Canada’s parliament couldn’t muster the votes to make it illegal to force a woman to have an abortion.
By a vote of 97 “Yeas” and 178 “Nays,” Canada’s House of Commons yesterday voted down the motion to send Private Member Bill C-510 to the Human Rights Committee for further discussion.
The bill would have amended the Canadian Federal Criminal Code to make it illegal to coerce, threaten, or physically force a woman to have an abortion.
Winnepeg South Member of Parliament Rod Bruinooge introduced the bill, nicknamed Roxanne’s Law after Philippine immigrant Roxanne Fernando, who was severely beaten and left to die in a snowdrift outside of Winnepeg, Manitoba.
Nathaniel Plourde, 21, eventually was convicted of first-degree murder in Fernando’s death.
Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada President JoAnn McGarry says the bill’s failure is disappointing, but not a surprise.
“It’s very unfortunate because the bill represented an effort to provide some protection for the rights of women, and some recognition for the humanity of the unborn child,” McCarry observed.
Listen to an interview with McGarry:
“I think the reason the vote was so wide was that the government made it quite clear that it would not support the bill. That took away a lot of support from Conservative Party members who would ordinarily have supported it,” McCarry continued.
Other supporters of the bill were more animated in their responses to the bill being voted down.
In a statement for the press, Association for Reformed Political Action Director Mark Penninga says the defeat doesn’t reflect well on Canada’s leaders.
“What kind of leaders refuse to protect pregnant women who want to keep their child? We need to ask the MPs who voted against it how exactly they can justify their vote, especially given that all of the arguments raised in the House against it were answered in detail,” Penninga said.
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada President Joyce Arthur says she is pleased by the vote.
“We’re very pleased with the results. We’ve been campaigning and writing letters to parliament asking them to vote against the bill,” Arthur stated.
“We feel strongly that the bill isn’t necessary as threats and coercion are already illegal under our criminal code. So this bill simply was duplicating something. There was no evidence at all that women are being coerced into abortion in significant numbers,” Arthur added.
Listen to an interview with Arthur:
She also finds fault with areas she says C-510 neglected.
“One of the biggest problems with the bill, of course, is that it was focusing on abortion only, when we know that women are also coerced into child birth,” Arthur continued.
“The major issue here is domestic violence against women, violence in general. So it’s a much broader problem – a bigger issue – and this bill didn’t address that in any substantive way,” Arthur stated.
Arthur adds the issues that she believes the bill should have included.
“We in fact need things that will help women be safe in decent relationships, pay equity, universal child care and all of these programs that women need to protect their safety and economic security and so on. Ironically the conservative government in Canada is cutting programs and funds to help women do that,” Arthur claimed.
“So we saw this bill as a cynical attempt by the government to get a foot in the door, so bring the fetus into public debate, into law in order and try to enact further restrictions on abortion in the future,” Arthur further claimed.
Bruinooge has not been available for comment since the parliamentary vote, but said in earlier interviews that his bill wasn’t about abortion.
“It doesn’t have any bearing on access to abortion. That’s not related to this bill. Access to abortion in Canada is in all nine months. We’re perhaps the most liberal country in the world when it comes to abortion access,” Bruinooge said.
Even with those assurances, Prime Minister Harper announced that his government would not support C-510.
McGarry says she believes the prime minister’s reason for declining support for the bill was that it was too close to the abortion issue.
“It’s because it dealt, even indirectly, with abortion. I don’t think any politician wants to get involved with abortion in any way, shape, size or form in Canada,” McGarry stated.
McGarry says that even the basic human rights aspect of the abortion issue is missing in Canadian politics.
“The history of abortion law in Canada – how divisive it’s always proven to be. I think all the parties have decided to go with the status quo. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality,” McGarry stated further.
McGarry says the pro-life movement in Canada is not going to give up, but they’re not naïve about the realities of Canadian politics.
“We intend to do the best we can to promote respect for natural life, from conception to natural death in any way that we might be able to do that. We’re not under any illusion about the political landscape in Canada,” McGarry explained.
Even with the difficulties, McGarry says the pro-life movement has made some progress.
“At the same time, we do think that the efforts of the educational wing of the pro-life groups, and the political wings for that matter; I think the pro-life community overall, has had some success on the educational front,” McGarry explained further.
“Perhaps that will be our fruit in the future. I think there is more awareness of pro-life issues now than there was perhaps 10 or 15 years ago,” McGarry added.
In a November interview with WND, the Winnepeg South MP said that
he introduced the bill because he was moved by Roxanne’s story.
“I introduced the bill in April because a woman named Roxanne in my home city was coerced into having an abortion by her boyfriend. When she didn’t give in to that pressure, she was murdered for her choice to have her baby,” Bruinooge explained.
“Because she made this choice and gave her life for her unborn child, I view Roxanne as a hero,” Bruinooge added.
“So I wanted to bring in a bill that not only would provide benefit to women across Canada, making it a crime to coerce or threaten a woman with abortion. But it was also to acknowledge Roxanne’s heroism,” Bruinooge further explained.
The story on the Roxanne’s Law website says that Roxanne became pregnant and that her boyfriend pressured her to have an abortion.
The story continues that when she refused, the man and two of his friends took her out on a country road, beat her severely and left her to die.
Bruinooge says the man claimed he was reacting to pressure from Roxanne, but testimony in the trial showed that the circumstances were very different.
“He claims she was simply pestering her, wanted to have a relationship and he just wanted to get her to stop pestering him,” Bruinooge explained.
“The reality is that he lost his mind when he came to the conclusion that he was
about to become a father and this woman wouldn’t proceed with the abortion. This caused him to obviously have a violent reaction,” Bruinooge detailed.
He adds that court testimony showed the man’s real motive.
“The testimony that was delivered at the sentencing hearing by the crown attorney (the prosecution) indicates that the fact that she wouldn’t proceed with the abortion was the motive in this crime,” Bruinooge explained.
“The testimony from Roxanne’s sister also shows that the reason for the murder was that she wouldn’t go through with the abortion. I believe Roxanne. Other people who dislike this bill are choosing to side with the opinion of the murderer,” Bruinooge added.
However, Bruinooge says he will continue to introduce the bill as many times as it takes to get the bill passed into law.
“It’s incumbent upon me to communicate the merits of this bill to all parties, not just in our government. That’s my responsibility,” Bruinooge said.
“I’ve made a commitment to Roxanne’s family that I am prepared to take this as long and as far as I can. I’ve said Roxanne Fernando is one of my heroes and I’m going to continue to raise her story as high as I can,” Bruinooge stated.