November 30, 1979

PC

Fred Alward McCain (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Progressive Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McCain):

Is it agreed?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Permalink
PC

Fred Alward McCain (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Progressive Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McCain):

It is my understanding of the agreement of the House that we are to go through second reading, Committee of the Whole and all of the stages of the bill forthwith and extend private members' hour for the appropriate time so that there will be no deprival of time for private members' hour. Is that agreed?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
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FEDERAL DISTRICT COMMISSION

PC

Walter David Baker (Minister of National Revenue; President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Walter Baker (for the Minister of Public Works) moved

that Bill S-10, to confirm the authority of the Federal District Commission to have acquired certain lands, be read the second time and referred to the Committee of the Whole House.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FEDERAL DISTRICT COMMISSION
Sub-subtopic:   ACQUISITION OF CERTAIN LANDS
Permalink

Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and the House went into committee thereon, Mr. McCain in the chair. On clause 1-Acquisition confirmed


NDP

Stanley Howard Knowles (N.D.P. House Leader)

New Democratic Party

Mr. Knowles:

Mr. Chairman, 1 should like a minute to indicate what we are doing. It might look somewhat strange on the record to put a bill through without any reference to it at all. We have been thoroughly briefed as to what it is all about. It has to do with a piece of land that the government sold and the purchaser sold it to somebody else, but there was a technicality that was overlooked. We are correcting that technicality so that the sales are legal down the way. We see no reason to take time on this bill. We are prepared to put it through all stages right now.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FEDERAL DISTRICT COMMISSION
Sub-subtopic:   ACQUISITION OF CERTAIN LANDS
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PC

Walter David Baker (Minister of National Revenue; President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baker (Nepean-Carleton):

Mr. Chairman, I thank the hon. member. I just want to make it clear that it was in the days of the old Federal District Commission in 1954 that this occurred.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FEDERAL DISTRICT COMMISSION
Sub-subtopic:   ACQUISITION OF CERTAIN LANDS
Permalink

Clause agreed to. Title agreed to. Bill reported, read the third time and passed.


PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS

PC

Fred Alward McCain (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Progressive Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McCain):

It being four o'clock, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper, namely, public bills, notices of motions, and private bills.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
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PC

Stanley Kenneth Schellenberger (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Stan Schellenberger (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Health and Welfare):

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all bills preceding Bill C-206 be stood by unanimous

consent in order that we might proceed with Bill C-206 in the name of the hon. member for Vaudreuil (Mr. Herbert).

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
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PC

Fred Alward McCain (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Progressive Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McCain):

Is it the pleasure of the House that all other bills stand by unanimous consent so that we might proceed with Bill C-206?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS
Permalink

CRIMINAL CODE

LIB

Harold Thomas Herbert

Liberal

Mr. Hal Herbert (Vaudreuil) moved

that Bill C-206, to amend the Criminal Code (abortion), be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

He said: This afternoon I will not be following the usual procedure in that it is not my intention to debate the merits of the bill. I will explain why.

In my province of Quebec we have a situation which is undesirable, and I doubt that any member here this afternoon will dispute that statement. In parts of my province a woman can obtain an abortion by little more action than the making of an appointment. In other parts of Quebec, the other extreme exists, and a woman can find herself in the obviously undesirable position of not having access to a therapeutic abortion committee. In such situations it is almost always the less fortunate who are penalized the most.

Thus, Mr. Speaker, I have introduced a bill with the express intention of giving all parties of all points of view the opportunity to present their opinions to the legislators of this country. Only in committee study, without the time pressure that exists this afternoon, can there be free discussion of the legislation as it exists, its application, and the desirability or not of making changes.

Bill C-206 is my personal opinion of the way that the Criminal Code could be amended in order to fulfil the intent, as 1 see it, of the then minister of justice when the present provisions were introduced in 1969. This objective is explained in the explanatory note printed in the bill.

Approval of second reading is now, by our present rules, approval in principle, however, even now there is the opportunity to express disapproval by calling "on division".

