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Citing family illness, Tory MP shelves abortion motion till fall

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth begins debate on his bid to revisit a law that says human life begins when a child emerges from its mother's body in the House of Commons on April 26, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

An Ontario Conservative MP who authored a controversial motion that critics say is a backdoor attempt to revisit the legality of abortion has swapped spots on the parliamentary agenda with another politician to delay further debate of the issue until the fall. Stephen Woodworth says the decision to trade places on the order-of-precedence list with Liberal MP Scott Brison was made because his mother is gravely ill and he did not have time to focus properly on the effort to convince Parliament to re-examine the definition of when life begins.

"What it comes down to is that my mother is dying," the Kitchener Centre MP said in a telephone interview. "She's 90 and I understand that is has to happen but the circumstances of it are not nice and it has really weighed me down so I am trying to ease up a little on the work side."

His motion has already been debated once in the House of Commons and was scheduled to come up for a final hour of debate on Thursday afternoon. A vote, in that case, would have been held next Wednesday.

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But the exchange of time slots with Mr. Brison has left him at 14th on the precedence list and, with just a couple of weeks before the MPs leave for a prolonged summer recess, the motion is unlikely to resurface before they return.

The news of the swap, which was first reported by Kady O'Malley at the CBC, comes as the Prime Minister's Office puts heavy pressure on members of the Conservative caucus to vote down Mr. Woodworth's motion.

The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that Tory MPs are privately being reminded that Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not want it to be passed in the Common and that senior Tories have told others in their caucus that a vote for Mr. Woodworth's motion is a vote against the Prime Minister.

Mr. Harper has repeatedly vowed that his government would not bring forward legislation on the matter and that any bills tabled would be defeated "as long as I am Prime Minister."

When the matter came up for debate the first time, Government Whip Gordon O'Connor was dispatched to speak against it and delivered an eloquent justification for not tampering with the legal status of abortion.

Mr. Woodworth wants a parliamentary committee to review a legal definition that says a fetus only becomes a human being once it has fully emerged from the mother's birth canal. He said he does not know what the Prime Minister and his staff have been telling other MPs.

"Do I wish he was supporting the motion? Yes," he said of Mr. Harper. "But it doesn't take away from my respect for Mr. Harper. He has a lot on his plate and a lot of different issues going around. I think it's acceptable for members of Parliament to not always agree about everything."

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As for whether delaying the another debate of the bill could allow for some time to let the issue cool down and improve its prospects for passage, Mr. Woodworth said he has no idea how it will turn out. "I just intend to lay it aside for a few weeks."

With a report from Steven Chase

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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