Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Abortion - the third rail of politics - touch it and you’re dead

Margaret Somerville asks us some very important questions today in her article on Why we should talk about sex-selection abortion and what is happening in our Parliament.

Here is part of what Dr. Somerville had to say:

"...Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not want any discussion of abortion, in his case, in Parliament. He had stated that the government would not support Motion 408. But was he speaking of “his,” “our,” or “the” government? The differences among these qualifying words can convey different messages.

“His” government strongly indicates Harper will tell members of cabinet and, sometimes, perhaps, all Conservative MPs, how to vote. “Our” government could mean the cabinet or the Conservative caucus decides the stance to be taken, or it could refer to Canadians and mean that MPs should pay at least some attention to how their constituents would want them to vote.

“The” government is less ambiguous — it’s the Canadian government, and, in a representative democracy, MPs should pay at least some attention to how their constituents would want them to vote.

We know that most Canadians abhor discrimination against girls and women and that 92 per cent of Canadians believe that sex-selective abortion is wrong and should not occur in Canada. So why wouldn’t the government support this motion, and would even, keeping in mind that Harper said it was “unfortunate” that Motion 312 had not been found non-unvotable, possibly go so far as to prevent discussion of it?

The short answer is that, yet again, they don’t want to touch the third rail of politics — touch it and you’re dead: abortion.

...And Ambrose’s excuse that she will vote against Motion 408 “only because it has been set up that way” — that is, is connected with abortion — doesn’t make sense. It’s not possible to discuss a motion on sex-selective abortion or vote on it, whether for or against, without mentioning abortion.

Just earlier this month, Harper strongly condemned violence and discrimination against women in his press release statement for International Women’s Day. Yet he is not prepared to vote against sex-selective abortion, and is prepared to force other cabinet ministers not to do so, regardless of their conscientious beliefs in this regard.

It’s true that recognizing sex-selective abortion as an instance of discrimination against women might sensitize more of us to the violence that all abortion involves. But not being able to face the reality of what is involved in abortion can be a warning from our moral intuitions that what we are doing is unethical, and it can result in our suppressing an emotional response to abortion that we would ignore at our ethical peril.

And a final question: To what extent is a failure to condemn sex-selective abortion, when confronted with the question as a lawmaker, or taking steps to prevent it being discussed, a passive endorsement of it?

I would answer Dr. Somerville's last question, by saying that if you fail to condemn sex-selection abortion, it's far worse than passive endorsement. Your refusal to discuss the subject, tells us all we need to know.

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