Published in the Montreal Gazette.
Pregnant women deserve protection for their fetuses
Bill C-484's supporters have no agenda to recriminalize abortion
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Edmonton Conservative MP Ken Epp has sponsored C-484, a private member's bill which would make it a criminal offence to "directly or indirectly, (cause) the death of a child during birth or at any stage of development before birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother of the child, who the person knows or ought to know is pregnant." The bill is before the Commons committee on justice and human rights for study.
The Collège des médecins du Québec, the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, and the Federation of Medical Women of Canada have all opposed the bill. In this open letter, Epp asks MDs to reconsider.
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I am deeply disappointed that a number of physician groups are opposing my private member's bill C-484. I want to believe that any opposition is sincere and based possibly on publicly stated misconceptions that the bill will, in some way, reduce a woman's right to make choices about her own body, and also about possible legal consequences "down the road."
I respectfully ask doctors to consider this matter as individual physicians, and not as part of a collective interest with any particular agenda. In that spirit, let me try to address the above concerns.
Imagine being a woman who is pregnant and wants to be, who wants to bring her developing child to term and raise it in her family. She has made a choice. She knows what is growing inside her is going to be a person in her family some day.
By all means reject the notion that it is a "person" now if that is your personal belief - Bill C-484 doesn't change that at all, in fact. But I hope you will acknowledge that to this woman it is a life that is growing inside her. If someone attacks her and takes that away from her, she has lost something very real. To her and her family, it matters deeply.
If a pregnant woman came to you after being attacked and wanted you to save her baby, would you not do everything in your power to help her unborn child? Would you or any doctor say, "Well, this isn't legally a 'human being' yet, so I can't or won't do anything about this, sorry"?
As a physician, you are trained to save lives. The fact that any doctor would fight to save the life of the yet-to-be-born child simply demonstrates the instinctive understanding that there is a life there to save, in spite of it not being a "human being" in Canadian law.
Losing an unborn child in a violent act is beyond heartbreaking. It is a devastating tragedy which is only exacerbated by the fact that our legal system, not to mention society in general, has for too long turned its back on these most vulnerable of women and their families. By not charging an assailant in this tragic circumstance, we only add to the hurt and sorrow that survivors experience. C-484 is a compassionate response to their cry for justice.
I am very aware, though, that opponents of this bill say they see in it the first step in recriminalizing abortion.
Despite what opponents have said, Bill C-484 is truly not about abortion. If a woman wants to have an abortion in Canada, we all understand that she has that recourse and this bill has explicit wording to respect that choice.
Also, and significantly, the bill does not change the definition of "human being" or recognize fetal "personhood" in any way. What it does, is to give legal recourse to lay charges against a third party only in the very specific, very narrow circumstance when a pregnant woman is the victim of a crime, the attacker knows she is pregnant, and, in the process, the attacker intentionally or recklessly harms or causes the death of her unborn baby.
I have diligently tried to walk critics through what appear to be intentionally fear-creating references to "fetal homicide" and "unborn victims of violence" laws in various U.S. states. There are in fact no valid comparisons to make, and this bill, if it became law, could not in any legitimate way be used to "police" or "punish" pregnant women.
Left to think about this particular issue quietly, the vast majority of Canadians have already said, in three national polls, that they absolutely support this bill and the intention behind it.
Even in Quebec, where the opposition has been the most vociferous and heated, the majority of those with an opinion support this bill, including 53 per cent of Quebec women.
(In the email version of this text, the following was added)--
I close by asking some questions that I think are fair and reasonable:
What do you say to a woman who is grieving from a miscarriage or a stillbirth? What has she lost? Is her sadness imaginary? While I am not a physician, I am certain you do not tell her she has lost nothing.
Support for this Bill will tell these women that society recognizes the value of what she has lost and honours the grief she endures as a result.
I will continue to hope that Canada’s physicians will show their trademark compassion for victimized women and also for the not-yet-born children they very much wanted by supporting Bill C-484.
Thanking you for your thoughtful consideration of this important matter, I remain
Ken Epp, MP
Edmonton – Sherwood Park
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