For the past many weeks I’ve been watching in horror as anti-woman rhetoric has become the focal point of the Republican Party primaries in the United States. I have read in shock as state after state proposes and debates laws that so infringe on a woman’s right to bodily integrity as to meet the legal definition of government-mandated, doctor-performed rape.
I’ve watched and I’ve felt smug. I’ve joked to friends that while American politics has devolved into a nationwide campaign of misogyny, we have nothing to complain about except that our governing party may have hired someone with a ridiculous alias to make telephone calls asking voters to go to the wrong polling station. And asked politely, no less! But it turns out, we’re not immune to the insanity after all.
At the beginning of February, Stephen Woodworth, honourable member for Kitchener Centre, tabled a motion to convene a committee tasked with redefining fetuses as ‘human beings’ under the Criminal Code.
Never mind that this motion, entitled “Canada’s 400 Year Old Definition of Human Being” is a blatant attempt to criminalize abortion. Never mind that his bias is unequivocally revealed within the motion itself when he refers to the “fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth” as though the definition had already been changed. Never mind that this wording would be prejudicial to the consideration of the motion. And never mind that this is an issue that our Prime Minister promised us would never be opened by his government.
Let’s instead talk about Mr. Woodworth’s assertion that the current law exists because, at the time of its creation, we did not understand that an unborn child was human.
For starters, the criminal code of Canada is not, in actual fact, 400 years old. It’s 120-odd years old. But even if it were as old as this motion’s title suggests, would we really think that it was drafted out of a belief that a “child magically transforms into a human being when their little toe pops out of the birth canal” as Mr. Woodworth says? Even without ultrasounds and fetal monitors, I’m fairly certain we would all be aware that we don’t begin our lives as tadpoles or bunnies, and that our humanity is not solely the result of Professor McGonagall bringing her transfiguration skills into the birthing room. Is section 223 of the criminal code, then, a result of the ignorance or stupidity of our early lawmakers? No, it is a result of their complete understanding of the legal travesty that would result if the remainder of the criminal code applied to unborn children.
Let’s take the very next section of the code, for example. Section 224 states that “Where a person, by an act or omission, does any thing that results in the death of a human being, he causes the death of that human being…”. (Emphasis is mine). Defining a foetus as a human being for the purpose of this law would make just about every foetal loss an indictable offence.
Amniocentesis, for example, results in a miscarriage once out of every 200 procedures performed. Those would all become murders.
Babies who die in the course of a vaginal childbirth would all have been murdered too. Caesarean sections can be performed, after all, at the first sign of distress on a fetal monitor. How many such charges do you think would have to be laid before every woman is offered a C-section the minute she walks into the hospital? And women would no longer be able to decline these ‘offers’ without risking prosecution themselves.
Stillbirths are more likely to occur after the expected due date, so any woman who refuses an automatic induction or C-section and subsequently loses her child is similarly exposed to homicide charges. Even deaths as a result of genetic abnormalities could be argued as being the result of ‘omitting’ to undergo genetic testing with your partner prior to conception.
And what about the “lesser” charges? Section 215 relates to the duty of parents and guardians to their children. Any child born with spina bifida is evidence that his/her mother failed her duty to consume enough folic acid and thus caused “the health of that person to be endangered permanently”. That mother could face up to five years in prison if her child were considered a person at the time that she neglected her vitamins.
No, the Criminal Code’s definition of human being was not created in ignorance. It was created because our lawmakers understood that even if they could send every mother to jail that had an abortion, it would not justify having to send even a single mother to jail who is grieving the unexpected loss of her child. A law like that protects no one, including foetuses.
I think it’s pretty clear that, 400 years later, it’s actually Mr. Woodworth with the deficient understanding if he fails to see the abhorrent consequences should his proposed committee make the changes he seeks.