May I reiterate my point that my objective is not to use this bill as the tool to change legislation but as the means to afford all members of Parliament, and particularly the public, the opportunity to present their points of view in committee. Many persons from all parts of the country have written to me or called me. A very large number of members of Parliament have spoken or written to me. They cannot all speak in less than one hour this afternoon.

May I also remind the members who are here that, should this bill come back into this House on third reading, it would then be allotted only one hour of time before disappearing to

November 30, 1979

the bottom of the list if that was the will of three or four members. This particular procedure was argued by me at great length in the last session. Thus those who are adamant that the bill should not be passed will have no difficulty killing the bill at a later stage. Elowever, they will, in the meantime, have given to all citizens and all members an opportunity to debate the apparent inequities that seem to exist in the present legislation.

In the belief that no member of this House is opposed to open discussion, I am confident that Bill C-206, an act to amend the Criminal Code (abortion), will be given the approval, if necessary, "on division", to go to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs where everyone will have the opportunity to express his point of view.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   CRIMINAL CODE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT REGARDING ABORTION
Permalink
PC

Douglas Roche (Parliamentary Secretary to the Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Douglas Roche (Parliamentary Secretary to Secretary of State for External Affairs):

Mr. Speaker, the approach used by the hon. member for Vaudreuil (Mr. Herbert) is very interesting, and one that I partly support. I believe, with the hon. member, the time has come for a serious study to be made on the abortion question. In order for a committee to function it needs either a reference from the House or a second reading of a bill. In order for a bill to get second reading, there ought to be some defence by the member introducing the bill as to what he is intending to accomplish through it.

I will not be long, Mr. Speaker, because there are others who welcome this opportunity to make a contribution on a subject of deep concern to increasing numbers of Canadians, and I dare say to many members of Parliament who have not had a sufficient opportunity to express themselves and the views of their constituents on this extremely difficult question facing society today.

What is the basic situation we are facing? We are facing the results of the omnibus Criminal Code bill of 1969 that, through application of the whip, brought about a situation in which section 251 of the Criminal Code was changed to allow abortion when the life or health of the mother is in danger. Because of the failure of the Parliament at that time to spell out and define precisely what is meant by health, we left ourselves open to a growing abuse of this bill which came law in 1969, a greater abuse of the new law in terms of health which has brought us into a ludicrous situation today.

The latest statistics on abortion were released by Statistics Canada only a few days ago for the year 1978. We find that abortions rose in that year alone by 8.2 per cent. The total number of abortions in Canada in 1978 was 62,290. For every 100 live births, 17.4 abortions took place. The year after the 1969 law came into effect, there were approximately 11,000 abortions that took place in Canada. We see this rapid escalation all through the seventies to the point where we now have over 62,000 abortions per year. Even worse than that figure is the fact that 30.5 per cent of the women who had abortions were under the age of 20. That is from the statistics I just gave for the previous year.

Abortion

I could go on with that type of statistic to show that the abortion law brought into this House in 1969 for the purpose of allowing a woman an abortion when there is a serious threat to her life and health is being abused. It is ludicrous to suggest that there were 62,000 cases in Canada, most of them in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, the chief have provinces, resulting from serious difficulties with pregnancy. That is scandalous.

According to many experts who have studied this question in great detail, abortions are now being performed for social and economic reasons. There are many women in this country who are pregnant and who have serious economic and social problems. It is the duty of government at various levels to respond to the legitimate problem of women carrying babies. A way to respond positively to help women is not ipso facto to turn a law that was intended for a good purpose into runaway abortion, virtually abortion on demand. There are hospitals in this country that have a higher number of abortions than live births.

All of this is not news to members who have been following the tragic train of events regarding the abortion question through the decade of the seventies. There is a dispute about the effect of the present law. Some hold, as I do, that the weakness is fundamentally in the wording of the law and the reluctance of the previous government in 1969 to define what they meant by health. Some claim the weakness is there, as I do, and if we are going to be serious in trying to stop this escalation of needless abortion, we must repair the law.

