On Nov. 1, Bill C-510, Rod Bruinooge’s private member’s bill that would outlaw coercive abortion, received second reading before heading to the Justice and Human Rights Committee. During an hour of debate, three Conservative MPs spoke in favour of C-510 while MPs in all four parties criticized the bill and its sponsor.
Bruinooge noted that his bill is also known as Roxanne’s Law, after Roxanne Fernando who will killed by her boyfriend in 2007 after refusing to have an abortion. He said, “No pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby.”
Bruinooge stressed that his bill will not limit access to abortion, but rather would protect women who choose to keep their unborn babies. He said the law would “communicate to all Canadians that coercing a woman to end her pregnancy against her will is wrong and unacceptable in a nation that values compassion, justice and human rights.”
Conservative MP David Anderson (Cypress Hills-Grasslands) congratulated Bruinooge’s effort and said that C-510 was a “necessary bill.” Conservative MP Kelly Block (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar) said that pregnant women are vulnerable and need legal protection from loved ones such as partners or parents that are not only unsupportive of a woman’s decision to keep her child, but actively opposed to her carrying the child to term.
Block said, “I cannot imagine the loneliness and rejection a vulnerable young woman must feel when those closest to her, like a boyfriend, husband, mother, or father, would not be there to support her decision to have a baby and who would, even worse, actually threaten, intimidate, and pressure her into terminating the pregnancy she wants to bring to term.”
She continued: “Whether or not the pregnancy is planned, who has the right to tell that woman that what she is carrying inside her is a burden and must be disposed of? Who has the right to coerce her into ending her pregnancy, thereby ending her chance to give birth to her baby? No one has that right.”
Block vowed, “When Roxanne’s law comes to a vote … I will stand up for pregnant women and for motherhood. I will remember Roxanne and be grateful for the small part I have played to bring some good out of her tragedy.”
However, feminist opposition MPs came out against the bill saying C-510 would criminalize the activities of abortionists and acknowledge unborn children have rights. They charged the government — although C-510 is a private member’s bill — with re-opening the abortion issue.
Irene Mathyssen (NDP, London-Fanshawe) said, “If the bill is passed, it may restrict women’s access to abortion even more, by criminalizing abortion providers.” She provided no evidence, but lamented that Bruinooge’s bill would attack at the core of abortion permissibility. Bloc MP Nicole Demers (Laval) said, “They can try to dress this bill up and manipulate people in all kinds of ways, but the fact is that it would restrict access to freedom of choice.”
Bruinooge has stressed that C-510 does not interfere with access to abortion. He told The Interim last Spring that as long as an abortionist does not coerce a woman to have an abortion, he has nothing to fear.
Block said during the debates, “Some people have said that we do not need such a law because coercion does not happen. In many cases, women freely choose their abortions, but we also know from anecdotal evidence that many other women are coerced.”
Demers said she was “angry” that abortion continues to be debated in the House of Commons: “Men are trying to decide what is good for us, and I will tell them that I have a right to be angry because no one has the right to decide what is good for me.”
Mathyssen also said, “This bill recognizes the fetus as a child and therefore a person with legal status. Such an initiative could have significant ramifications in a number of different areas of law and opens a Pandora’s box in the abortion debate.”
Liberal MP Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine) said she would be “strongly urging” her caucus “not to support this bill at second reading” because it was unnecessary as assault and uttering threats was already criminally prohibited in Canada.
Conservative MP Daniel Petit, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Justice, said that he will not support the bill on the grounds that it presents a “great legal difficulty” because of certain “vague and undefined” phrases (such as “pressure”) and 15argued that the acts the bill proposes to criminalize are already covered by Criminal Code provisions against assault and intimidation.
Andrea Mrozek of the pro-life website ProLifeProWoman wrote in the Calgary Herald that C-510 should not be controversial because even those who label themselves pro-choice should oppose coercive abortions. Yet, as Mrozek notes, pro-abortion politicians do oppose C-510.
In an interview with the Toronto Star New Democrat health critic Megan Leslie said of C-510 that ‘if we can open that door even a crack to this idea of fetal rights — which in my opinion promotes anti-choice ideas — that has an impact on women’s rights and freedoms when it comes to the very personal decision about abortion.” Mrozek said most Canadians would support the anti-coercion law even as radical pro-abortion advocates rail against the measure.
C-510 was originally scheduled for third and final reading on Dec. 2, but it has been postponed for consideration by the full House of Commons until February 2011 at the earliest. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that his organization will use the extra time to continue to work in committee to fix the problems with the bill such as the unnecessary acknowledgement of abortion’s legality. He also noted CLC has urged supporters to encourage their MPs to fix the problems of the bill and then stand up against coercive abortions.
Hughes noted that the debate thus far has been instructive. “It is ironic that those who call themselves pro-choice are coming out full force against a bill that would make it illegal to coercive a pregnant woman to have an abortion.” He added, “if they really believed in choice, they would be at the front of the line supporting an anti-coercion bill.”