The recent decision by Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau to demand that Liberal candidates be pro-choice has generated so much media attention one has to question his assertion that, “it’s [abortion] a debate that has been settled for the vast majority of Canadians and we don’t need to reopen that issue.”
Far from being settled, he has reopened the debate.
Many pro-choice supporters dismiss attempts to challenge the status quo by claiming women’s absolute right to abortions is guaranteed/protected by sec. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To them, a quick, “It’s the Charter stupid,” is sufficient to put any pro-life miscreant in her/his place, and that’s supposed to put an end to the discussion. After all, who wants to stand against the constitution?
But, of course, sec. 7 of the Charter embodies no such right. Nor can there be found any right to unrestricted abortion in any other Canadian law or tradition except, I suppose, for the provision in the Criminal Code that allowed abortion when the life or health of the mother is at risk.
The notion that such a blanket right to abortion exists and is protected, I suppose, arose from the Supreme Court decision to strike down Canada’s “abortion law”—i.e., sec. 251 of the Criminal Code of Canada—because it violated the security of the person guarantee in sec. 7 of the Charter. This is the so-called Morgentaler ruling.
If those drafting our Charter had intended to give the unrestricted right to abortion to all Canadian women, why wouldn’t they have done so in plain, unambiguous language? The simple answer is—as I see it—the drafters intended no such right to be entrenched in the document.
In my view, the Court sensed the general mood of the country favoured a more tolerant approach to abortion and decided the existing law was unfair in parts and far too restrictive.
When considering the issue, though, the Court seemed to agree that the state had a legitimate interest in protecting the unborn and seemed to acknowledge our society did not accept the concept of abortion at will. The Court, therefore, struck down the restrictive sec. 251, but invited parliament to create new legislation to replace it.
In so doing, the Court did extend—through its interpretation—the meaning of sec. 7; it did not, however, entrench a right to unrestricted abortion on demand. Clearly, this would have required a reopening of the Charter and amending it accordingly.
Just as the argument that being pro-life makes one anti-Charter is spurious, so too is the contention that opposing the status quo—i.e., no abortion at all—means one wants to ban abortion outright. Here’s an example from The Star’s Chantal Hébert:
The change [Trudeau’s announcement] effectively leaves the Conservatives with a monopoly on the support of the voters for whom having Parliament ban or curtail the access to abortion is a ballot-box issue.” [Emphasis mine]
This is just another tactic designed to scare women and shutdown debate. The arguments for continuing the status quo are so weak, apparently, that open and free debate—perhaps culminating in a national referendum—must be avoided.
Support of the notion that the status quo is not likely acceptable to most Canadians can be found in the fact that—as far as I can determine—of the hundreds of millions of people living in liberal democracies around the world, only the 35-million of us here in Canada have no restrictions whatsoever placed on abortions performed in our country.
It takes quite some level of hubris to believe we are the only ones who have it right on this moral/ethical issue.
Nevertheless, according to the likes of Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, it is better to shutout of the political process any of us who want some level of legal protection for unborn babies than to deal with our concerns.
Only in Canada…pity.