On Tuesday, June 12, private member’s bill No. 53, died a natural death in the Saskatchewan legislature when Minister of Justice, Gary Lane, moved that the bill be referred to the Court of Appeal for a legal opinion on its constitutionality.
Bill 53, originally titled the Freedom of Informed Choice (Abortions) Act, proposed that women seeking abortion be provided with certain information about the unborn child, about the risks of abortion and about agencies willing to assist women through pregnancy. Her written consent to the abortion would not be deemed “informed” unless this information was received. A second informed consent would also be required from the husband of a married woman or from the husband of a married woman or from the parents or guardians in the case of a minor. It was claimed that, if enforced, the bill would reduce the number of women who would go through with the abortion and therefore, was a pro-life bill.
Though Campaign Life Saskatchewan did not actually work against the passage of this bill, we did object to the presentation of it as pro-life. While the bill did address itself to enduring a woman makes her “choice” with pertinent information and time to consider this information, it still allowed the woman to kill her unborn child merely as a matter of choice. Any bill that addresses abortion as a matter of choice, informed or otherwise, is not pro-life. Abortion is wrong no matter who consents and no matter how well informed they are. The child’s right to life cannot be qualified before birth any more than after birth.
Of course, the hope was that the bill might at least reduce the number of abortions. This hope was based upon the belief that if a woman knew more about her child and the health risks of the abortion, she would be less likely to go through with it. Had the bill been written differently there might have been reason for this hope. But, according to the bill, information about the child and abortion would be provided by members of the therapeutic abortion committee (TAC). It would certainly be foolish for pro-life people to place their hopes of saving unborn children in the hands of the very doctors who approve the death of unborn children.
The Criminal Code of Canada demands that the therapeutic abortion committee approve abortion only when continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the woman’s health or life. By their own admission, TACs have used this power irresponsibly (Badgley Report). How can we trust them to adequately represent the unborn child they have deemed disposable? Why should we believe they will without bias present the risks of abortion when they obviously approve of it as a solution (to an unwanted pregnancy) and, therefore, believe its ‘merits’ outweigh the risks.
Pro-abortionists complained that the bill was biased in that it did not require information on the ‘risks’ of continuing the pregnancy. This suggestion that pro-abortion doctors will provide information with an anti-abortion bias is ludicrous. In fact, these doctors were not restricted from mentioning the ‘risks’ of pregnancy. In fact, they were free to emphasize these so-called risks. So, ultimately, this information portion of the bill provided the pro-abortion doctor with the opportunity to counsel to abort. Hardly a pro-life victory!
The provision of a second consent was supposed to provide another possible stop to the abortion. However, this section is again too loosely written. There is nothing to provide the consents be collected separately. Husbands or parents may feel pressure to consent in the presence of the loved one seeking the abortion. For that matter, the woman or young girl may have been coerced to consent to the abortion by husband or parents—a tragic possibility the bill did not even consider. Collecting informed consent is treated with much more stringent guidelines for a couple seeking to purchase a house in Saskatchewan than this bill proposed for an abortion.
The bill died, in part, because of this consent section. Feminist groups were, predictably, very vocal in response to the required spousal consent. As a woman’s issue the discussion then became: are married women not equal to single women? Are Saskatchewan women not equal to their counterparts elsewhere in Canada where spousal consent is not required? Are married women not equal to separated women?
What right does a husband have? What if the couple has been living apart but are not legally separated? and so on. Of course, all of this discussion shifts the focus of attention from the child’s rights to the ‘woman’s rights’.
The debate centering on spousal consent probably have been squashed had it been written in as a paternity right. It would be difficult to see how the Charter of Rights could prevent a father from seeking custody of his own child. However, even if spousal consent had been written in as a paternity right, it would not have made the bill pro-life. The child’s right to life is absolute; it cannot hang on the hope that if the mother doesn’t want the child to live, the father might.
The spousal consent requirement, begging a challenge to the bill’s constitutionality, was a concern in another way. It was feared the government would push the bill through quickly and then shove it off to the Court of Appeal on this subsection, the whole time lauding its passage as pro-life action. The fact that the bill was sent to the Court of Appeal without the eleventh-hour amendment to remove spousal consent leads us to believe our concern was justified and that the government didn’t and doesn’t want this bill any more than we do. We believe that the government just shelved the bill a little sooner when they saw it wasn’t going to pull pro-life support their way.
Had the bill been amended and passed there was still another political maneuver available to government. Even though any chance to save unborn children through this bill hung on a wish and a hope and a pro-abortionist, politicians would have attempted to divert pro-life efforts to strengthen it. Such efforts would have lost in loopholes but might have lessened pressure on the Minister of Health to take real life saving action.
Bill 53 was not pro-life, but its presentation did bring the abortion issue to a peak in Saskatchewan. The PC government must finally realize they cannot keep the pro-life vote on empty promises. If they want the pro-life vote they will have to earn it. And hat means no more hiding behind grants: no more hiding behind political committees; no more hiding behind a private member’s bill.
TACs have been abusing the power given them in the Criminal Code. By their own admission, over 80 percent of the abortions granted are not performed for health reasons of any description. But this same section of the Criminal Code also gives power to the provincial Minister of Health. He, and he alone, has the power to investigate the decisions of these committees. Until the Minister of Health investigates, with the intention to prosecute, these committees will continue to issue their death warrants. Graham Taylor has had this power since the first day he took office. He has refused to use it.
If the PC government wants the pro-life vote in the next election, we will see Graham Taylor exercise he power given him in the Criminal Code. We will see the prosecution of a TAC.