Others hold that the law is okay, that it is the administration of the law, and therefore we have to go to the provinces for a total application of the law. There you get into two divisions. Some say there is too much strictness, that therapeutic abortions are not available, that there are therapeutic abortion committees in about 250 hospitals out of some 600 hospitals in Canada. Others say the application is far too weak, and that therapeutic abortion committees are nothing but a rubber stamp, largely because many doctors will no longer serve on therapeutic abortion committees. They know the character of those committees has been impugned by the willingness of doctors who have served on them to put through abortions at the request of the mother who claimed that she had a problem, but without any certifiable evidence that the problem was a serious threat to her life or health.

We had in 1976 a petition brought before this House presented by ten members of Parliament on behalf of the ten provinces. It contained the names of more than one million Canadians who had signed the petition brought about by the umbrella group, the Alliance for Life. There are several other groups promoting a tighter application of the law throughout Canada. I will not mention them all. The general umbrella group, the Alliance for Life, was able to produce a petition which was the largest petition ever brought into this Parliament.

What happened to that petition? If someone went into the lower bowels of this establishment, the petition would probably be found on some dusty shelf. Nothing happened to it. The

November 30, 1979

Abortion

idea that one million Canadians can express their views on a matter of this importance and not have any debate in Parliament, or any legislative action taken, compounds the difficulties.

This brings us to a situation in which many private members of Parliament find themselves, particularly the hon. member for Vaudreuil. There are others, such as the hon. member for Beaches (Mr. Richardson), and the hon. member for Edmonton East (Mr. Yurko), who have bills before this House. 1 am sorry if 1 do not remember every member who has a private bill in this House which is designed to correct this anomaly we are facing. Private members have to try to repair this injustice in the application of a badly worded law, the results of which are becoming worse by the year. What happens to these private bills? They come up for debate for an hour. There is not sufficient time for real analysis of their contents. Few of them ever get to committee.

The government has brought in a paper on reform of Parliament, the position paper introduced by the President of the Privy Council (Mr. Baker) a few days ago, and the changes in this document, among other things, would specify a certain number of private members' bills being brought to a vote. 1 myself believe that if we are serious in defending the rights of private members to bring their concerns before Parliament in the expectation of a vote in a reasonable number of cases, we ought to expedite the process of that position paper through Parliament by a quick acceptance of a motion on the order paper so there will not be a protracted debate on the motion itself, and then by getting that motion into committee so that serious work can begin on the reform of Parliament among which would then be the assurance that a certain number of private members' bills would be brought to a vote.

I believe the hon. member for Vaudreuil has done a service to Parliament this afternoon by emphasizing the need for an examination in committee of the whole question of abortion. Such an examination has not been undertaken for 11 years. Some of us have been in Parliament, now, for going on eight years and we have never had an opportunity to deal with the subject. Yet we have had two full-scale debates on capital punishment during that period. It is an important question, obviously, but if there can be two full-scale debates and votes on the issue of capital punishment since 1973-and one hears, now, suggestions of a third-I believe the time has come to state clearly that there are many members, and I am one of them, who believe that the abortion question which affects the lives of 62,000 individuals annually should certainly be discussed and a position taken with regard to it.

I shall not even attempt to go into the whole question here that the fetus is a premature human being; I think the scientific evidence is fairly clear on that question; we are not talking about some abstract matter, what we are talking about is incipient life in the womb of the mother.

The bill brought forward by the hon. member for Vaudreuil contains some weaknesses. My bill has some weaknesses in it.

Perhaps other private members' bills have some weaknesses in them, too. The point is, it is not weaknesses in these bills which are important. It is important that progress be made toward the construction of a bill which will meet the needs of the situation and will meet with some consensus in this House. I believe there is a consensus. I cannot prove it because I have never had a chance for a vote. But I do believe there is an emerging consensus from within the country-some of the statistics the committee will be able to study will bear this out-that what a growing number of people want is a law which would allow a mother to have an abortion when her life and health are seriously threatened, where the continuance of a pregnancy would be a very serious threat to her well-being.

I will not go beyond that now. It is the job of the doctors and of the professionals to make that determination and to find the language to put it into law. I believe mothers have a right to such protection. But society has an obligation to protect all lives, including incipient human life, and increasing numbers of people recognize the validity of what I said in the earlier part of my comments, namely, that the law, whatever its intentions, has produced a situation in which it has been abused, and it is the abuse of the present law which we see in the figures of 62,000, it is the abuse to which an increasing number of members of Parliament wish to address themselves.

