Canadian Pro-Lifers: Prime Minister Should OK Free Vote on Abortion Bill

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 9, 2010   |   3:02PM   |   Ottawa, Canada

In advance of a debate in parliament over a bill that would stop coerced and forced abortions on women, a pro-life group says Prime Minister Stephen Harper should reconsider his position.

Harper has said he will never reopen the abortion debate nor will he support this bill, but Peter Ryan, Executive Director of New Brunswick Right to Life, hopes he will change his mind as he did before.

“Right now the Prime Minister is saying his government – all the cabinet members, around 40 MPs I think – will oppose Roxanne’s Law even though many of them are pro-life, even though the prime minister should know better,” he said. “Why does he oppose it? Because he’s said he does not want the abortion issue to come up in Parliament.”

Ryan says he hopes Harper “has a change of heart as he did last April when he voted against a pro-abortion motion after initially indicating to his caucus that he would support it.”

The pro-life advocate says Harper doesn’t necessarily need to mount a public campaign for the bill.

“All he has to do is allow all his MPs – including cabinet members – a free vote, i.e. to vote according to their conscience. Is that too much to ask?” he said in an email. “Otherwise the bill will likely be defeated.”

Pat Maloney, writing at the National Post, agreed.

“In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s abortion law. But the court did say that Parliament has the right to legislate protection of the unborn,” Maloney writes. “Even though Mr. Harper would not support such a bill, he doesn’t have to. Bill C-510 is a private member’s bill, not a government bill. The purpose of such bills is to give backbench MPs from all parties the opportunity to bring forward legislation they believe in, independent of what’s on the government’s agenda.”

“Mr. Harper would get one vote — just like any MP — and he could vote as his conscience dictates,” Maloney added.

He urged pro-life campaigners to contact their MPs and urge support for the critically needed legislation.

“Roxanne’s Law is an important pro-life bill coming up for Debate in Parliament on Monday, with a vote scheduled for Wednesday,” Ryan said. “This bill will prevent women from being coerced into having abortions.”

The second hour of debate in the House of Commons on bill C-510 will be on December 13, followed by the Second Reading vote on December 15.

In addition to NBRTL, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has launched a bid in support of Roxanne’s Law (Bill C-510).

“If the vote on December 15 fails, then that is the end of Roxanne’s Law. Who knows how long it will be before another bill that aims to protect pregnant women and their unborn children will come before Parliament,” the group said. “But if C-510 passes, then the bill will be sent to the Justice Committee for study. The issue will still be alive in Parliament, in the media, and in our country.”

The legislation protects pregnant women from unwanted abortions by making it a criminal offence to coerce a woman to have an abortion against her will.

Roxanne’s Law is named after Roxanne Fernando of Manitoba, whose boyfriend attempted to force her to have an abortion in 2007. She was beaten and left to die in a snow bank after she refused her boyfriend’s lobbying to get an abortion. The private member’s bill, C-510, comes from Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge of Winnipeg, who is the chairman of the pro-life caucus of MPs in the Parliament.

“No pregnant woman should ever have to choose between protecting herself and protecting her baby,” the lawmaker told members of the House of Commons during the first hour of debate in November.

Priests for Life of Canada, which is supporting the measure, says: “Roxanne’s boyfriend, the father of the child, was trying to coerce her to have an abortion. Roxanne wanted to keep the baby, but he kept intimidating her to kill her unborn child. When she refused, he and two friends beat her brutally and left her to die in a ditch.

“Many women find themselves in a position of being coerced into having an abortion – an angry boyfriend, angry parents, unsympathetic friends, etc,”  it continued. “Roxanne’s Law would empower pregnant women to take legal recourse when they find themselves facing coercion. Such empowerment could prevent coercion from escalating to violence like it did with Roxanne.”

Canadian MPs have tried before to enact laws to help pregnant women like Roxanne.

Alberta Conservative MP Leon Benoit was denied a vote on his 2006 bill to have Canada’s law recognize both victims, including mother and unborn child.

In June 2006, a parliamentary committee ruled the private member’s bill “non-votable” in a closed-door committee hearing. Benoit said the committee’s position on C-291 was out of step with what other people say about the legality of the bill.

“They believe it clearly contravenes the constitution, which is just out of line with what everybody else says,” he said at the time.

The measure became embroiled in the abortion debate after pro-abortion groups complained about protecting both mother and child from assaults.