It was with satisfaction that I read the text of proposed Bill C-510, An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women to Abort (Roxanne’s Law). The construction of this bill is clear and its purpose of protecting vulnerable women is compassionate and noble. I would argue this bill will expose that the “abortion debate” in our nation has not two sides, but three – pro-life, pro-choice and pro-abortion.
Roxanne Fernando, in whose memory the bill is named, was killed after being coerced but refusing to abort her child. Unfortunately Roxanne’s case is one of many that have been identified in the last decade – women killed because they were pregnant, simply because they chose life for their child and refused abortion.
For this reason, the bill that M.P. Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South) introduced Wednesday in the House of Commons is both important and necessary. This law will protect the right of a woman to choose life, to choose to carry her child to term. It will communicate that we as society expect that pregnant women can live out their pregnancy in safety and in peace. No such legislative measure provides this specific protection to women in Canada today.
The bill makes clear both its purposes and effects. Its purpose, as an amendment to the Criminal Code, is “to make it an offence for someone to coerce or attempt to coerce a female person to have an abortion,” with all key terms defined. As for its effect, the bill defines the act of coercion, which includes both the committing and threat of committing physical harm, the removal or threat of removal of financial support or housing from a woman who is dependent on that support, or the act of intimidation.
For the purposes of additional clarity and to assuage any fears that it could impinge upon freedom of speech rights, the bill sets out that speech which is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedom is exempted.
Further, the bill specifies that it will not apply to physicians who counsel their patients to abort for medical reasons. Contrary to statements made by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, this bill cannot be used to prosecute abortion providers. The only exception is where an abortion provider engages in action to coerce a woman into having an unwanted abortion. One would hope that the Coalition can agree that this type of violence against women should be criminalized.
The legislation is drafted in such a way that it is assured to apply only in the limited circumstances defined. It does not limit or burden health care providers, nor does it limit or violate any other right or freedom. It is consistent with the Charter’s right to life, liberty and security of person as it is a woman’s right to carry her child to term safely that is being protected.
And finally, this bill satisfies one of the most basic tenets of common law (the law reflected in the decisions of judges over the centuries), that ignorance of the law is no excuse. This law is easily understandable and accessible in its language for all Canadians. And it’s available online now so that you can assess its simplicity and clarity for yourself. I encourage you to do so.
This bill will not criminalize abortion in any way, shape or form. In fact, the bill is not about abortion, but the protection of pregnant women. Following its passage, Canada will remain the only developed nation in the world without any abortion legislation. Abortions will, sadly, remain legal through all nine months of pregnancy.
But for those mothers who choose life, there will be a new protection to assist them in fulfilling their hopes and plans for both themselves and their children.