When do we start being human? It’s a good question that I don’t know the answer to. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine anyone with good sense giving a matter-of-fact response to such a disastrously vague query.

The criminal code obviously needs to say something about it — or else we’d all be free to knock off a couple toddlers as we take our morning stroll — and it does: a human life officially starts after fully exiting the mother. This is a sensible position. Given the amount of opinion that lies between “every sperm is sacred” and certain former practices of the Chinese government, recognizing birth as life manages to pull off a relatively non-controversial stance on an issue that inevitably is controversial. The opinion of the criminal code does not claim to be the final answer, but it is our current answer, and that’s good enough for a law.


Unfortunately, Rona Ambrose, the Minister for the Status of Women, threw her lot in with those wishing to ask questions about the validity of the current legal position on the subject. On September 26, a motion to set up a parliamentary committee to assess our current definition of when life begins was defeated in the House of Commons by a 203–91 vote. There weren’t many interesting things about this vote; a number of conservative ministers voted in favor of the motion against Stephen Harper’s wishes. Still, as the motion was deemed an issue of conscience, the political ramifications on Harper’s leadership are slight.

In the commentary and news coverage that immediately following the vote, you could sense the disappointment at the empty nooks and crannies of a story that, by all rights, ought to have provided at least a news cycle’s worth of material. But cleverer journalists were not to be deterred. Luckily some media outlets made reference to Ms. Ambrose’s name, her position as minister responsible for the Status of Women, and her vote in favour of the motion. And so the game began.

There are currently 12, 259 individuals who have signed a petition calling for Ambrose’s resignation. A bevy of pro-choice women’s rights organizations have entered the ring, taking swift shots at the conservative cabinet minister. The NDP too have sensed the opportunity to score political points and have been keen on showing us the depth of their disappointment. Why? Because apparently Ambrose’s decision to vote in favor of a motion that acknowledged that we do not know the answer to a very difficult question means that she never wants a woman to have an abortion again and hopes that women everywhere will be disenfranchised by government processes.

To be fair, the motion was introduced by a well known social conservative who may have long term plans to reopen debate over Canada’s policy on abortion. The motion, however, wasn’t really about abortions. And the argument that Ms. Ambrose ought to resign her position because her vote proves she does not represent women requires an even greater leap in logic. Yes, most women in this country support a woman’s right to have an abortion and a vote to take away that right would justifiably have landed Ambrose in hot water.

But that is not what she voted for.  Ambrose voted for a motion to have a panel of MPs study a question to which few us can provide a definite answer.

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