I Won’t Say It, but it Rhymes with Shmashmortion | By Spencer Dunn

I’ll go out on a limb and say you’ve all seen Knocked Up, the hilarious film starring Katherine Heigl (as Alison Scott) and Seth Rogan (as Ben Stone) tackling the ever-pressing issues of one night stands, unprotected sex, and…pregnancy. But for those of you living under rocks: Scott ends up knocked up and faced with the question: What do I do? One of Stone’s friends suggests an abortion, or shmashmortion.

In a film that really doesn’t hide a lot, it’s interesting that the writers chose to have their character say what he did, instead of actually saying ‘abortion’. This choice is likely a commentary on how our society tries to avoid the topic of abortion; it’s become ingrained as a social taboo. Political associations, personal choices, and religious affiliations can make many uncomfortable with approaching this issue.

Recently, however, there has been in increase in abortion talk, largely stemming from the motion put to the House of Commons on the evening of September 26th, 2012. Conservative backbench MP, Stephen Woodworth put forward a private member motion to study the Criminal Code of Canada’s current definition of when life begins. Currently, the Code says that a child becomes a human being once it has fully left its mother. This motion came as a slight surprise (to me anyway) as Harper promised during his campaign that his Government would not re-open the abortion debate. Yet this motion would seem to do just that.

In Canada, it is currently legal for a woman to get an abortion at 40 weeks gestation. Many anti-choice individuals use this fact as an argument against abortion and demand a reassessment of the question of when life begins. However, woman cannot actually have an elective abortion after 24 weeks gestation and only a handful of doctors will perform an abortion after 20 weeks gestation. In fact, The Canadian Institute for Health Information has reported that approximately 1.8% of abortions occur after 20 gestational weeks, with 40% occurring between 9 and 12 (http://www.cihi.ca/CIHI-ext-portal/pdf/internet/TA_08_ALLDATATABLES20101124_EN).

Members of Parliament voted 203 to 91 against the motion sponsored by this private member. Personally, I was happy to hear that Mr. Harper stuck to his word and voted against the motion. Don’t get too excited yet. The vote from one of his Cabinet Ministers was what really surprised me.

Rona Ambrose, our Minister for the Status of Women actually voted in favour of this motion. Her bio, which can be found here (http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/abu-ans/min/index-eng.html) claims she is “a champion of women’s rights”, except, I guess, a women’s right to choose what happens to her own body. This federal government organization is meant to promote women’s equality in Canada, so that definitely explains why 86% of the ‘yeas‘ came from men, right? Status of Women Canada allegedly works to provide equality for women in three ways, one of which being: “encouraging women’s leadership.” Well, letting a group of men vote on your body doesn’t really promote much leadership, does it?

Facebook exploded with pictures of Rona Ambrose saying “Only in Stephen Harper’s Canada does the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women vote to re-open the abortion debate.” While the motion wouldn’t immediately criminalize abortions, if the committee decided life starts at conception, abortions would become a criminal offence. And would this stop people? Sure, some women would be unhappily dissuaded but others would travel to places in the world where abortion is legal, and have them performed in environments where their health is definitely not top issue. Or worse still, some could take the matter into their own hands (I’ll let you think about those options). Because of the contentiousness of sex, many women already face enough problems when it comes to their reproductive health. Ms. Ambrose, let’s not take an already unhappy situation and make it completely unbearable.

To the 91 ‘yeas’ we have currently elected to represent us, I leave you with a quote from philosopher Ayn Rand: “An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living.”

One last note, for those of you who would like to contact Ms Ambrose and let her know how you feel, please do!

Rona Ambrose, MP, Edmonton-Spruce Grove

Phone: (780) 495-7705

E-mail: rona.ambrose.c1a@parl.gc.ca

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  • Dave

    Spencer,

    While I am pro-choice myself, I think that this article is lacking a certain degree of balance.

    Your usage of “anti-choice” is interesting, as opposed to the traditional “pro-life”. It is akin to someone fervently “pro-life” using the term “pro-death” in a piece. It doesn’t sit well.

    Further, the logic behind her vote, the increasing incidence of sex-selective abortions among certain groups in Canada, is lacking any mention in your article. If you’re going to discuss an issue, its worth giving some background to both sides, not just setting up a straw man.

  • OS

    The term “anti-choice” has been used within the pro-choice community for years to bring light to the fact that “pro-life” isn’t pro-life. It’s about removing a woman’s choice to have a child. While pro-life arguments often centre around the sanctity of life, they very rarely stray into the quality of life that the pregnancy may result in, both for the mother and the child, as well as others in their life. Using “anti-choice” also speaks to the fact that those who consider themselves pro-choice are for choices – whether it’s parenting, abortion, or adoption, and that only the woman in question has the right to make that decision in any way she chooses.

    As for the sex-selection argument, that’s the real straw man here. While it does occur in Canada, for various reasons, the focus should instead be on how to prevent these from happening (unless it relates to hazardous genetic diseases carried on the father’s X chromosome, a known instance of sex-selective abortion), and not debating if a fetus has rights to being with. Abortion providers do their best to screen for these cases, however, more can be done in terms of health legislation to correct this than an argument for rights before birth.

  • Spencer

    Thanks for your thoughts! I used the term “anti-choice” as that is the language a number of feminist groups lean towards when describing those who are “pro-life”. Like OS said, the term punctuates the fact that pro-life groups are essentially denying women the right to choose what to do with their own bodies; they are advocating for the removal of a third option medically available to women. Also, just because an individual is pro-choice, does not by any means make him or her “pro-death” either.
    Further, I agree with OS’s statement that there are other ways of preventing sex-selective abortions, and these do not have to do with re-opening a debate on the definition of the beginning of life.

  • Dave

    To be fair, using a term that has emotionally and ideologically charged language, on either side, isn’t really ideal.

    As an aside, everyone knows that Canada is never going to change the current stance on abortion, our culture is such that is simply, unequivocally not going to happen. Following from there, I really don’t think that anyone should be criticized for voting with their conscience. There is no real harm in forming a committee to look into the issue. If anything, it would cause the debate to be dormant for a while, which would be lovely. This wasn’t a motion to outlaw abortion, it was merely to form a committee.