OTTAWA — Canadian Member of Parliament Mark Warawa finally got a chance to condemn sex-selective abortion in the House of Commons last week, appropriately enough, just as 12,000 pro-life activists gathered outside to mark the nation’s March for Life.
Warawa is one of a number of MPs, mostly members of the governing Conservative Party, who are openly resisting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s efforts to keep abortion off the public — and Parliament — agenda.
The British Columbia pro-life MP gained national headlines two months ago by complaining to the Parliament speaker when his party’s whip and a parliamentary appeal committee refused to put his name on a daily list given to the speaker to be recognized in the House of Commons when it became known Warawa intended to speak out against sex-selective abortions.
The furor generated national headlines and widespread backbench anger against Harper’s ban on discussion of anything related to Canada’s on-demand abortion laws.
Whether Prime Minister Harper is personally pro-life or not is a matter of dispute. However, he has repeatedly made his public position crystal clear: No government he leads will introduce any legislation to restrict abortion.
But Warawa is only the latest of many pro-life MPs in Harper’s own Conservative caucus to introduce private bills or motions to initiate debate on the subject.
The Conservative Party’s recent conventions have endorsed Harper’s ban, however, and he frequently renews the pledge, most recently in January, when several pro-life lawmakers recommended the Royal Canadian Mounted Police launch murder investigations into reports that hundreds of babies who had survived abortions had died in abortion facilities and hospitals. Parliament never considered the recommendation.
Said Harper, “I think all members of this House, whether they agree with it or not, understand that abortion is legal in Canada, and this government, myself included, has made it very clear that the government does not intend to change the law in this regard.”
Canada’s abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 and never replaced, meaning on-demand abortion is legal at any time during pregnancy.
Broad Public Opposition
Gender-selection abortion, however, appears to be a clear winner as a pro-life issue — according to a poll conducted earlier this year, almost 90% of Canadians would support its restriction.
Internationally, about 200 million female unborn babies are estimated to have been aborted in China and India in recent decades, courtesy of population-control policies and societal preferences for male offspring; and in Canada a birth ratio of 109:100 in favor of male babies has been observed in Asian-Canadian communities, while in the U.S. a 105:100 ratio has been noted.
So Warawa, a father of six and a devout evangelical Christian, planned to introduce his parliamentary Motion 408, which would only have asked the House of Commons to condemn the practice, without taking any action.
But in March, two procedural committees, with their Conservative members concurring along with opposition MPs, refused to allow discussion of Motion 408.
Warawa and other pro-life legislators complained publicly that their voices were being silenced and their rights as parliamentarians violated. For his part, Warawa affirmed his loyalty to Harper and declared all parties to be equally repressive of pro-life perspectives.
Pro-life advocates outside of Parliament were less conciliatory.
“This is turning into a dictatorship,” said Mary Ellen Douglas, legislative director for the Campaign Life Coalition. “The Tories are terrified of this issue, and Harper is showing himself to have been pro-abortion all along.”
In Douglas’ view, Harper believes his chances of staying in power are enhanced if he can keep his opponents from using the abortion issue as a lever to pry away moderate voters.
“He stays in power, and 4 million babies are the losers,” said Douglas, citing the estimated toll of abortion in Canada since legalization.
Harper may have decided to enforce his ban on discussing abortion more rigorously after an embarrassing vote last year on another pro-life private member’s initiative, Motion 312. If passed, it would have established a committee to examine the medical and scientific evidence regarding when a fetus becomes a human being. Though the motion was defeated 203-90, a majority of his own caucus voted against Harper in support of it, including a sizeable minority of his own cabinet ministers.
A Chance to Speak Out
The issue appeared to have been partly defused in April, after Harper created a committee to air backbench MPs’ grievances when their parliamentary voices were stifled, as Warawa’s had been, and Warawa pledged to carry on the fight against gendercide in other forums outside the House of Commons.
Parliamentary Speaker Andrew Scheer subsequently ruled on Warawa’s complaint, saying his rights had not been denied because he never considered the lists from the party whips to be binding. Instead, Scheer said, until now, all the MPs had obeyed their whips.
Scheer said he was prepared to consider granting MPs a right to speak even without party support, thereby opening the door for Warawa to address the House of Commons.
So, on March for Life Day 2013 — which featured sex-selective abortion as its theme and was broadcast live on EWTN — Warawa rose in Parliament and was recognized by the speaker to make a private member’s statement.
“Female gendercide is the systematic killing of women and girls just because they’re girls,” Warawa declared, casting the practice as a “barbaric” human-rights violation.
Said Warawa, “Mr. Speaker, the statement ‘It’s a girl’ shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
Political scientist John Redekop, an adjunct professor at Trinity Western University, a private Christian school in Langley, B.C., applauded Warawa for “standing up for his beliefs. People elect an MP not only for his party, but for his personal qualities and integrity.”
Redekop insisted Canadians are clearly with Warawa on the sex-selection abortion issue and said that Harper was making a serious political mistake in suppressing Motion 408.
“It’s very unfortunate,” he said. “At the very least, this issue should be debated. And it is hard to see how this could be a loser for Harper. In fact, it’s a win-win. He’s not breaking any promise because it’s a private member’s motion, and he gives the Commons a chance to condemn something everyone is against.”
Warawa’s condemnation of sex-selective abortion was echoed by other pro-life leaders during the national March for Life.
“Canada used to be known as a leader in human rights,” Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver noted in his homily during the Mass he celebrated at St. Patrick’s Church in Victoria, B.C., immediately before the start of that city’s pro-life march. “But if we cannot unequivocally condemn discrimination against women by sex-selective abortion, then we cannot maintain that we are truly for social justice and respect for all human rights.”
Speaking directly to the large contingent of young people in attendance, Archbishop Miller encouraged them to engage in the public square on this issue.
Said the archbishop, “Today, above all, think of yourselves as protectors and guardians of life, of all life, but today of young girls in particular. They are still too small to have their own voice, to defend themselves. And so we must protect them; we must act on their behalf.”
Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.