If other members have a better suggestion, by all means let us hear from them in this debate, but I am advancing the specific thought that maybe a way out of this dilemma would be to establish an all-party committee to work out the terms of a bill-if it has to work on an ad hoc basis, then let it-which would find some general acceptance in this House and which would have a chance for passage, a bill that would appeal to many members of Parliament, if not all, who want to see justice done toward human life in this country, who want to see justice done to pregnant women who have very serious difficulties in the continuation of their pregnancies, and who want to see justice done to the lives of the unborn.

This is not just a religious question. It is not just a philosophical or humanitarian question. It is a question of civil rights. We have to address ourselves to the civil rights of unborn children, and that is very much within the domain and, indeed, the obligation of members of Parliament. I suggest that serious thought be given in the House to the construction of such a committee to work out a pattern of legislation which would stand a reasonable chance of passage in the House and that, in any event, expedition be given to the motion in the name of the President of the Privy Council to bring forward the paper on the reform of Parliament so that the rights of private members would be enhanced, especially in matters like this.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   CRIMINAL CODE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT REGARDING ABORTION
Permalink
PC

John Henry Reimer

Progressive Conservative

Mr. John Reimer (Kitchener):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to recommend the adoption of the bill sponsored by the hon. member for Vaudreuil (Mr. Herbert). I so agree with the comments of my hon. friend from Edmonton South. When we come to the discussion of a bill such as the one before us it is with humility and hesitancy that I rise to make my contribution.

November 30, 1979

There are some people who do not understand why a person would speak to an issue such as abortion. In the few moments available to me I would like to explain why 1 am speaking in favour of this bill and why I believe the measure should go to committee. 1 support the bill because I am acutely aware of my heavy responsibility both as an individual and as a member of Parliament to speak as forcefully as I can against the tendency to dehumanize modern life.

1 rise to speak today not because 1 am necessarily confident that if I do so we can definitely reverse the course of our society, but because I am fearful that if people who share a reverence for human life do not speak, our cause is certainly lost.

The present abortion legislation is a classic case of an unenforceable and morally indefensible law. It satisfied neither the proponents of unlimited abortion nor those who opt for life. What it does is to put an impediment which is far from insurmountable between some pregnant women and the abortion they want. It is discriminatory in that the application of the law varies widely throughout Canada and it is almost impossible to enforce as the key element-the health of the mother-is subject to so many different interpretations. Of course it also fails totally to come to grips with the question of the humanity of the fetus.

When I look at the bill before us I see the hon. member proposes to remove the phrase "danger to health". I totally agree with him that that phrase must be removed from the present legislation. If we look at the definition given by the World Health Organization of the word "health" we find that the World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. I think we are all aware of the fact that the word "health" is a word that is tremendously abused. The definition of the World Health Organization, which is applied in many of our hospitals, is simply too wide, and in practice leads to the evergrowing abortion on demand. So, on the basis of the mental and social well-being in this definition, I think that if 1 were a doctor 1 could convince any abortion committee to give my patient an abortion within the definition of the WHO.

I was a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo hospital board for four years and during that time we looked at the whole question of abortion. We tried to grapple with it in that hospital and we found that it was the law that was at fault, not necessarily the practice in the hospital. The hospital had great difficulty in knowing just what guidelines it should set for its doctors. In that sense I think it is unfair to accuse the doctors of bejng the ones who are the problem in this case and of being too liberal in the way in which they interpret this law. I think the responsibility for ambiguity in this law rests right here in the House, and in that sense we must correct the law and remove the phrase "danger to health".

Abortion

In the explanatory notes to the hon. member's bill we find a quotation of the then minister of justice. In 1969 he said:

The bill has rejected the eugenic, sociological or criminal offence reasons.

