Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stephen Woodworth Goes Down in Flames

Stephen Woodworth, our local MP, introduced a private member's bill to have the House study the question of whether a child is a "human being before the moment of complete birth".

Of course, the whole thing is a scam -- one that our local journalists couldn't or didn't see through.

Deep down, I don't believe Woodworth isn't interested at all in this question. I think that what he really wants to do is ban abortion (in consonance with his Catholic duty), and he's using this bill to try to achieve his goal through semantic games.

Suppose you're building a house. You dig the foundation. Is it a house yet? You pour the concrete. Is it a house yet? You start framing the house. Is it a house yet? You put in the window frames. Is it a house yet?

When does it become a house?

Some people might say it is a house as soon as you start building it. Others might say it is a house when it is ready to move in. There's no correct answer here, because the word "house" covers a lot of ground -- think of "abandoned house", "ruined house", "half-built house", "reconstructed house", and so forth.

Any line that you draw is arbitrary.

Of course, for legal reasons, sometimes we have to draw these arbitrary lines. Why should a 19-year-old be able to drink in Ontario, but not someone who is aged 18 years 364 days? This distinction makes no sense at all; it's purely an artificial legal construct that represents a guess about responsibility and maturity.

Arguments about DNA miss the point, too. It's not about whether the fetus has human DNA, because it clearly does. The argument is all about at what stage the fetus becomes a "person" (another ill-defined word!) that has the rights we expect people to have in a free society. And it's about how long those rights can be subservient to the rights of the woman in whose body the fetus is growing.

Viewed in this way, deciding whether a child is "a human being before the moment of complete birth" is just a political game. I don't expect much different from politicians, but I did expect more from Woodworth -- I had much more respect for him before this.

If he were sincere, he would answer my question, "What penalty would be appropriate for a woman who has an abortion?" He refuses to answer, and our local journalists are too cowardly to ask.

I'm happy to see that the bill went down to defeat, 203 to 91. But the main thing is to elect someone else to Parliament next time around.


Anonymous said...

Biologists can't even agree on a definition of a species (see, how are we ever going to reach consensus on when a baby is a human?

The house example reminded me of something I heard of. In some country (Mexico? Can't remember the exact country) apparently you don't have to pay taxes, or as much taxes, on property that isn't finished. Consequently, everywhere you look, buildings will have one unfinished post, or one unfinished piece of a roof, or something, to avoid counting as finished property.

hpgross said...

One thing that is quite amusing to me is the notion of what is human based on DNA. A cancerous tumour has human DNA, as to certain cysts, like the ones that grow fingernails and the like inside them. Yet we consequently say that this human material shouldn't be used.

Is a identical conjoined twin two human beings or one? If they have identical DNA, what is this, is it a human?

The demarcation question as to what is a human life is arbitrary as you have said. I wish a man like Mr. Woodworth would understand this.

cody said...

Well said. (As usual.)

Gingerbaker said...


What is your opinion on Roe vs Wade? I think it is a pretty good compromise.

Eamon Knight said...

Oh, it was obviously a stalking horse for re-opening the abortion debate. But, given the rout the forces of religious reactionism suffered during the recent hearings on euthanasia, I'm almost sorry Woodworth's motion failed, as I suspect the result on this issue would be similar (assuming the Cons didn't succeed in stacking the Committee with conservative Christians). And in the mean time it would be a massive PR headache for Harper, and various of his MPs spouted Jesus talk when they thought the media wasn't listening.

Corey said...

Woodworth said that the bill is not about abortion and that he wanted discuss changing a 400-year old law.

Yet, he never proved how the so-called law was applicable and it was himself that made the issue about abortion by being associating with anti-abortion groups.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

"The argument is all about at what stage the fetus becomes a "person" (another ill-defined word!) that has the rights we expect people to have in a free society. And it's about how long those rights can be subservient to the rights of the woman in whose body the fetus is growing."

It is more about the second sentence than the first. When does a woman cease being a person and become merely a baby factory? The famous violinist thought experiment comes to mind. As another example, blood donation comes to mind. Blood donation saves lives. So should it be mandated and enforced? Most people seem to think the decision to donate a part of their body for the purpose of sustaining another's life is a decision which belongs to them.

James Cranch said...

I am given to understand that the ancient Romans didn't count newborn babies as legal people until they were ten days old. I think we can be satisfied that they didn't think that a nine-day-old baby was obviously incomplete, but an eleven-day-old baby was absolutely a complete person. They knew they were making an arbitrary choice.

In other words, the arbitrary nature of the subject has been understood explicitly for millennia.

John said...

@James Cranch

More relevant to the fundie crowd would be Numbers 3:14 "And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying,"3:15 "Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them."

It seems God doesn't consider newborns as people either, for the first month.