It’s that time of the year again and no, I’m not talking about the holiday season. I’m talking about the time of year when a Conservative Member of Parliament puts forward a thinly-veiled Private Member’s Bill designed to make it harder for Canadian women to seek abortions. The latest is MP Rod Bruinooge’s Bill C-510, an act to prohibit “coerced abortion”. The bill is scheduled for second reading debate on December 13. For the record, this is the fourth time the Conservatives have tried this in as many years.
So what’s wrong with this bill? Of course, coercion is wrong and being pro-choice should mean that women should not only be able to choose abortion, but should also be able to choose to carry a fetus to term. The thing is, coercion is already illegal in Canada and counselors at abortion clinics are trained to screen clients for potential coercion.
Bruinooge and his bill’s endorsers, including the Catholic Civil Rights League, Ottawa Students 4 Life, Priests for Life Canada, and Lutherans for Life Canada, are trying to use the tragic murder of Roxanne Fernando to argue their case. The 24-year-old Fernando was brutally murdered by her boyfriend and an accomplice in Winnipeg in 2007. The bill’s supporters argue it’s because Ms. Fernando refused to have an abortion, but both the prosecution and the judge stated the motive for the murder was Fernando’s refusal to break off a relationship with her boyfriend. In his decision, the judge wrote: “The murder was apparently motivated by [the defendant’s] irritation and panic that Ms. Fernando, who was carrying his baby, was insistent on having a relationship with him.” While Fernando’s murder is abhorrent, what is even worse is Bruinooge’s using it to claim to be on the side of women while his own government continues to cut funding to programs geared towards ending violence against women.
So if coercion is already illegal, what does this legislation really accomplish? It would certainly do nothing to reduce violence against women. What this bill does is futher an atmosphere of intimidation against abortion providers, many of whom live with regular harassment from anti-abortion protesters and lobby groups. It also patronizes women by implying that many would not make a choice to have an abortion were they not subject to coercion. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada notes that coercing women is wrong, but argues that it’s much more frequent for women to be subject to coercive pressure not to have an abortion.
But perhaps most importantly, Bill C-510 defines abortion as causing the death of a “child”, attempting to open the back door for further criminalization of abortion. As NDP Health Critic Megan Leslie told the Toronto Star: “If we can open that door even a crack to this idea of fetal rights — which in my opinion promotes anti-choice ideas — that has an impact on women’s rights and freedoms when it comes to the very personal decision about abortion.”
You can read the debate from November 1st here and now’s the time to line up opposition to make sure this bill goes the way of the 3 before it. In my experience it’s more effective to take time to communicate with your Member of Parliament in your own words, but if you’re short on time, ARCC has a good draft letter for sending to MPs here.