He went on to say:

-only where the health or the life of the mother is in dangerwill abortion be permitted. I think I have to say, if I may be a little partisan about this, that the minister of justice at that time was trying to suck and blow at the same time. What he was trying to do was to appear to be truly against abortions on the one hand, while on the other hand he knew that the word "health" was going to be wide open and therefore abortions would take place. In that sense he was either totally naive, which I do not think he is, or he deliberately made a law which was open to abuse in that sense.

My reasons for supporting this bill and wanting it to go to committee are as follows. First, the committee can then call in witnesses who, being the best from the medical and scientific community in Canada, could tell us whether or not we are dealing with a human being. That is the key question behind this. We should send this bill to committee so we can have those witnesses and we can decide whether or not we are dealing with a human being. If we are, then obviously the law must be changed. If we are not, then the law should be removed from the Criminal Code. That is the key issue.

As 1 see the facts in this case-and I will only mention a few-I think we are dealing with a human being. A couple of weeks ago in the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs the commissioner of the Law Reform Commission indicated to committee members that what we need in Canada is a law which spells out when a human being is legally dead. In the questioning that took place, the commissioner told us that there is a considerable consensus that when a person's brainwave activity ceases, the person is dead. 1 would accept that definition, but I think we should apply it at both ends. If we say that a person is dead when his brainwaves cease, then we can say that person is alive when his brainwaves begin, and that is on the forty-second day in the development of the fetus. Clearly the vast majority of our abortions take place after that day. In that sense a human being is being done away with. I think that is really one of the key points to which we should address ourselves.

Another point is that we have had about 140 abortions a year since 1972, that were as late as six months after conception, and later. We all know that a premature baby can be taken care of from about that stage in its development, and we know that in some hospitals we can have the dramatic situation of a premature birth where all the staff and the equipment go to help the child, while in another part of the same hospital an abortion is being carried out on a child exactly the same age. In spite of the fact that the heart is beating, that you can measure the pulse, we throw that fetus in the garbage. Surely we must call in witnesses to tell us whether or not we are really dealing with a human being. That is another key point we must consider.

1918

November 30, 1979

Abortion

The third point I would like to make is taken from the studies done by the West German supreme court in 1975. In a calm, very rational and objective manner, that supreme court called in the best witnesses they had at the time to tell them whether or not the fetus is a human being, and should we therefore protect that human being and give it full and equal protection of the law. In that discussion the German supreme court was deadly serious because they knew that from 1933 to 1945 Germany had called a group of people subhumans. The German word for that is "untermenschen". They simply said that they can be killed any time. That is why they had to be so careful. In carrying out their investigation, they found the following, in answer to the question: "When does the fetus gain the civil right to life?"

Life, in the sense of historical existence of a human individual, exists according to definite biological-physiological knowledge, in any case, from the fourteenth day after conception.

That is even before a woman knows she is pregnant. They said that from then on the physiological evidence was quite clear.

It is my contention that if that is the evidence, then our actions have to follow or we would be simply dishonest. I think we should take the best evidence that is available in Canada, let the experts come to the committee and explain whether or not we are dealing with a human being. We must be very coldly objective and we must look at what we are really talking about. But at the same time we have to be compassionate. I think we have to do two things at once. This is not easy, but we must try.

I think we must be very much like the statue that stands outside the Supreme Court, the statue of the person dispensing justice, wearing a blindfold. The blindfold is there so that she will listen to the evidence and rule accordingly without being swayed by emotion, and so on. In that sense we must be coldly objective. However, as I said, we must also be compassionate. If we are really serious in our desire to reduce the rate of abortions and if we have compassion for women caught in the tragic situation of carrying an unwanted child, we must be willing as a society to put our money, our legislation and our moral suasion on the side of life. These are the other components of a policy that could reverse the direction in which we are going now. I should like to list a few.

First, I think all levels of government must co-operate in improving birth control education throughout Canada. Improved educational programs could result in an attack on ignorance and would be powerful means of reducing the number of these human tragedies. Second, I think improved assistance should be provided to children's aids societies for their important work. Third, society should provide every assistance possible to unwed mothers to help them over this crisis, instead of the harassment and discrimination against them. I think we must support them instead of making their lives more difficult. Last, I think our social assistance program should provide a decent level of assistance to needy families with children because much of the trauma for many families involves having another child when the money is scarce.

