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A lone anti-abortion protester spreads his message on Parliament Hill ahead of a debate on the rights of the unborn in the House of Commons on April 26, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Anti-abortion activists do not understand why there has been such an outcry over a motion by a Conservative MP who wants Parliament to debate the point at which a human being is created.

The contentious issue of legalized abortion returns to the floor of the House of Commons on Thursday evening as MPs weigh in on the motion by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth to establish a committee to determine when life, as defined by the Criminal Code, begins.

The Ontario Tory argues the currently law, which declares babies to be human at the moment they have fully emerged from the birth canal, is archaic.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear he does not want to abortion debate re-opened and said during Question Period Thursday he would vote against the motion. But he has not interfered with Mr. Woodworth's efforts.

All the Conservative backbencher is asking for is that the law be brought into sync with science, Mary Ellen Douglas, the Ontario president of the Campaign Life Coalition, said in a telephone interview. "That is a very reasonable request. And perhaps that is the reason why Mr. Harper hasn't put his foot down to this point."

Her organization has a notice about the Commons debate on the front page of its website. The argument that life begins at conception is one that anti-abortion lobby has been making for years.

"Here we are in 2012 with people thinking it's alright to say that you're not a human being until you are fully emerged from the womb," Ms. Douglas said. "I just watched my new grandchild's four-D ultrasound and here is the baby turning around in real time. Science has progressed to show us the humanity of the child."

Even a Grade 8 science text will tell you that life begins when the sperm meets the ovum, she said. "The wool has to come off their eyes eventually and they have to see that this is a human being and, it being a human being, the next step is that it deserves to be protected."

Which is, of course, why groups that favour legalized abortion are so opposed to Mr. Woodworth's motion – to the point of holding a noisy protest on Parliament Hill on Wednesday.

"It's quite insulting and offensive, really, because it is a direct attack on women's rights," said Joyce Arthur, the executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. "This is a debate we had back in the '60s, '70s and '80s. It's been settled for decades. It's unbelievable that we have to go back to this again."

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Canada currently has no laws on abortion and thus there are no legal restrictions governing the procedure. Mr. Harper said during the spring election campaign that a Conservative government would not bring forward any legislation to restrict access to abortion and that any such legislation would be defeated.

But that gives little comfort to Ms. Arthur. There are many Conservative MPs who are likely to support the motion, she said, "so there is a danger there and I don't think we should just dismiss it."

And despite the benign wording of the motion, Mr. Woodworth is clearly making an end-run at criminalizing abortion, she said.

"We have also been taking a lesson from what's been going on in the United States for the last number of years, and especially in the last year or two. The attack on women's rights has been really intense down there. It's crazy. It's a war on women," Ms. Arthur said. "And it's a lesson to us in terms of fighting back and not giving an inch when it comes to women's rights."

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