Expect a Bill C-484 Clone Soon

December 2, 2008

By Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC)

At the Conservative Party convention on Nov 15 in Winnipeg, party delegates narrowly passed Resolution P-207, misnamed “Protecting Pregnant Women”, which reads: “The Conservative Party supports legislation to ensure that individuals who commit violence against a pregnant woman would face additional charges if her unborn child was killed or injured during the commission of a crime against the mother.”

Although the new resolution is non-binding, it turns on the green light for an MP to introduce a private member’s bill exactly like Bill C-484, the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act.” This bill, which died on the order paper when the election was called in September, had passed second reading in March 2008, and would have created a separate offence to harm or kill a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman. Bill C-484 and any new clone of it would serve to harm pregnant women, not protect them, because the bills’ only purpose is to give fetuses legal personhood.

The passage of Resolution P-207 means it is now official Conservative Party policy to support legislation protecting fetal rights. It is proof that right-wing social conservatives are not only a dominant force in the Conservative Party, but openly defiant of their leader Stephen Harper’s promise not to re-open the abortion issue. According to a report from the convention floor, after the resolution was introduced, a delegate argued that such legislation would open the door to fetal rights. The audience cheered, but when the delegate went on to say that this could undermine abortion rights, she was booed.

Even Justice Minister Rob Nicholson voted for the resolution, despite the fact that he had held a press conference in late August, just before the election was called, to distance the government from Bill C-484. At that time, he promised to introduce legislation that would make pregnancy an aggravating circumstance in an assault on a woman, in a way that leaves no room for the introduction of fetal rights. “We’ve heard criticisms from across the country including representatives from the medical community that Mr. Epp’s bill [Bill C-484] as presently drafted could be interpreted as instilling fetal rights,” Nicholson said. “Let me be clear. Our government will not reopen the debate on abortion.”

This two-faced posturing shows that the Conservatives cannot be trusted. Clearly, they’re itching to re-open the debate on abortion, and the only thing currently holding them back is Harper himself. If Harper resigns or is ousted as party leader, chances are the new leader will be more willing to act to restrict abortion, because over two-thirds of the caucus are anti-choice.

Can a clone of Bill C-484 get as far as the previous bill, or further?  Probably not under the current Parliament and government. There was a massive and successful campaign mounted against Bill C-484 in the last year by pro-choice groups, women’s groups, medical organizations, unions, and others. As a result, the Liberal Party promised to oppose the bill if it made it to third reading. Also, a new version of Bill C-484 would have to start from scratch, like any other private member’s bill. After first reading, bills must be deemed votable by a Parliamentary Committee before proceeding to second reading. Given the divisive history of Bill C-484, a clone could get killed at this early stage. Even if it does reach second reading, there should be sufficient votes to defeat it, provided almost all of the Liberals vote against it (25% of its caucus is anti-choice), as well as the entire Bloc and NDP caucuses. Finally, if the Conservatives remain in power and introduce a bill for the aggravated penalty clause, some Conservatives might be encouraged to switch their support to that bill instead of the C-484 clone. It may be difficult for anti-choice Conservatives to defend another C-484 in the face of a competing government bill, especially in the aftermath of the public fight over C-484.

Regardless, the convention was an important reminder of exactly what the Conservative Party thinks of women’s rights. After the convention delegates passed P-207, they quickly and easily passed Resolution P-213, which removed party support for full gender equality, as well as equal pay for equal work. Only two delegates spoke against this resolution, and one was a man who complained that it was an attack on men.

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