I should like to see this bill go to committee. I realize we must watch our time in the private members' hour. I want to put some of my thoughts on the record. I am clearly in support of reducing the number of abortions in Canada and trying to correct the abuses that are there.

I would like to conclude by expressing one thought, and that is that when some people listen to this debate they will say, "Please do not force your morality on others because we have a different moral code." I would like to answer that objection by referring to history. When the German war criminals at the end of the war were on trial at Nuremberg, they sought to defend themselves on the grounds that they were loyal to a different set of values, different orders, and a different legal system. Therefore they could not be judged by someone else. Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States, had to think about that. He came back with the following answer, to which I should like to refer:

It is common to think of our own time as standing at the apex of civilization, from which the deficiencies of preceding ages may patronizingly be viewed in the light of what is assumed to be "progress". The reality is that in the long perspective of history the present century will not hold an admirable position . . . These two-score years in this twentieth century will be recorded in the book of years as one of the most bloody in all annals. Two world wars have left a legacy of dead which number more than all the armies engaged in any war that made ancient or medieval history. No half-century ever witnessed slaughter on such a scale, such cruelties and inhumanities, such wholesale deportations of peoples into slavery, such annihilations of minorities.

He went on to say the following:

Goaded by these facts, we have moved to redress the blight on the record of our era ... At this stage of the proceedings, I shall rest upon the law of these crimes as laid down in the charter.

He was referring to the Atlantic Charter. He continued:

In interpreting the charter, however, we should not overlook the unique and emergent character of this body as an International Military Tribunal... As an International Military Tribunal, it rises above the provincial and transient and seeks guidance not only from International Law but also from the basic principles of jurisprudence which are assumptions of civilization.

In other words, he appealed to a much higher law which respects all individuals, no matter what their colour, creed, or national background. On that basis he could try these criminals at Nuremberg.

I am not trying to force a moral code on someone else. I am trying to be as objective as I possibly can by saying: let us look at the evidence in committee. In that sense I think we could come to the bottom of this issue.

Also we must realize that the basic principles of jurisprudence and the basic assumptions of our civilization are founded upon the Ten Commandments and the Judaeo-Christian ethical code. When we remove these, and when we ignore all the facts which point in one direction, then the very existence of our freedom is at stake. Relativism ultimately will lead to anarchy and then tyranny.

On his recent visit to the United States the Pope told his audiences in very simple terms that if we want to enjoy real freedom, then we must do so in harmony and in obedience to laws of the Ten Commandments and the directions within the

November 30, 1979

Judaeo-Christian ethical code. He said that if we do not do that we will lose our very freedom. 1 think he is right on.

As legislators we must always be sure that our laws are based on the best available evidence. That is the purpose of sending this bill to committee. Also we must be sure that they are in harmony with the directions of the Judaeo-Christian ethical code.

Again I should like to quote from Robert H. Jackson who said that we should move to redress the blight of the record on our era and return in law-making to nothing less than a recovery of those basic principles of jurisprudence which are the assumptions of our civilization. I hope the bill will go to committee.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   CRIMINAL CODE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT REGARDING ABORTION
Permalink
NDP

Margaret Anne Mitchell

New Democratic Party

Mrs. Margaret Mitchell (Vancouver East):

Mr. Speaker, I believe that Bill C-206 is a retrogressive step, contrary to the official policy of all political parties in this House, contrary to the opinions of most Canadians, contrary to the realistic real-life situations in the real world which face many women, and indeed, many men today in Canada.

If it is passed, it will deny human rights. My friends spoke about human rights, but what about the rights of women to decide what is best for them in their particular situation? It will not prevent abortions or unwanted pregnancies. Indeed, it will force an increase in illegal, dangerous backstreet abortions. If passed, it will bring heartbreak to many people, particularly families who may have teenage daughters who are in a situation of unwanted pregnancy and who are faced with requiring some choice in planning their future.

