Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bill C-338: Canada's Most Recent Pro-Life Legislation

Today, because a fellow pro-lifer was inquiring about Bill C-338 and wondering if it will likely come to a vote, I thought it might be a good time for a review, particularly since some of the recent posting here at Vote Life, Canada! has focused on [U.S.] pro-life legislation.

On June 21 of last year, Liberal MP Paul Steckle introduced in the House of Commons the first piece of pro-life legislation in the current parliament under the Conservative Government. Bill C-338 would make performing an abortion after 20 weeks gestation an indictable offence, liable to imprisonment of up to five years or jail for up to two years and/or a fine up to $100,000. Exceptions would be permitted only to save the life of the woman or to “prevent severe, pathological, physical morbidity of the woman.”

LifeSiteNews.com first reported on Steckle’s proposed legislation here and a week later reported that the bill was being backed by the Roman Catholic Church as well as Evangelical churches.

The LifeSite report noted:
Statistics show that a majority of Canadians are supportive of at least some legal protection for unborn children. The latest statistics on the matter, from October 2005, showed that 60 per cent of Canadians would like to see human life legally protected some time prior to birth (at conception or after 3 or 6 months of pregnancy). Those numbers have remained fairly consistent since 2002 when LifeCanada, the educational arm of the pro-life movement, began commissioning Environics Research to poll Canadians on the matter.
Suzanne Fortin of Big Blue Wave blog also issued a post on June 22, the day after the bill was introduced, and set off some very acrimonious dialogue in her comments section. Questions were also raised about the actual number of late term abortions which take place in Canada and the relative value of the legislation in that light.

On June 25, 2006, Joyce Arthur, of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, wrote a piece entitled “A Direct Attack on Abortion Rights,” and maintained, besides the other usual pro-abortion rhetoric, that “the bill is trying to solve a ‘problem’ that doesn’t even exist.”

By that time Suzanne at Big Blue Wave had already answered the question of numbers of late term abortions here and here, providing good evidence that there are in fact as many as 726 late-term abortions in Canada.

Of course the vocal abortion proponents had much to say on the whole matter, fearing that Canada was about to return to the Stone Age with this legislation.

It’s interesting to note some comments about Bill C-338 excerpted from Campaign Life Coalition's July month newsletter:

Aidan Reid, director of the public affairs office of Campaign Life Coalition in Ottawa, told The Interim that it is important “bad things are not enshrined in law.” He provided the example of a gestational approach to limiting abortion as an example of an illicit limit on abortion - a law that states that abortion is permissible up to 20 weeks is not supportable, because it codifies the evil of abortion. It also has the practical problem, as was witnessed in the United Kingdom over the past few decades, that the upper limits become unenforceable as exceptions are made, doctors fudge the estimated age of the fetus and authorities turn a blind eye to abortions committed after the proscribed gestational age of 24 weeks.

CLC has applauded Liberal MP Paul Steckle for introducing a private member’s bill, C-338, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (procuring a miscarriage after 20 weeks gestation),” on June 21. However, there are some concerns about the wisdom of advocating such limits on abortion. CLC said in a press release that it encourages MPs “to consider Mr. Steckle’s example by proposing legislation” that would actually restrict abortion.

Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim it is significant that of the hundreds examples of incremental pro-life measures noted in Defending Life 2006, “not one is gestational.” That is because of negative experience in other countries of such an approach and the proven track record of other measures.

So what is permissible? What are effective restrictions on abortion that affirm the value of life, teach the public that abortion is not an inconsequential procedure and limit the evil of abortion by reducing the number of them committed?

Reid said CLC supports incremental legislation that “does not compromise the dignity of the child based on age.” He said it makes no difference whether the child is in his embryonic stages or late in the third trimester, “the law should not discriminate based on age.” He said that permissible restrictions include outlawing certain procedures, protecting survivors of abortion and laws that require abortion-seeking women to notify family members or become informed about the decision they are making.

Reid points to the American example of banning partial-birth abortion as both smart policy and smart politics. He said it criminalizes a particularly abhorrent abortion procedure (which is more infanticide than abortion) and the ban has widespread support. Pro-life groups have been able to reach out to citizens who would never consider themselves pro-life to oppose PBA and indeed, a number of typically pro-abortion politicians have voted to ban this particular procedure. Reid said you build on the qualms people have about killing an almost fully born child and teach them that all abortion is barbaric.

Nevertheless, Steckle’s bill is a step forward in pro-life legislation in Canada and if nothing else, gives pro-life forces the opportunity to discuss and refine their strategy in order to make a bigger wallop at the next go-around.

Let’s hope we haven’t heard the last of Bill C-338.


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