The U.S. pro-life movement scored a major victory April 1, when President George W. Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act into law. The new law will treat an unborn child as a second victim when he is killed or injured in the commission of a federal crime. Canada, however, lags far behind the US when it comes to the protection of the unborn.

The bill enjoyed popular approval from Congress and the American public particularly because of recent publicity surrounding the California prosecution of Scott Peterson, who is accused of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child, Connor. Fortunately, California has had unborn victim of violence legislation in place since 1990, and Peterson will be tried for a double homicide.

On signing the federal legislation, President Bush stated, “Any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice. If the crime is murder and the unborn child’s life ends, justice demands a full accounting under the law.”

The president continued, “The moral concern of humanity extends to those unborn children who are harmed or killed in crimes against their mothers. And now, the protection of federal law extends to those children, as well. With this action, we widen the circle of compassion and inclusion in our society, and we reaffirm that the United States of America is building a culture of life.”

In the U.S., 28 of the 50 states now have unborn child protection legislation in place. But Canada has none at all. Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz of Saskatchewan hopes to change that. His motion, M-560, proposes that “the government should introduce an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada creating a new offence, to ensure that any person who murders a woman, knowing that she is pregnant, shall be charged with the murder of the unborn child.”

Breitkreuz says that Statistics Canada doesn’t even collect statistics on how many pregnant women are murdered each year. Yet, some U.S. data indicates pregnant women are at greater risk of suffering violence than others.

“I don’t know why Statistics Canada doesn’t collect this important life and death information. But from the research available, it seems that pregnant women are more at risk of being assaulted and murdered. This means that their unborn children are also at risk. I’m not going to wait years for the Liberal government to get its act together. Murderers should face two life terms if they murder a pregnant woman and her baby,” says Breitkreuz.

Natalie Hudson, executive director of Toronto Right to Life, says there is a lack of willingness on the part of the Liberal government to deal with any issue that may impinge, even slightly, on abortion “rights.” “Abortion is totally untouchable,” she told The Interim. “It’s a sacred cow to the point where the government would allow the exploitation and victimization of women. The government doesn’t even collect statistics on abortion-related injuries.”

Breitkreuz’s motion is needed, says Hudson. “It’s high time something like this was proposed. It seems abortion is a dead issue here, compared to the U.S. I certainly hope it isn’t going to take a tragedy like the Laci Peterson incident to get our government to act,” she says.

Some pro-lifers are hopeful that legislation protecting unborn victims of violence will be on the agenda following the next election. A change in party or a minority government situation may allow backbenchers more power in getting the issue on the floor of Parliament.