Thursday, May 15, 2008
There is something seriously wrong with our system when the so-called "right" to end a pregnancy takes away another pregnant woman's right to have her wanted baby protected in law.
But that is exactly where we have arrived in the debate surrounding my private member's Bill, C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act.
In drafting this bill, I was very specific to my legal advisers that I wanted to inoculate this legislation against the abortion question and cases of harm caused by the pregnant woman. The legal drafters did this. C-484 applies only in the commission of an offence against the woman, and "for greater certainty" there is an explicit exclusion for consensual termination of pregnancy and acts or omissions by the pregnant woman. A constitutional expert from McGill University has given me a legal opinion attesting to the bill's constitutionality.
Yet claims that have no basis in fact continue to be levelled against C-484. A popular criticism is that supposedly similar laws in the United States are used to "punish" and "police" pregnant women. I have done an extensive analysis of the U.S. situation, and my report which refutes these alarmist and misleading claims is posted at: www.kenepp.com/admin/assets/USCASESE1.pdf.
Misrepresentations of Supreme Court rulings have also been used to discredit Bill C-484. When the Supreme Court has said that the fetus is not a "person," it has simply been acknowledging the law as it stands today. The Supreme Court has never said that the fetus ought not to be given some protection in criminal law. In fact, it has said that Parliament has a legitimate interest in the protection of the unborn child and that it is not up to the courts to figure out how to do that, it is up to the legislators.
Bill C-484 is an attempt to provide such protection in one very narrow circumstance -- when the unborn child is injured or killed when the mother is the victim of a crime.
So why do the opponents of C-484 resort to scare tactics and misrepresentations of the law to make their case? Why are they so afraid of a law that would punish a criminal for intentionally harming or killing an unborn baby who is wanted and loved by its mother?
The answer was revealed when an outspoken opponent of C-484 was quoted recently in the media: "If the fetuses are recognized in this bill, it could bleed into people's consciousness and make people change their minds about abortion."
So they are opposing this bill because it recognizes some value in the unborn child (in that it can be the victim of a crime) which might lead to some Canadians changing their minds about abortion (which also deals with the unborn child).
But how is that a justifiable reason to oppose this bill? Is it right in a free and democratic society to try to control how and what people think? If people of their own free will decide to rethink their position on an important issue, why should we try to suppress that, especially if it means sacrificing in the process something which in and of itself is just and good and supported by a vast majority of Canadians?
Even if people do start questioning abortion, it does not necessarily follow that they will change their minds about whether a woman should have the freedom to choose that option. What it means is that pro-choice advocates will be in a position of having to justify abortion without relying on the illusion that the fetus is absolutely worthless. They will need to defend the view that, in spite of the unborn child being recognized as something of value, the woman's interests are paramount.
In fact, Chief Justice Brian Dickson, in the 1988 Supreme Court Morgentaler case dealing with consensual abortion, talked about the necessity of "balancing" the "interests" of the unborn child and the mother: "Like Beetz and Wilson JJ., I agree that protection of foetal interests by Parliament is also a valid governmental objective. It follows that balancing these interests, with the lives and health of women a major factor, is clearly an important governmental objective."
If the Supreme Court has ruled that the interests of the child need to be taken into consideration in the context of consensual abortion, how much more so when the woman has not chosen abortion?
In the case of unborn victims of crime, there is no balancing act necessary because there is no "conflict of interests." The killing of the woman's unborn child is being forced upon her. Her "interests" and her child's "interests" are the same. And that is how the abortion debate differs from the issues raised with Bill C-484.
Pro-choice advocates haven't had to defend their position in terms of a "conflict of interests" of two entities, each with value, or defend the view that the woman's interests are paramount. But it is the only intellectually honest way of framing the abortion debate. The argument that the fetus is nothing more than an appendage of the woman or worthless tissue, or a "parasite" according to one activist, is scientifically and medically untenable.
And as far as the mother who wants the baby is concerned, it is callous and offensive. And as far as society is concerned, it sends the wrong message about the value of human life, regardless of whether we afford that human life personhood status or not.
The irony is that for years pro-lifers have been accused of trying to impose their views on others. The opponents of C-484 are now attempting to impose on women who want to be pregnant and want to love and protect their babies the view that the child in her womb is unworthy of protection in criminal law, unworthy of any amount of respect at all to the extent that a criminal can brutally attack that mother's child with a fist or a boot or a gun or a knife or a sword and face no consequences for killing what is so dear to her.
C-484 remedies this current injustice in such a way that maintains the choice of the woman who chooses to end her pregnancy of her own free will. To oppose this bill is to stand in defence of only those pregnant women who choose abortion. Let us not abandon those pregnant women who choose life for their babies.
Ken Epp is Conservative MP for Edmonton-Sherwood Park.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008