This fall, MPs will be debating Bill C-225, a private member’s bill that addresses gender-based violence by protecting pregnant women who have chosen to carry their child to term.
While many MPs have expressed support for this common-sense proposal, others have levelled criticisms. Some of the most common criticisms are: it’s unconstitutional; it conflicts with the Criminal Code; we don’t need it because it’s already a crime to harm a pregnant woman; it will undermine abortion rights; it will cause women to be prosecuted for harm they cause to their own fetuses; and we can’t make it a separate crime to harm or kill a preborn child because a woman and her fetus are one.
Yet these criticisms have all been debunked in two constitutional opinions, provided by a team of lawyers and advisors to the Supreme Court of Canada with extensive experience in constitutional law. There is no constitutional issue with this bill. If we make it a separate crime to cause the death of a woman’s preborn child while committing a criminal offence against the woman (which is what C-225 does), we are recognizing that the offender did something wrong in causing that preborn child’s death — a death the woman clearly did not consent to.
How, then, can a vocal minority continue to use excuses, like those cited above, to oppose a law that would protect a woman’s choice to carry her preborn child safely to term and that would hold a third party accountable for intentionally causing the death of a woman’s child against her will — especially when this law would have absolutely no legal impact on abortion, but would merely protect women who face violent crime while pregnant? Abortion is something a woman chooses. Choice is the key. And choice is supposedly what the pro-choice philosophy is all about.
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In 2008, Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, let slip the real reason she opposed similar legislation: “If the fetuses are recognized in this bill, it could bleed into people’s consciousness and make people change their minds about abortion.”
Thankfully, most Canadians understand the difference between choosing abortion and choosing to carry a child to term. The fact that some pro-choice activists fear C-225 will impact abortion simply by changing the way people think about it betrays their lack of confidence that this issue really comes down to choice. If they truly believed that a woman’s choice is paramount, then they would have no problem justifying a woman’s choice to have a legal abortion, while also justifying a law against violent crime that results in the death of a fetus, when the pregnant woman has not chosen to get an abortion.
With choice then removed from the equation, there is nothing left to distinguish a legal abortion from a violent attack on a pregnant woman that results in the death of her child. In failing to consider what distinguishes the two scenarios, these supposedly strong defenders of “choice” instead draw attention to how the two scenarios are alike: a preborn child dies, which is the very thing they don’t want people to think about.
We can only conclude that, in opposing C-225 out of the fear that it will endanger abortion rights, these pro-choice activists end up exposing their own inability to defend abortion. Their own lack of consistency as to what “choice” really means for a woman becomes clear and thus, paradoxically, endangers abortion.