The A Word (again)
Riposte – By Sumner Burstyn.
It’s called Motion 312. Proposed by Conservative Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth, the motion called for reviewing and potentially redefining the law on when a foetus becomes human.
Another Conservative MP, John Weston explained to a constituent that the current definition of human life in Canada is 400 years old. It says a foetus becomes human only after being born and completely clearing the mother’s body. “If there are any other 400 year-old definitions in our law that may be out of step with medicine, science, or common sense, I would support reviewing them as well,” he said.
While everyone understands this is yet another disingenuous way to reopen the abortion debate, what these men are really saying is the law is out of step with their religious ideologies. Perhaps that is why they haven’t updated their own terminology. In discussing the status of a foetus they continue to use the old-fashioned and amorphous phrase ‘becomes human’ as opposed to the more contemporary and quantifiable ‘becomes viable’.
And this is where their duplicity starts and ends because life at both ends of the spectrum is about viability. And viability is all about science. It’s a quantifiable line that can’t be crossed.
But the term ‘becomes human’ can only be judged on belief and ideology. Because to be human we must have a soul.
So the question the conservatives are really asking the government to define is, at what point does the soul enter a foetus and animate its life.
And we know that for most Christians (who also happen to be the primary constituency for conservatives) the answer is at conception.
Woodworth had said he hoped having this debate would convince Canadians to oppose abortion. While his colleague John Weston said he was convinced of the benefits of open discussion on the definition of human life.
But these men are missing their own point. If the argument the Conservatives were trying to muster was about viability then the government is already involved in setting appropriate reproductive policy.
Instead the debate they wanted to have was essentially a religious one. Because the question of when life begins is for the church to answer, not the state.
So it’s a tricky little game of semantics the Conservatives are playing in Canada. One feminist group fighting the motion described it as part of a relentless campaign to criminalize women’s reproductive rights and fan the flames of their culture war.
Happily Motion 312 was defeated and ironically just two days before International Decimalize Abortion Day. But it serves to remind us that the rights we older women fought for years ago are under constant attack.
It’s unlikely society will ever come to a consensus on abortion. But one thing remains true. A woman’s right to reproductive freedom does not infringe on the right of any man or woman to practice their religion.
And since we’re discussing the soul, I prefer Aristotle’s idea of ‘delayed ensoulment.’ We start out with a vegetable soul that then evolves into an animal soul later in gestation. Finally the foetus is animated with a human soul.
Et voilà! ensoulment. Although of course it is the male foetus that gets there first at around 40 days after conception. According to Aristotle females have to wait 90 days for a soul. So not much has changed really.