On Dec. 13, Bill C-484, Ken Epp’s (Conservative, Edmonton-Sherwood Park) private member’s bill protecting the unborn victims of crime, came up for the first hour of debate.

Epp reiterated the need to protect pregnant women from criminal violence and discussed the tragic sense of loss felt by family members of crime victims who also lose unborn grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Epp said, “This is all about protecting the choice of a woman to give birth to her child. It is about condemning the actions of those who would take it upon themselves to criminally assault a pregnant woman and the child she wants and loves, destroying that child against her will.” He wondered how people could not understand how families see that justice can only be obtained for one of their two loved ones when such crimes are committed.

Conservative MP Jeff Watson (Essex) and Liberal MP Derek Lee (Scarborough-Rouge River) also spoke in favour of the bill. Lee asked his colleagues, “Who could reasonably deny to a child … the protection of the Criminal Code that that child deserves?”

Those opposing the bill gave lip service to the victims and said they were worried about its effect on the legal status of abortion. As Jim Hughes said in the Campaign Life Coalition National News, “It makes you wonder if they read the bill, because its wording says the unborn child is only recognized as a victim when the mother is also a victim of crime and that, in no way, does the legislation apply to a ‘woman’s right to choose.’”

While pro-lifers were not enthralled with Epp’s choice of words, many understood that it was deemed necessary to address complaints over Leon Benoit’s 2006 Unborn Victims of Violence private member’s bill. The Justice Department claimed the bill was unconstitutional, because it infringed (legally non-existent) abortion rights.

Still, the pro-abortion side went ballistic. Bloc MP Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges) pulled out the hidden agenda card, claiming the “government is making a surreptitious attempt to deprive women of their freedom of choice regarding abortion.” She proceeded to talk about abortion, ignoring the substance of the bill. “It is up to women to decide,” harrumphed Faille. “They have their own reasons for their choices. This is a pro-life bill that is trying to hide behind the concept of the unborn child. This bill opens the door to limiting women’s power to be free and to make the choices they have the right to make.” Like most hysterical critics of unborn victims laws, she had no evidence, merely assertions, of the imperilment of legal abortion. But, as Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, said, “C-484 is not a government bill, but a private member’s bill – and one we have been informed that the Conservative government would like to see go away.”

Former NDP leader Alexa McDonough (Halifax) took the same tack. After appearing to sympathize with the families of crime victims who lose unborn relatives, McDonough said she was ultimately unpersuaded to support Epp’s bill, because in all her years of working with women, she had never heard calls for such a law before. Nor, she claimed, was there any clamour for it among her constituents.

A spokesman for Women for Women’s Health, which supports Epp’s bill, said she was stunned by McDonough’s arguments. While acknowledging that “McDonough’s job is to represent her constituents,” Marie-Christine Houle said, “She does operate in a federal Parliament and her comments demonstrated a lack of knowledge of what is going on in the country.” In recent years, there have been at least eight fatal attacks on pregnant women and just last year, a pregnant woman was attacked by a sword-wielding assailant. The woman survived, but her baby did not.

McDonough admitted, however, the issue was not constituent apathy, but abortion. “My concern about the bill is that it does indeed arouse considerable concern, real apprehension, about whether it is, in fact, a thinly veiled step in the direction of recriminalizing abortion in our country.”

Houle was disappointed by much of the debate. Speaking of C-484’s opponents, she said, “It did not appear that they took the time to read the bill and see what Epp was proposing.” She noted that unlike Benoit’s bill, Epp’s bill specifically limits additional penalties when the assailant knew the woman was pregnant when the crime was committed and it specifically states it cannot be applied in circumstances when a woman procures an abortion.

The most shocking opposition to the bill came from Bloc MP Raymond Gravel (Repentigny), a Catholic priest elected to Parliament in 2006. He attacked the bill’s sponsor as a “member of Campaign Life Coalition,” which he called “fairly extremist and fanatical.” Epp is not a member of CLC, although Hughes says the organization has been supportive of the Alberta MP throughout his political career.

Gravel also claimed that while he is pro-life, he believes “when a fetus is in its mother’s womb, they are one being,” and that it is not a child until it leaves the womb, a definition of human being he says the Supreme Court endorsed in 1969. Biology and Catholic teaching acknowledge the distinctiveness of the lives of mother and child and the Supreme Court has never defined when human life begins. Such ignorance is staggering.

CLC has written to the papal nuncio to inform him of Fr. Raymond Gravel’s comments in the House of Commons, which included his declaration that he is against recriminalizing abortion. CLC noted that Catholic clergy are generally prevented from running for elected office, except when it is necessary to defend the interests of the Catholic church. Hughes says undermining the moral teachings of the Catholic church, rather than protecting the church’s interests, brings scandal to it.

Sadly, a pair of new cases again demonstrate the need for such legislation. In North Carolina, Maria Frances Lauterback, a U.S. marine, and her (presumably) unborn child were found slain. Lauterback was raped by Cesar Armando Lauren, a fellow soldier, and became pregnant. She chose to keep the child and Lauren is the chief suspect in her slaying.

Sheriff Ed Brown said of finding the unborn child, apparently removed from the womb during or after the murder of Lauterback: “One of the things that will probably stick with me for a long time, and forever, is that little hand, the way those fingers were turned, that had been burned off the arm.”

On New Year’s Day, Joanne Nadine Hoeppner, a 28-year-old Winnipeg woman who was also eight-months pregnant, was shot and killed. A neighbour said Hoeppner “was so proud to be pregnant. She’d show off her belly.” Her adoptive parents told the Winnipeg Free Press they “just had such a lovely Christmas with her.”