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Liberals accuse Tory MP of trying to create a ‘back door to reopen the debate over abortion’

OTTAWA — A few Conservatives rallied behind MP Stephen Woodworth’s final bid Friday to have Parliament study the definition of a human being, a motion criticized by the opposition parties as reopening the abortion debate.

The final debate on Mr. Woodworth’s private-member motion was often passionate and sometimes partisan. A vote is scheduled Wednesday.

Massimo Pacetti, a Liberal MP, was first to speak to the motion, declaring his party firmly opposed.

“In reality, this is just a back door to reopen the debate over abortion in Canada, and a debate that has been closed for many years,” he said.

“This issue has been laid to rest in the minds of so many Canadians, and frankly I share the astonishment that we are again in this House needing to debate something for which so many women and men fought tirelessly decades ago.”

But Mr. Woodworth and his supporters went to great lengths to emphasize his motion was only about studying the question of when a child is considered a human being under the Criminal Code’s section on homicide. The idea would be to appoint a 12-member committee — with a Conservative majority — to undertake the analysis.

Some pointed to Justice Bertha Wilson’s statements during the landmark 1988 R. v. Morgentaler Supreme Court ruling legislators should decide when a fetus deserves state protection. She suggested it might be “somewhere in the second trimester.”

Currently, a child is a human being when it emerges completely from the womb.

“This definition of a human being may have made sense when it was written 400 years ago, when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical treatment,” said Conservative MP Stella Ambler. “People then knew nothing of a child’s development before birth, but does this definition of a human being make medical and scientific sense in the 21st century?”

The New Democratic Party’s Irene Mathyssen countered by suggesting the motion was part of a pattern of Conservative moves aimed at weakening abortion rights in Canada. She pointed to the Canadian International Development Agency’s recent decision not to fund abortions in the developing world.

“The motion being debated in the House today is nothing less than an attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Canada,” said Ms. Mathyssen.

“This is quite literally a slap in the face to women who have fought long and hard to control their own bodies and their ability to determine for themselves when they wish to have children.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will vote against Mr. Woodworth’s motion, consistent with his position that he does not want to revisit the abortion issue.

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