by Father Raymond J. de Souza
October 28, 2007
LifeNews.com Note: Father Raymond J. de Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, where he serves as chaplain for Newman House, the Catholic chaplaincy at Queen’s University. This article originally appeared in the National Post newspaper.
On Tuesday, a 17-year-old man was sentenced to six years in prison and four years probation for killing Roxanne Fernando in Winnipeg last February. It is the maximum possible youth sentence for murder.
Roxanne was pregnant at the time of her killing. Indeed, she was murdered because she chose to remain pregnant. The Winnipeg court was told that she was killed because she refused to have an abortion. It is not clear whether her killer was the baby’s father, or acting on behalf of someone else. There are two other men still to face trial.
The news comes just after the release last Friday of an Environics poll, commissioned by LifeCanada, about Canadian opinions on laws that would punish fetal injuries or homicide. The poll of more than 2000 Canadians (margin of error +/- 2.2%) showed that 72% would support legislation making it a separate crime to injure or kill a fetus during a criminal act against the mother.
Amongst women, the support was slightly higher, at 75%. Canada does not have any law that makes it crime to injure or kill the child during an attack on the mother. The United States has a federal “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” that was signed into law in 2004 by President Bush.
Known as “Laci and Conner’s Law,” it was enacted after the murder of Laci Peterson, eight-months pregnant with her son Conner, by her husband. The case brought to global attention the dual victims of such violence.
In the Peterson case, the apparent motive of the killer was that he did not want to be encumbered by a wife and child. In the Winnipeg case, the motive offered to the court is rather more startling. Someone — youth cases are shrouded in secrecy — did not want the child to see the light of day, hence the demand for the abortion.
When Roxanne refused, the surest way to kill the child was to kill the mother too. Roxanne’s unborn baby was not, as it were, an innocent bystander. The baby was the direct target, and the killing of Roxanne was the means. Yet the law, silent as it is on unborn victims of violence, must pretend in this case that it was the other way around. The punishment is for killing Roxanne; there is none for killing the child.
The current silence of the law simply ignores the reality of what takes place. In Edmonton in 2005, Olivia Talbot was six months pregnant when her killer shot her once in the head, and three times in the abdomen, ensuring that both mother and child were dead. The law saw only one victim, thought the circumstances of the crime made it apparent that the killer had two victims in mind. Olivia’s mother has since become a vocal supporter of an “unborn victims of violence” act.
Such an act was proposed in the federal parliament in 2006 as a private members‚ bill. The bill never got to a vote in the House of Commons, as it was judged at the committee stage to be unconstitutional, lacking as it did appropriate provisions for determining criminal intent.
But it is not impossible to craft a law that addresses the necessary legal issues dealing with knowledge and intent. Parliament could try again.
To be sure, protecting unborn victims of violence requires a certain legal precision, lest the law also protect them from being aborted. The legislator who wishes to preserve the abortion option for the mother has to be careful that the law protecting the child from violence to the mother does not also proscribe violence from the mother. Such are the demands of the unlimited abortion license.
The desire to maintain our permissive abortion regime should not prevent the criminal law from addressing the reality of crimes against pregnant women. A crime against an expectant mother is something different — there is real trauma to the mother, if she survives the violence, resulting from the injury or death to her child — to say nothing of the child.
The Roxanne Fernando case makes it all the more clear; without the child, there would have been no crime. The law should not have to pretend otherwise.