Opponents continue to claim C-484 will jeopardize abortion

While quick to note that C-484 is not strictly a pro-life bill, pro-life leaders were pleased to see it pass Second Reading on March 5 by a margin of 147-132. C-484 is Conservative MP Ken Epp’s private member’s bill, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, which would recognize in law an unborn child harmed when a crime is committed against a pregnant woman. Pro-abortion activists were out in force, arguing that the bill is the thin-edge of a wedge to be used to limit access to abortion in Canada, despite the fact the bill explicitly says the law does not apply in cases of abortion.

Leading up to the vote, Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada claimed C-484 “openly conflicts with pregnant women’s rights by giving legal status to fetuses.” She said, “The bill is being backed and promoted by anti-abortion groups and there’s ample reason to fear that if it’s passed, they’ll use the law as a foot-in-the-door to recriminalize abortion via future measures.”

In the day before the vote, the bill received its second hour of debate. Several MPs claimed that C-484 was a threat to abortion “rights,” including Raymond Gravel (Bloc, Repentigny), Marlene Jennings (Lib., Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Lachine) and Irene Mathyssen (NDP, London-Fanshawe). Mathyssen claimed the legislation was a “kind of indirect attack” on women, since it may “potentially jeopardize a woman’s right to choose.” Jennings complained about C-484’s “painstaking and yet completely unnecessary focus on the fetus,” suggesting that any attempt to consider the pregnant mother and the fetus as two separate human beings “would only cloud the issue of a woman’s rights over her own person.”

Supporters of the bill pointed out that the bill specifically exempts the mother from prosecution. Patricia Davidson (Conservative, Sarnia-Lambton) addressed the concerns over abortion, noting, “Bill C-484 could never be used to prosecute pregnant women, because it applies only during the commission of an offence against the woman. For greater certainty, the bill states that it does not apply in respect of any act or omission by the mother of the child.”

Davidson added: “We give more legal protection to animals than we do to the preborn human child. We have cruelty to animal laws, humane slaughter laws, et cetera. What message are we sending to the woman when we refuse to recognize that the child growing inside of her is worthy of protection under the law? What message are we promoting about the value of human life?”

Davidson’s colleague, Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent-Essex) noted that the lack of legal recognition for the unborn victims of crime has been an additional source of sorrow for family members who have lost a pregnant loved one: “As for the family members who are left behind to try to cope, their grief goes invalidated.”

Epp (Edmonton-Sherwood Park) directly challenged his self-described “pro-choice” colleagues. “Certainly, the people who call themselves pro-choice should say that they support the bill. The bill says that a woman has chosen to have a child and we will put the strength of the law behind protecting the child who she has chosen to want and protect.

The entire Bloc Quebecois contingent voted against the measure, joined by all but one member of the NDP, 55 Liberals and four Tories.

The four Conservatives were Gordon O’Connor (Carleton-Mississippi Mills), Lawrence Cannon (Pontiac), Sylvie Boucher (Beauport-Limoilou), and Josée Verner (Louis-Saint-Laurent).

Marie-Christine Houle, executive director of Women for Women’s Health, told The Interim she was disappointed with Boucher and Verner, considering that they are, respectively, the parliamentary secretary and minister responsible for the status of women. “As a woman,” Houle explained, “it is severely disappointing that two female MPs that have an important role in the status of women decided not to protect the choice of other women to safely carry their children to term.”

On the other side of the ledger, 119 Conservatives, 27 Liberals and one NDPer voted for C-484. Prime Minister Stephen Harper voted for the bill, NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe voted against the bill and Liberal leader Stephane Dion was not in the House, despite the fact that more than 15 bills, including budget items, were voted on the same afternoon.

Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore) of Nova Scotia was the lone NDP MP to vote for the bill. He was criticized by abortion advocates, but responded to criticism by saying he supports private member’s bills getting to committee for a hearing. He didn’t say whether he would vote for C-484 on Third Reading. NDP leader Jack Layton said he has talked to Stoffer and indicated that there might be repercussions if he were not to abide by the whipped vote to oppose Epp’s bill. Layton reiterated in the media that the NDP remains firmly supportive of a “woman’s right to choose.” Women for Women’s Health’s Houle said Layton and the party do not support choice or they would defend the women and their babies who are victims of crime. She described the NDP as “firmly pro-abortion.”

Following the vote, Epp said, “I look forward to continuing to work with these families (of crime victims), with my colleagues in the House from all parties and with Canadians to move this cause forward in the weeks and months ahead.”

C-484 now heads to the justice and human rights committee for hearings that have yet to be scheduled. NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) said pro-abortion politicians must ensure C-484 does not make it out of committee. “My fear is this (C-484) lends succour and support to the lunatic fringe” in Canada that opposes abortion.

The Interim has determined that the present make-up of the committee includes six MPs who voted against C-484 and five who voted in favour.

Houle said “The battle is far from over. We encourage people to continue to express their support for the bill to their MPs.”