My Reply to Mr. Woodworth

Mr. Woodworth,

I think you’ve misread what I said. I did not say that a fetus is not a human being unworthy of respect or dignity. I agree that it is. However, you as the sole owner of your body, have the absolute right to deny the resources of your body to any other individual, even if that denial will result in the death of the other person. You cannot be forced to donate a kidney, even if, for lack of your kidney, the other person will die. By insisting that a fetus has equal rights with its mother, you are in essence denying that same bodily autonomy to the mother: the right to deny the resources of her body to another human being. You’re at liberty to believe that to be an immoral choice, just as you’re at liberty to believe that the person who refuses to donate a kidney is making an immoral choice. But our law says that the choice is nevertheless theirs to make, because the dividing line is their control over the resources of their body, irrespective of another person’s need to make use of the resources of that body.

The other issue is the legal definition of a person, which is separate from the moral definition of a human being. When the law describes someone as a person, the law then has certain obligations towards that person, including following up on their deaths. If the law describes a fetus as a person, what happens if the pregnancy results in a stillbirth? Is the mother then guilty of manslaughter because her body or the processes of birth or simple birth defects resulted in the death of her fetus? What you’re proposing – the recognition of a fetus, not just as a human being, but as a person under the law – would logically lead to the conclusion that miscarriages would be followed by a criminal investigation, which indeed has already begun in states where legislators are attempting to use child-protection laws as a back door to criminalizing abortion. How would you propose that the Office of the Registrar-General record a fetus’ existence, since the first legal recognition of a child’s existence is the registration of its live birth? Are there now custody issues involved for a fetus when its mother travels, issues which might further affect her democratic right to freedom of movement and association? Is she a criminal for have a glass of wine or medicating a cold? How exactly would Child and Family Services go about removing a fetus from the custody of its abusive mother?

You’re proposing to add a layer of regulation to pregnancy and birth that could logically lead to the criminalization of, not just abortion, but miscarriage and a whole host of behaviours during pregnancy; you’re creating a bureaucratic nightmare; and you’re still trying to deny that recognizing fetus as legal persons (note the difference between that, and accepting that they are human beings) will perforce have a negative impact on the mother’s human rights and freedoms on any number of levels. I don’t understand how you plan to justify the encroachment on the mother’s rights when you grant the same rights to her fetus.

If your real goal is to provide as much human dignity as possible for Canadian fetuses, I have some good news for you: it’s entirely possible to lower the abortion rate significantly from what it is in Canada. Finland and Sweden both have abortion rates that are about half of Canada’s, which I’m sure you’ll agree means a great deal more dignity for those fetuses. What do they do differently? They have national daycare programs, first of all, so low-income mothers aren’t faced with the prospect of being unable to afford daycare so that they can work, and unable to work without the daycare. They have excellent programs for training young people in jobs, including supports for parents to get that training, so that people have a livelihood with which to support their families. And they have excellent sexual education in schools, on the grounds that people have a right to know how their bodies work and will make much better choices for those bodies when they know all the ramifications. This last is the only one of the three that Canada does an adequate job of.

I also have some bad news for you: the research worldwide indicates that making abortion illegal through any means does not actually result in fewer abortions; it simply results in unsafe, backroom abortions, where women die. If rights are granted to a fetus, the result will be the deaths of about the same number of fetuses, and a fair percentage of their mothers as well. That doesn’t sound like human dignity to me.

Pro-life ought to mean more than pro-birth. It should mean supporting people of all ages to live in dignity. Your government cancelled plans for a national daycare program, cut old-age security for my generation, and is cutting back on EI; these actions do not mesh with a pro-life position that seeks dignity for all.

I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with you on this matter. Twenty years ago, I believed exactly as you do. Then about four years ago, I found myself in the position where a pregnancy might have killed me, had I not aborted it. I didn’t get pregnant during that period, and I’m very glad I didn’t have to make that choice. But contemplating that possibility led me to change my mind: I believe so strongly in human dignity that I cannot countenance a desire to restrict a woman’s dignity by restricting her choices during pregnancy.


Erin the Optimist