The bill distorts the concepts of health, as was pointed out by the last speaker. It contravenes the opinions of most experienced medical practitioners. It ignores the very strong, well-informed and well-documented persistent positions of women's groups across the country. After all, it is a question facing women primarily. Certainly it would be opposed by most professional counsellors who have worked with young people, women, families, husbands and male partners who are involved in situations where there are unwanted pregnancies. In my opinion it is in conflict with basic human rights.

As I read the aims of this bill, it is to restrict the option of legal abortions to only very limited, narrowly-defined situations involving actual physical or acute mental danger. This seems to go completely in the reverse trend to what happened in Canada in the last ten or 15 years. Before 1967 all abortions were a criminal offence, but this did not stop abortions. There were abortions, deaths, and very inhumane practices. Abortions have been with us always.

Since 1967 the New Democratic Party approved limited legal abortions. In 1969 the Liberals introduced legislation in the House, and abortions were approved within certain stipulations. The abortion had to be performed by a qualified physician in an accredited hospital. The operation had to be approved by a three-person therapeutic abortion committee which would decide whether the pregnancy would or would not be likely to endanger the woman's life and health. Incidentally, the practitioner who performs the operation could not be a

Abortion

member of the committee. In 1970 the Liberal party endorsed the removal of abortion from the Criminal Code and recommended that it be the personal and private decision of the woman and her doctor. In 1974 the Conservative party voted to remove abortion from the Criminal Code.

Now we have abortions which are available under very limited situations. Certainly I do not see why people who do not want the availability of abortions extended should have very much concern. They are very, very limited under the present situation. They are done with medical approval. They are available with medical approval. Incidentally, there is no abortion on demand, for those who are concerned about liberalizing it to that degree. Individual cases are reviewed. It gives a woman, her partner, doctor, and perhaps her family, a chance to look at all alternatives. Counselling is available because it is acceptable to talk to people about a possible abortion. Also the other options of family planning, adoption and so on, are available to people. However, it is limited to few hospitals and to the situations under which abortions are approved.

I know this is a very emotional topic. Personally I do not advocate abortion as a desirable situation. I think we should be very clear about this. Abortion, certainly under this bill, is not being advocated as a method of birth control. If I were in the situation, I am not even sure I would have an abortion. However, if I found myself in the situation that many women are in, a real life situation, perhaps I would look at this quite differently.

I also respect the different views of people in this House, throughout this country and, indeed, those in my own party, because there is a different point of view on this question. Some people oppose abortion on religious grounds as a matter of conscience. They have a right to their personal views and, of course, a right to their religious views.

However, not one of us in a democracy has the right to impose our views on others. We have no right to tell a woman who is pressured by many problems because of an impossible life situation, a woman who cannot care for her child perhaps because of health problems, and I use that term in its broadest sense, and maybe in a situation in which she would damage an unwanted child, or the child would be neglected and perhaps abused, that she cannot consider an abortion, or that it is not her right to make the decision.

There are many misconceptions about the kind of jargon we use. For instance, freedom of choice does not mean that we are necessarily in favour of abortion, or that a woman will decide in favour of an abortion in her own situation. Many people are very much opposed to abortion, and certainly would be opposed to it as a method of birth control in Canada. Freedom of choice means in this case that a woman should not be pressured against her will to bear a child, nor indeed should she be pressured against her will to have an abortion. It is the individual human right of a woman to have the freedom to decide whether to continue with an unplanned and undesirable

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Abortion

pregnancy. Surely we in Canada believe in this form of justice as well as in the advice and expertise of the doctors who will be working with these women.

Abortions take place every day. Involuntary abortions are a part of nature in every species. Illegal backstreet abortions by quacks will continue regardless of whether we have legislation or change the legislation, but there is no doubt that they will increase in frequency and in danger if there is no legal alternative. They will increase for the poor people. Young teenagers and poor women are the ones who will go to the backstreets. The rich people can afford to go across the border, or have this done by private means.

1 would like to discuss some of the facts that were referred to by a previous speaker, and also contradict some of his interpretations of the statistics. For instance, abortions are not readily available now in Canada. Only 58 per cent of hospitals are eligible to establish abortion committees. That is not very many and they are not available to people in all communities. Only 52 per cent of eligible hospitals are actually performing abortions, and 45 per cent of Canadians live in communities where legal abortions cannot be performed.

