Members of the Canadian Parliament, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, voted against a bill today that would have help stop coerced and pressured abortions women sometimes face.
Bill C-510, proposed by Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, would have made it illegal for anyone to coerce a woman into an abortion through threats of violence, withdrawal of financial resources or denial of a place to live.
Bruinooge acknowledges there are already general laws against coercion and making threats, but he believes a specific prohibition against coercing pregnant women into abortion needs to be spelled out as a message to potential offenders and to society at large.
Bruinooge says the bill, also known as Roxanne’s Law, is a response to the murder of Winnipeg constituent Roxanne Fernando, who was beaten to death by three men because she refused to have an abortion. Her body was found in a frozen ditch outside the city a few days after she vanished.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had been challenged by pro-life advocates to vote for the measure, had already said his government would not support the bill, was not interested in opening up an abortion debate, and voted against the measure.
Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott voted for the bill and told LifeNews.com, “Bill C-510 was an important law for a society committed to the protection of women. No woman should feel that she has no recourse when being coerced to destroy her own baby. Bill C-510 is an essential amendment to Canadian law in a society committed to the protection of women”
This law could also have pre-empted a rise in the practice of “gendercide” or sex-selection abortions in Canada, said Vellacott.
“Recent research indicates that a cultural preference for male children can result in coercion towards abortion of female children, even in Canada.”
While abortion advocates said the bill would hinder abortion and used that excuse to oppose it, similar laws exist in the United States, Germany, Italy and France without inhibiting legal access to abortion.
National organizations, such as Pro Woman Pro Life, Priests for Life Canada and the Evangelical Fellowship Canada, asked MPs to support the legislation.
“Women are particularly vulnerable during pregnancy and this bill, along with other societal support programs and resources, communicates to women that we as a society care for them and their unborn children,” Faye Sonier, EFC legal counsel, said.
“Unfortunately, as a result of some cultural preferences, abortion coercion can also take place, with tragic results. In recent years, studies and media coverage have brought the world’s attention to gendercide and sex-selection. In certain cultures where boys are the preferred heirs, women are being pressured to abort their female babies,” she added.
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.