Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bill C-484 re-ignites abortion debate

A private member's bill to make a fetus legally a person is re-igniting Canada's abortion debate.
On June 1, demonstrators took to the streets in Montreal to protest a private member's bill that managed to pass rather quietly through its second reading in the House of Commons on March 5.

The bill, tabled by Conservative MP Ken Epp as a private initiative, makes it "an offence to injure, cause the death of or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother." He says Bill C-484 is meant to fill a void in the Criminal Code that deprives expecting mothers of compensation for a heinous loss.

Opponents to Bill C-484, however, argue the Unborn Victims of Crime Act could implicitly confer legal status on a fetus, which has none under current legislation, and could once again create a conflict between the rights of the fetus and those of pregnant women. This has the potential to pry open the debate around Canada's abortion policy.

It was this same territory that the anti-abortion lobby explored 20 years ago in their battle to keep abortion in the Criminal Code. It took years of divisions and costly legal proceedings for the Supreme Court to rule a fetus did not have a legal status distinct from that of the mother.

As the bill is supported by dozens of anti-choice organizations, it has women's groups and abortion rights advocates nervous, but also concerns medical practitioners.

"It is really important to tell the members of the House of Commons that by no way - not by the front door, neither by the back door - do we want to reopen the debate about the criminalization of abortion with the consequences that we know for the concerned women and the medical practice," said Dr. Gaétan Barrette, president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (FMSQ) in a recent press release on the federation's website. Ten days after issuing their public statement, more than 25,000 people had signed a petition against Bill C-484 made available on the federation's Internet site (
Read about it: "Canada's abortion debate reborn?" by Meg Hewings.

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