From Canada to US via Europe, abortion debate continues

Article published on Oct. 16, 2012
Article published on Oct. 16, 2012
In April ‘motion 312’, authored by conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, was debated in the Canadian parliament and has been subject to discussion in the country ever since. What does the step to define the human rights of a foetus mean for the abortion debate? How is the situation in the EU member states?

‘Any law which dehumanises and excludes an entire class of people is an assault on the principle of the universal human rights,’ Stephen Woodworth said at a press conference a week before motion 312 was voted on. He added that he was pessimistic about the motion passing, but that it may lead to Canadians having second thoughts about abortion. Prime minister Stephen Harper stated that he would vote against it; he did not wish to open up the abortion debate. In late September, the motion failed to pass. Although the motion never proposed any legislation, concerns have been raised that this might be the first step towards restricting the right to abortion.

Abortion in US and EU

The issue of abortion has also been in particular focus during election year in the US. The republican campaign denounces abortion, although candidate Mitt Romney has been going back and forth in terms of what he deems acceptable reasons for abortion.

The issue of abortion may not be as debated in the European Union at present as it is in North America, but there are still country-specific developments here as well. Abortion is legal in most EU countries, but countries such as Ireland, Malta, Monaco and Andorra impose heavy restrictions and/or a complete ban on abortion.

The issue of abortion is not as debated in the EU at present as it is in North America and the US

Recently Poland rejected a bill to ban abortion completely. Northern Ireland received a report from the European court of human rights panel of experts on its abortion laws; in October it is opening its first abortion clinic in Belfast, for those up to nine weeks pregnant. The conservative government of Spain has made efforts to tighten its current abortion laws, whilst Turkey’s prime minister equated abortion with murder: ‘There is no difference between killing a baby in its mother’s stomach or killing it after birth,’ said Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 25 May, sparking national as well as international protests. In Britain, health secretary Jeremy Hunt followed women’s minister Maria Miller’s words in openly backing a reduction in the legal time limit for abortion to 12 weeks (the 1967 abortion act allows for terminations up to 24 weeks), as he believes that life begins at that point. 

When does life begin?

The issue of when life begins is medical, philosophical as well as political. Wherever one stands on this issue, there are political leaders who believe that at one point in a pregnancy, a foetus should not only be given human rights, but that these rights should also take precedence over the rights of a woman to choose freely. According to the world health organisation, legal restrictions do not stop abortions. A report published in the medical journal The Lancet shows that regions where abortion is illegal have higher abortion rates than western Europe, where abortion is legal.

Regions where abortion is illegal have higher abortion rates than western Europe, where abortion is legal

Access to legal abortion means access to safe abortion procedures, whereas illegal abortions carry a high risk for the health and safety of the woman. Worldwide, close to 50, 000 women die due to complications resulting from unsafe abortions every year. This constitutes 13% of all maternal deaths in the world. Back in Canada, although motion 312 did not get through despite the support of high profile MPs, many in the so-called 'pro-life movement' view it as a success. Woodworth has stated: ‘I’m not trying to overturn any rulings on women’s rights or anything else that the supreme court has issued.’ Be that as it may, it is difficult to imagine how attempting to give a foetus the same human rights as a woman will enhance the rights of a woman to choose over her own body and life. 

The author is a documentary filmmaker on the issue of abortion rights in Canada; check her website here

Image: (cc) Achromatic Lodge/ Victoria Ristenbatt/ Flickr/