Dr.Dawg

The "no abortion debate" debate

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Mean-spirited attacks on the NDP’s Niki Ashton from alleged “progressives” prompt me to make a brief response.

Ashton was to have introduced a motion (M-510) in Parliament that read as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House: (a) a women’s right to choose abortion is a fundamental question of equality and human rights, both in Canada and around the world; (b) the key priorities of the government during the upcoming international summit on child and maternal health on May 28-30, 2014 should include empowering women globally, promoting gender equality and supporting reproductive health care including the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options; and (c) the government should lift its policy of refusing to fund international programs that support a full range of family planning and reproductive health care options including abortion.

Is this really committing the sin of “re-opening the abortion debate?” Certainly some of the Parliamentary Press Gallery folks , as well as bloggers, have pounced upon it as supposed NDP hypocrisy—thundering against that re-opening when Conservatives do it, and then re-opening the issue themselves.

Our collective lack of analytical ability will kill us someday.

Remember the mendacious commentators who called us pro-choicers “pro-abortion?” It took years to kick that one to the curb, where it unfortunately continues to flail.

Obviously we fight for choice, not for a choice: otherwise we’d be no better than the so-called “pro-lifers.” Women, and women alone, have the unquestionable right to choose between abortion and bringing a pregnancy to term.

But as this indicates, language is important. It can frame (and falsify) an entire discussion. And the current uproar is further proof of that.

In 2014, choice is not morally debatable, certainly not in Parliament. Fundamental human rights are not up for grabs every time some benighted backbencher wants to make a public scene.

But is this where we must forever stop? Read Ashton’s motion, now put off until the Fall or perhaps even abandoned. Far from pushing to re-open the debate about choice, Ashton wants to move forward from where we already are. The Harper government has eliminated abortion from Canada’s maternal health initiatives abroad. The brunt of her motion is to restore and enhance that funding. Is this not a valid political issue well worthy of vigorous discussion?

And suppose that some MP wanted to express dismay about the lack of access to abortion in Canada’s backwoods, NB and PEI—must he or she be silent about that as well (setting aside jurisdictional issues)? Judging from the outcry over the closing of NB’s only abortion clinic this year, silence is not an option for those who support reproductive rights. Why, then, would members of Parliament, our own representatives, be the only ones who must keep quiet?

Obviously there’s a fear—and it’s a justified one—that re-opening the abortion debate per se could lead someday to legislation, which would not fail to curtail reproductive rights. But Ashton wasn’t trying to do any such thing. She was proposing instead that we build on the choice principle, and give it further force. And if her motion were to lose, so what? It wouldn’t give up a centimetre of territory that we’ve already won, no matter how the “right-to-lifers” tried to spin it.

To repeat: debating human rights in the legislatures of our land isn’t on. Rights must never be subject to a vote. But surely the matter of how we give rights force and effect is a separate question entirely. Can we not make that crucial distinction and avoid semantic traps?

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on May 16, 2014 9:32 AM.

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