response bias (eg. People who are undecided simply not answering). Further, half the people should be given contextual information, ie) that less than 0.4% of abortions occur post-20 weeks and that those abortions are performed to save the mother’s life or due to fetal abnormalities, and the other half strictly asked the question. Further, you must identify people who answered with pre-existing views. Specifically, you must be able to isolate people who identify as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” because it is unlikely that a survey will change their views and they would skew the results. Once you properly question people who are ‘neutral’ or ‘undecided,’ I suspect people provided with context would be less inclined to believe that any abortion laws were necessary. If only I had the funds to run a proper study on the topic.

I am happy to have a ‘debate’ with Woodworth, or anybody, about abortion. Unfortunately, the individuals who wish to engage in the ‘debate’ generally believe that a fetus is a child, and many would happily ban abortions obtained for “convenience,” or perhaps for any reason. I rarely get the chance to interact with somebody who is ‘undecided’ on the topic, or is perhaps leaning one way or another. When somebody believes that a fetus is a child, there is absolutely no way to ‘debate’ with them. Science and facts are on the side of pro-choicers: women die when abortion is illegal or inaccessible. That is a fact. The answer is not simply to stop having sex, or tough luck, as the antis callously cry. As reprehensible as you may find abortion to be, to simply suggest that women should die for the fetus (which inevitably results in the death of the fetus) is beyond cruel. Individuals who are hateful of and terrified by the notion female self-determination hold that sort of opinion and there is no possible way to engage in a rational discussion with those sorts of people. And those are exactly the sorts of people who are clamouring for this ‘debate.’ So that is why pro-choicers in Canada are fighting the ‘debate’ with everything that we have, because we know that science and evidence and facts will not come into play; because we know that pictures of babies and pregnant women with no heads will be paraded before the Committee. We know that the ‘debate’ is no ‘debate,’ but simply a stage for antis to stand upon to denounce and shame women who have abortions. They will use the ‘debate’ as a call to arms against clinics across Canada, to seek to strip funding for abortion, and to bring women back to the dark ages. They will cause as big a ruckus as they can to convince moderate Canadians that the antis are the majority.

And so we fight with everything that we have. We refuse to get dragged into a ‘debate’ that will see the rights of women debated and discussed and pondered by men. We refuse to put women’s rights to a vote. We know the statistics. Any law would simply enforce what is already occurring and risk the start of slippery slope into the hell that is the United States. So no, we are not interested in putting the rights of women to a ‘debate’ that involves people who claim a fetus is a child and that personhood begins at conception. Birth may not be a “magical transformation” of the fetus, but if a fetus becomes a person at anytime before birth, a woman becomes an incubator, and I am not interested in being an incubator.

One Response to “The Abortion ‘Debate’ and Refusing to Engage”


  1. Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome: Weekly Reader - December 18, 2012

    […] Xtra, and the New Brunswick one was on CBC! Some further thoughts on Motion 312 from Joyce Arthur, Not Guilty (at Abortion Gang), and this MP who submitted pro-choice and anti-choice petitions. Also here's […]

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