As to the opinion of Canadians, I should like to refer to a Gallup poll in April, 1978, which shows that 69 per cent of persons interviewed were in favour of abortions under some circumstances. Therefore, they would indeed support the present legislation with no change. There was a reduction from 16 per cent to 14 per cent in that period from 1975 to 1978 in the number of people who were not in favour of the present legislation and felt that abortions should be made illegal. Some 76 per cent of the people believed that abortion should be available if a woman's health was seriously endangered. Most important, one third of all legal abortions in Canada are performed on young women under the age of 20, and that represents only the registered abortions, not taking into account the many illegal abortions that are certainly performed.

In 1977 there were 54,000 legal abortions in Canada, and 3,000 Canadian women, presumably women in the upper income group, who went across the border to have their abortions. In 1977 some 57,000 legal abortions were performed in Canada and 2,000 women crossed the line into the United States. There was some decrease in that regard probably due to the fact that the opportunity was available in Canada.

The rate of abortions in Canada is very low compared to that in other countries. Our abortion rate is about half of that in the United States per 1,000 females, it is about equal to that in the United Kingdom, and it is half the rate in Sweden. In many developing countries, of course, abortion has been liberalized far beyond this responsibility, particularly to economic and population factors.

I would like to mention quickly just two or three other points. I wish it were possible for men to get really emotionally involved in this question. It is really impossible for a man, for whom it is impossible to be in the situation, to really see it from the woman's point of view. That is why I am concerned

that there are not more women in this House available to speak about this from the woman's point of view. The only thing I can think of which would bring this closer to those gentlemen in the House, is to refer to the situation of a teenage daughter. How would you really feel if your young daughter was pregnant and was told she could not have an abortion?

Many young people are living together in temporary kinds of arrangements. They are living away from home without a regular source of income. The relationship is probably not stable, and certainly most young people are not mature enough to think of having families and providing the nourishment and care that children require. What would you do if your daughter was in this situation? Would you say she had no right to go to the hospital for a legal abortion? Would you force her and her boyfriend to go to the back streets of Toronto or Vancouver to some quack? That is what you are saying if you support this bill.

Let me refer for a moment to other forms of birth control. We know that women are increasingly concerned about present forms of contraceptives, many of which have side effects and, indeed, are not nearly as infallible as we once thought. More and more men are thinking in terms of having vasectomies. If we apply the same principle, what is the situation then? 1 know this is not analogous, but perhaps the principle is the same. How would you feel about a bill in this House forbidding you to have a vasectomy if you felt that was the best way for you and your wife to prevent unwanted pregnancy? Women have the right to make their own decisions, hopefully without torture, without feelings of guilt and without being blackmailed. If they have access to proper counselling, education, family planning, contraceptives and good medical advice, maybe they would choose some alternative to abortion.

Certainly with my background I am familiar with children who have been taken in for care, and I can certainly tell members of this House that the rights of those children who go into one foster home after another are not being observed. Their health, welfare, and ability to mature as human beings are in serious jeopardy.

The question of health was referred to, and we all know that health involves the total human being and not just the narrow area of physical or mental damage as mentioned in this bill.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would really like to address myself to the rights of children. Those who have spoken today have mentioned this. It seems to me that the rights of children are the right to be loved, to have care, to be nourished emotionally as well as physically, to have security, hopefully to have two parents, hopefully to have decent housing, decent income, and food on the table. There are millions and millions of families across this country who cannot provide that for their children. Children have the right not to be abused or neglected.

It is demonstrated every day that child abuse and neglect are on the increase. Men and women who have not had their own needs met and are seriously deprived themselves, who

November 30, 1979

have no hope for the future and no jobs, are taking it out on their children. There is compulsive abuse. Do we want these families to continue to have children if they should, in a moment of enlightenment, choose to have some control over their family and, if necessary, have an abortion? I think not, Mr. Speaker. Anyone who really knows the situation respects the future for children.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   CRIMINAL CODE
Sub-subtopic:   AMENDMENT REGARDING ABORTION
Permalink

November 30, 1979