On Sept. 9, an Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench judge gave a now 25-year-old perpetrator a suspended sentence after her conviction for a six-year-old murder of a newborn was reduced to an infanticide conviction. Pro-lifers both pointed to the intellectual consistency of the ruling and expressed horror over the message the light punishment sends about the value of human life.

In April 2005, then 19-year-old Katrina Effert of Wetaskiwin in central Alberta, gave birth to a baby boy, strangled him to death with her thong underwear, and threw the dead body over the fence into the yard of a neighbour. In 2006 and again in 2009 she was found guilty of second-degree murder by juries who heard the case. In May, the Alberta Court of Appeal threw out the earlier decision as “unreasonable” and replaced the charge of second-degree murder with infanticide. Since 2005, Effert has served a total of eight months in legal custody including time in a psychiatric hospital, prison, and remand center.

In handing Effert a suspended sentence Justice Joanne Veit called the crime “a classic infanticide case” by noting that the teenager gave birth after a “hidden pregnancy” and that she lacked a supportive environment in which to raise the child despite the fact she lived at home with her parents. Veit also said that lying to the police about being a virgin and then trying to blame her ex-boyfriend were “painful evidence” of her “irrational behaviour.” The circumstances as Veit saw them did not warrant any further incarceration although Effert was sentenced to 60 days in prison for improper disposal of a body.

Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer of Campaign Life Coalition said in a statement: “The mother’s stress cannot equate to the loss of a lifetime for the child.”

Aside from the sentence which CLC said it was horrified with, Veit compared infanticide to abortion in order to justify the crime. The judge said in her decision that, “while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept, and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support.”

Jonathon Van Maren, director of communications for the Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform responded on his organization’s website: “Translation? Katrina Effert simply engaged in a really, really late-term abortion. Given that we don’t, under Canadian law, value human life a few minutes before birth, why a few minutes after?”

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada indicated its support of the decision, stating on its Facebook page: “A tragic situation, but yes, there are compelling reasons for infanticide being a lesser crime than murder.” It later removed the comment and ended further debate on the matter.

Van Maren said while the decision is offensive, it is intellectually consistent with permitting abortion because once human life has been devalued, birth is an arbitrary point at which to protect it.

Susan Martinuk, a columnist with the Calgary Herald, wrote: “The determination that human life somehow has a lesser value when first born is the logical ending to decades of abortion PR, convincing women – and apparently girls – that human life has no value at any time while in the womb.”

Still, as Jim Hughes, national president of CLC asked, “where is the cut-off date for the Court’s tolerance of killing defenseless people.” Noting that the absence of abortion law allows prenatal infanticide for all nine months before birth and an Alberta court has given a slap-on-the-wrist for killing a newborn, Hughes asked “where will it end: a one-month old child whose parents have decided is not worthy of life, a six-month-old child, a two-year-old child, a special needs child, or how about a teenager.”

The decision has been put on hold while the courts address a technicality regarding the 60-day sentence for improperly disposing of a body.