Campaign Life Coalition played an important role in alerting parliamentarians and church leaders to a United Nations move to declare “enforced pregnancy” a crime through the proposed international criminal court.

The international pro-life community is concerned that defining “enforced pregnancy” as a war crime could be used by the United Nations to undermine right-to-life legislation in some countries. Instead of properly attacking the crime of rape (or forced impregnation), the term enforced pregnancy is seen as an attempt to remove all restrictions on abortion. It is also feared that it would be used to persecute pro-life individuals and groups.

The international community is to discuss the issue prior to voting on the establishment of a Permanent International Criminal Court in Rome this month. In a March letter to Canada’s Catholic bishops, Campaign Life Coalition’s public affairs director Karen Murawsky outlined fears over the enforced pregnancy language.

She said the phrase “committing enforced pregnancy” suggests what is being criminalized is any action resulting in or maintaining a pregnancy, and not the rape itself. “If refusal to perform or facilitate abortion may be construed as ‘committing enforced pregnancy,’ this would provide a further instrument to exert pressure on nations to legalize abortion or to interfere with sovereign laws where attempts may be made to outlaw abortion.”

Murawsky urged that the enforced pregnancy wording be deleted from all documents relating to the upcoming conference in Rome. She sent a similar letter to pro-life members of Parliament.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to Prime Minister Jean Chretien in April with similar concerns.

“We were extremely surprised to be informed recently that one of the crimes proposed (to the Permanent International Criminal Court) is described as enforced pregnancy,” Cardinal Turcotte wrote. “Assuming that the intention is to hold accountable those who in recent conflicts confined and repeatedly raped women until they were pregnant, then we respectfully submit that the wrong term has been chosen.”

Cardinal Turcotte also said that if the term enforced pregnancy is retained, pregnancy itself could be considered a crime and that abortions would be sought to avoid prosecution. The cardinal urged that the Canadian delegation to the United Nations meeting in Rome substitute a more precise term, such as forcible impregnation.

Jennifer Leddy, a spokesperson for the Catholic bishops’ conference, said Campaign Life Coalition was one of many voices expressing concern over this urgent issue.

Leddy described Murawsky’s letter to the bishops as “a helpful addition to the ongoing discussion about the potential ramifications of including enforced pregnancy as a war crime.”

She added that the Catholic bishops have also been kept informed of these developments through correspondence with the Vatican. The Vatican has played a leading role in urging delegates to the Rome preparatory meeting to dispense with the enforced pregnancy language.