Monday November 1, 2010

First Hour of Debate on “Roxanne’s Law” Takes Place in Canadian Parliament

By Patrick B. Craine

OTTAWA, Ontario, November 1, 2010 ( – “No pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby,” said Conservative Member of Parliament Rod Bruinooge as he spoke in the first hour of debate today on “Roxanne’s Law”.

The bill, which seeks to ban coerced abortion, is named after Roxanne Fernando, a Manitoba woman whose boyfriend attempted to coerce her to have an abortion after she became pregnant in 2007. After refusing to have the unborn child killed, Roxanne was beaten and left to die in a snow bank.

The private member’s bill, also known as C-510, was introduced in April by Bruinooge (Winnipeg South), who serves as chair of the parliamentary pro-life caucus. It has been opposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who says he “will oppose any attempt to create a new abortion law.”

Bruinooge told the House today that his bill “will 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.”

He emphasized that the law will not affect access to abortion, but will simply offer protection to those women who choose to keep their babies. “Roxanne’s story demonstrates that [abortion] coercion takes place, but I am not aware of any cases where a person has been charged under our existing laws,” he said. “This is proof that clarity in our law is necessary.”

He also noted that abortion coercion has been roundly condemned by the International Conference on Population and Development, and that Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board called it a “crime against humanity.”

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 like “pressure” (3.d). He also argued that the acts the bill proposes to criminalize are already covered by Criminal Code provisions against assault and intimidation.

New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) called the bill “a thinly veiled attempt to criminalize abortion providers and promote an anti-choice agenda.” She said it “masquerades as legislation that will protect women” and dismissed Bruinooge as a member of “the secretive parliamentary anti-choice caucus.”

Mathyssen claimed that the law is a “Trojan horse” that “would most likely be used against abortion providers and would have a chilling effect on women’s access to abortion services.” She based this claim on the fact that the bill refers to the unborn baby as a “child”, which she said would lead to the unborn baby being declared “a person with legal status.”

In that way, the bill “opens the door to making abortion illegal,” she argued.

The same point was made by New Democrat MP Megan Leslie in the Toronto Star on Friday.

But Bruinooge pointed out that the Criminal Code already refers to the unborn baby as a “child”, and uses no other word. “In the interests of simplicity, there is no reason to add a new word,” he said, though he acknowledged that a change in wording could be made in committee.

The bill was also opposed by Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ), Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine, Lib.), and Jean Crowder (Nanaimo-Cowichan, NDP).

Conservative MP David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, congratulated Bruinooge’s effort and called Roxanne’s Law a “necessary bill.”

“Whether or not the pregnancy is planned, who has the right to tell that woman that what she is carrying inside of her is a burden and must be disposed of?” asked Conservative MP Kelly Block (Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar). “When enacted into law, Bill C-510 will send a clear message that coercing a woman to end her pregnancy against her will is wrong.”

The bill has gained wide support among religious and pro-life organizations, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Bishops’ Catholic Organization for Life and Family, and Priests for Life, among numerous others.

At the same time, the political arm of Canada’s pro-life movement – Campaign Life Coalition – has expressed reservations over the bill’s language, even though they are urging MPs to vote to send it to committee. Alissa Golob, head of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, said they “applaud the intent” of Bruinooge’s bill and support his effort to advance the pro-life cause in Parliament. But she noted that CLC “takes issue with some of the wording in certain sections of the bill, which we hope to change in committee if the bill passes second reading.”

She highlighted section four, which says the bill does not apply where a doctor “attempts to convince” a pregnant woman to undergo a medical procedure that could kill the unborn child, when the doctor believes the procedure “is necessary to avoid a serious threat to the female person’s physical health.”

“Abortion should never be a permissible option for women,” said Golob. “We must always treat both the mother and the child as human beings worthy of protection, for that is what they are.”

“Far too often we see women being pushed into having abortions that they don’t want,” Golob added. “We support the intent of this bill which serves to keep women from being forced to make this so-called ‘choice’.”

The bill will receive a second hour of debate, followed by a vote, in early December.

See related coverage:

First Debate on Canada’s Coercive Abortion Bill Set for Monday

Canadian PM Harper Opposes Law Protecting Women from Coercive Abortions

Canadian Pro-Abort Group Calls for Criminalizing of Pro-Life Activism

Canada’s Evangelicals Back Bill Outlawing Coercive Abortion

Harper Spokesman Won’t Say if PM Will Allow Free Vote on Coercive Abortion Bill

Bill to Ban Coerced Abortion Introduced into Canadian Parliament

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