Motion 312: civil discourse needed
By Delmer Wagner
I am a pro-life Roman Catholic who supports Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion proposing that a committee study the legal definition of when life begins. However, I believe the government needs to advocate more for dialogue than debate when it comes to subsequent discussion of this in the House of Commons.
It is not in anybody’s best interest, including the interests of the unborn, for pro-life and pro-choice advocates to become further polarized. We had a good preview of that almost a quarter-century ago during the months leading to and following the Supreme Court decision that shut down national debate on abortion. The images of violence on the street and vitriolic comments from various factions are seared in our memories.
While I support Mr. Woodworth’s motion, I am opposed to how he has set the stage for his motion. On the one hand, he appropriately states that “Motion 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being (and) does not propose any answer to that question,” and in the same breath he provides answers to the question by saying that current definitions are “ancient” and may have “made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices” (Catholic Register, May 1, 2012).
Such comments are inflammatory and not conducive to fostering an environment of civility. Mr. Woodworth should continue to advance the need for “study,” but should resist the temptation of making this an issue for political debate and further division among Canadians. This is no time for throwing political grenades. Doing so will not create a climate for dialogue and understanding.
If Mr. Woodworth wants to gain support for his motion from both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, he needs to set the stage for civility. If that is what he chooses to do, he will have more support than he does now from those on both sides of this issue.
Perhaps before getting to the point of determining when life begins, a precursor for constructive dialogue may be to look at where opposing factions can agree. Numerous initiatives are taking place throughout North America and around the world where pro-life and pro-choice advocates are coming together and finding areas of agreement. One example of this was reported in the Prairie Messenger (Feb. 8, 2012).
Mary Deutscher gives an example of where “even the people on the extreme pro-abortion side of this debate find abortion to be unethical (in some instances).” Speaking of “sex-selective abortions” Deutscher writes, “I found myself breathing a sigh of relief upon discovering, at long last, something on which we can agree. More education about what abortion is will most certainly result in fewer abortions.” There is also a growing movement of “abortion reduction initiatives” which are the direct result of pro-life and pro-choice factions actually talking with one another.
Wagner is a retired Catholic Director of Education. During his 30-year career, he authored several articles in the areas of Catholic education and administrative leadership which have been published both nationally and internationally. He continues to write on topics related to his dreams for church reform.