On August 25, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that the Conservative government would introduce its own bill to counter pro-abortion attacks on C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act.

Last year, Ken Epp (C-Edmonton Sherwood Park) introduced C-484 to recognize the unborn victims of violent crime committed against their pregnant mothers. Abortion advocates railed against the bill as a backdoor way of banning abortion despite the fact that C-484 explicitly said it did not apply to abortion but only when there is a criminal attack on the mother. It passed second reading in March.

Although Nicholson did not provide specifics about the government‘s proposed legislation – a Justice Department spokesman told The Interim that no legislation had been written at the time of the announcement – the wording of his statement at a press conference indicated that it would be similar C-543, which was introduced by Brent St. Denis (L-Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) in May to counter Epp’s bill and is modeled on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s alternative to unborn victim legislation south of the border. It would make pregnancy an aggravating factor in sentencing, but it does not recognize the fetus as a separate victim.

Nicholson was very explicit: “The government will introduce legislation that will punish criminals who commit violence against pregnant women, but do so in a way that leaves no room for the introduction of fetal rights.” Nicholson added: “Let me be clear, our government will not reopen the debate on abortion.”

The justice minister said that the government had “heard criticisms from across the country, including representative from the medical community, that Mr. Epp’s bill as presently drafted could be interpreted as instilling fetal rights.”

Just four days earlier, the Canadian Medical Association had spoken out against C-484, saying it was concerned with “the prospect of criminalizing a medical act“ because the bill “constitute(d) a significant step towards subjecting those who perform abortions to criminal sanctions.”

Nicholson’s announcement was painted as part of the Conservative’s get-tough-on-crime agenda, but pro-life advocates charge that the Harper government introduced the rival bill in order to ensure that abortion would not be made an election issue. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim he was disappointed with the cynical move, saying that the election was going to be called a few weeks later anyhow, so neither C-484 nor the new government bill would have been voted on before the writ was dropped. “They didn’t need to do this,” Hughes said. “It was crass politics.”

Hughes said “The Tories have attempted to sweep the abortion issue under the carpet but following the massive renewal of pro-life activism after the outrage over Morgentaler’s Order of Canda award, I doubt the gambit will work.”

Hughes was alluding to the tens of thousands of people who signed online and paper petitions against awarding abortionist Henry Morgentaler to the Order of Canada, and other forms of activism in which dormant pro-lifers participated.

Olivia Talbot was killed along with her unborn son Lane, in Edmonton in 2005 and her case compelled Epp to take up the cause of unborn victims. Talbot’s mother Mary Talbot, wrote a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press that was critical of the government, saying that it was “sleight of hand” to avoid dealing with abortion. “The irony is that it is the pro-choice groups creating a smokescreen,” she wrote. “This is a woman’s rights issue and it is the choice of a woman who wishes to carry her baby to term that needs to be recognized.”

Eight Conservative members of Parliament issued a press release saying that despite the government’s announcement “we continue to support the passage” of C-484 and would “continue to use all the legislative avenues at our disposal to ensure the successful passage” of the bill.

The eight were: Myron Thompson (Wild Rose), David Anderson (Cypress Hills-Grasslands), Brad Trost (Saskatoon-Humboldt), Colin Mayes (Okanagan-Shuswap),  Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South), Royal Galipeau (Ottawa-Orleans),  Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin) and Chris Warkentin (Peace River).

C-484 died in committee when the election was called. Epp did not run for re-election and it is unclear if another MP will take up the cause of unborn victims of crime in the next Parliament.