Rona Ambrose, Conservative MP, center.
Rona Ambrose, Conservative MP, center.

Credit: markyeg on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

HAMILTON, ONTARIO, Canada (WOMENSENEWS)–The defeat in September of a motion in the Canadian Parliament related to abortion rights has Canadian pro-choice advocates on high alert and has led to calls for Minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose to resign.

"Her job is to advance the rights and interests of women, so her yes vote on the motion was a shocking failure and a slap in the face to the women of Canada," the Vancouver-based Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada said in a Sept. 27 statement backed by several other women’s organizations. "She’s proven herself to be unfit for the job and must resign immediately."

"Time for a new Minister," Niki Ashton, a member of the Official Opposition New Democratic party, tweeted after the vote. Ashton is a designated critic of Ambrose under a system in Canada where Opposition are assigned to shadow certain ministers.

Ambrose wasn’t available for comment on this story.

Motion 312, defeated 203-to-93, opened up the definition of when life begins by seeking a parliamentary committee study of a subsection of the country’s criminal code that currently defines a child as a human being once it has proceeded from the body of the mother.

Conservative government Member Stephen Woodworth brought forward the motion.

"If you believe . . . when the little toe pops out of the birth canal there is a magical moment of transformation from a non-human entity into a human being then this law will not disturb you," said Woodworth in an interview with Women’s eNews.

Woodworth maintains that he did not intend to challenge the 24-year-old Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in Canada.

‘Obsessive Preoccupation’

Woodworth said he wanted Canadians to reconsider when life begins as the law currently denies the equality, dignity and worth of a whole class of human beings. "Only an entirely inappropriate and obsessive preoccupation with abortion would lead those opposition members to say that it’s acceptable to have such a law which refuses to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human being."

Shortly after members defeated the motion the Supreme Court announced it will consider a case that could have major ramifications for reproductive rights in Canada.

The court will decide whether Ivana Levkovic should have been charged after concealing the remains of her miscarriage. The appeal of the original acquittal in the case opened up the question of whether it is a criminal offence under another section of the criminal code to terminate the life of a child before that child is born.

Women’s rights advocates have been concerned that the majority Conservative government would seek to somehow open up the abortion debate and ultimately challenge the right of Canadian women to access safe abortions.

They point to a growing list of funding cuts suffered by women’s organizations in Canada, specifically Planned Parenthood, as evidence of the government’s intention to roll back reproductive rights through the backdoor.

"There’s been a whole series of backbencher/private member’s bills that have been tabled really attempting to reopen the [abortion] issue," said Martha Jackman, a constitutional law expert at the University of Ottawa and the Chair of the National Association of Women and the Law.

"This really represents a political campaign as much as a law reform campaign by the religious right on the way to recriminalizing abortion," said Jackman.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an evangelical Christian and social conservative, has repeatedly said that he has no intention of opening up the abortion debate in Canada and voted against Woodworth’s motion.

Bilbo Poynter is the co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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