I have been writing this column for more than a decade. It’s astounding on one level: 52 columns a year, with only two weeks missed, means I’ve filled this space with some 500 opinions.
I write somewhere between 750 and 900 words every week. That’s roughly 400,000 words that I’ve set down in print in an effort to entertain, inspire, stir some discussion, make my point.
And not once have I written about abortion.
This is not surprising to me. Through the years I’ve given thought to writing about this complicated subject but I’ve always shied away from it. Call me cowardly, call me unconcerned.
My silence would suggest both accusations are true, although I think cowardice is the more accurate. I know my own views on abortion: I’m against it. But I’m also against the hateful, destructive methods used by self-described ‘pro-life’ advocates as they fight against abortion.
Fanatics have murdered doctors who perform abortions. Protestors have hurled insults at women as they enter abortion clinics, not giving a thought to the complicated pain they may be already enduring.
I’ve never wanted to align myself with hatred like that. And so I’ve been silent.
But there’s a new call for debate in Canada on what constitutes a human life and I think it’s time we as a country engaged on this controversial issue once again.
So I’m adding abortion to the long list of topics I’ve covered in this column, not simply so I can tick it off my list of things I should write about. But rather because I think it’s time. I want to add my voice to those calling for a discussion on a topic most of us would rather not talk about.
On Thursday of this week, Members of Parliament were scheduled to debate whether the government should establish a special committee to consider this question: when does human life begin?
The motion was introduced by Kitchener-Waterloo MP Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative who believes Canada’s laws on the subject are antiquated and in need of an overhaul.
Canadian law defines human life as beginning at the moment of complete birth, which means a fetus has no legal rights (even if it could sustain life on its own outside the womb). Canadian law also decriminalized abortion in 1988, opening the door for a woman to choose, in consultation with her doctor, whether to carry a fetus to term or not.
That ruling seemed like it was broadening women’s right and freedoms, indeed giving them a more equal stature under the law. Ironically, another recent debate in Canada suggests that the right to abortion is actually detrimental to women.
For the past several weeks, national news reports have given significant time to what may be a growing trend in Canada – it’s called female feticide, a rather technical phrase for the selective abortion of females fetuses.
Several new studies are suggesting that women from some South Asian countries are using gender to determine if they will have an abortion. This is happening in Canada, to the degree that some Toronto hospitals have stopped giving out ultrasound information that reveals the gender of the fetus. Too many females, the studies suggest, are being aborted by choice.
Advances in medicine reveal more than fetal gender. Doctors can now also determine if a fetus is less than what some parents might consider perfect. Abortions happen because a fetus is determined to have a disability, such as Downs Syndrome, spina bifida, even a cleft palate.
Canada is a progressive, advanced country. We keep making strides forward in medicine, which gives us more options about life – and death – than we’ve ever had on offer before.
Do we really want to be a country that has no place for people who are different? Who may have a physical or mental variation from most people, but nonetheless are fully human?
We are also a culturally complicated country. As we grow our population by welcoming other nationalities in, we also have to be prepared for discussion on what is acceptable practice and what is not.
In China, aborting a female fetus is common. Do we want that to become the norm in Canada?
I hope Canada’s Parliament agrees to open the debate on what constitutes human life. It will be a messy conversation. It will be uncomfortable. There will be extreme views too complicated to fathom and there will be views so simplistic that they don’t seem to make much sense at all.
The door allowing abortion in Canada opened a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean we should leave it swinging in the wind. Let’s have a new discussion, based on what we know today and what concerns us today.
I have no idea where we’ll end up on this issue but I do believe it’s a critical one that deserves debate. And that’s why, 500 opinions later, I am finally writing about it.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.