Rod Bruinooge holds a press conference explaining the need for Roxanne's Law, along with MPs Kelly Block (Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar) and Rob Clark (Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River).

On April 14, Rod Bruinooge (C – Winnipeg South) tabled Bill C-510, a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to outlaw coercing women into having an abortion.

Bruinooge, the chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, in introducing An Act to Prevent the Coercion of Women to Abortion to the House of Commons, said, “This bill will protect vulnerable pregnant women.”

He is calling the bill “Roxanne’s Law” in recognition of Roxanne Fernando, the daughter of Filipino immigrants who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2007 at the age of 24 after refusing to undergo an abortion. Bruinooge told The Interim that Fernando is a personal hero to him and that she should be a hero to all pro-lifers. “She was intimidated and threatened to have an abortion,” Bruinooge explained. “Still, she chose to defend the life of her unborn child and put herself at risk.”

Fernando was found murdered in a snowy ditch in February 2007 in Winnipeg, beaten by Nathanael Plourde, the father of the unborn child, and two others after she repeatedly refused or backed out of abortion appointments. The family is behind the MP’s efforts because, he says, they hope to save other families from the same tragedy that befell Roxanne.

Bruinooge also said he hopes publicizing Roxanne Fernando’s story will help people understand the reality of coerced abortion, not as a theoretical concept, but as an issue that genuinely affects pregnant women.

C-510 would amend Section 264 of the Criminal Code (the section on assaults) to prohibit coercing a woman into having an abortion through physical or financial threats, including the denial or removal of support or housing from a financially dependent individual, as well as pressuring or intimidating a pregnant women through “argumentative and rancorous badgering or importunity.” C-510 would provide imprisonment for 18 months to five years for coercing an abortion and six months to two years for attempting to coerce an abortion.

Abortion advocates responded swiftly to denounce the bill. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada attacked the bill by saying it would “target” abortionists. “The law would have a chilling and intimidating effect on abortion providers, because it would likely be used mostly against them,” the ARCC press release stated. Joyce Arthur, the coalition’s coordinator, told the Winnipeg Free Press that abortion facilities already screen for intimidation and coercion while processing clients, so the bill is unnecessary.

Bruinooge said he “certainly hopes that what Joyce Arthur says about screening for coercion is true,” but added that “according to the Library of Parliament, there are no cases of prosecuting women who have been coerced.” As for targeting abortion staff, Bruinooge said “legitimate counseling does not include threats or intimidation, so as long as they do not engage in those activities, they have nothing to fear.”

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, applauded Bruinooge’s efforts to raise the abortion issue. Hughes told The Interim, “No woman should ever feel compelled to have an abortion.” He also said it was strange that so-called pro-choice advocates are opposing a bill against coercion. “It certainly exposes the lie of their position that they are for choice and for women. They are for abortion and they will vehemently oppose anything that limits or even questions a single abortion.”

Pro-abortion Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias wrote on Twitter: “CPC fetus fetishist Rod Bruinooge tries, tries, tries to screw women again.” Hughes said her reaction is both offensive and predictable: “Pro-aborts cannot stand any measure that protects the unborn child. They opposed the unborn victims of violence legislation. They oppose this anti-coercion bill. How can there be any question that ‘pro-choice’ means anything but ‘pro-abortion?’”

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is supporting Roxanne’s Law, saying it is “both important and necessary,” because it will “protect the right of a woman to choose life” and “communicate that we, as a society, expect that pregnant women can live out their pregnancy in safety and in peace.”

The EFC said amending the Criminal Code would clarify the law and address an area of specific concern, so that the law could address the special cases of coercing women into undergoing abortions they would not otherwise have, rather than a general anti-intimidation stricture that does not seem to have ever been used under such circumstances.

The Montreal Gazette reported that the Prime Minister’s Office “was quick … to squelch any thought” the bill “might be acceptable,” with spokesman Andrew MacDougall insisting Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government “will not initiate or support any legislation that opens the abortion debate.” Harper’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, told that “the government will not be supporting this piece of legislation, because we do not support reopening the debate on abortion.”

Bruinooge told a press conference that C-510 does not violate Harper’s policy against reopening the abortion debate: “This bill doesn’t affect gestational limits or access to abortion in Canada … It’s something that, in fact, doesn’t reopen the abortion debate. But it does make it a crime to threaten or intimidate a woman into an abortion.” He told The Interim that the frustrating fallout of introducing Roxanne’s Law was confirmation of the “ineligibility of abortion as a matter to be discussed in Canada.”

The bill is not expected to be considered for debate until the fall session, after the procedure and house affairs committee’s subcommittee on private members’ business decides whether C-510 will be deemed votable.