Unborn victims of crime bill debated in House

  • December 19, 2007

{mosimage}OTTAWA - The Unborn Victims of Crime Act (C-484) received its first hour of debate in the House of Commons Dec. 13, just before the House rose for a Christmas break.

“This bill is about giving a woman the freedom of choice to bring her child to term in safety,” Conservative MP Ken Epp said in a Dec. 13 statement. “In anticipating the birth of her baby, she has become emotionally attached to it, and has experienced the greatest violation of her right and freedom possible — the criminal assault and death or injury to her child that she loves and wants to protect.

“The bill is a response to impassioned pleas by grieving families who want Parliament to enact legislation to recognize unborn children as separate crime victims when they are harmed or killed during criminal attacks against their mothers,” he said, noting that according to the Canadian Perinatal Surveillance System, “women abused during pregnancy were four times as likely as other abused women to report having experienced very serious violence.”

In his speech before the House, Epp told the stories of five recent cases of murdered pregnant women in Canada, as well as that of the famous case of Laci and Conner Peterson in the United States. He also stressed that the bill deals only with unborn crime victims.

“This is a very specific, focused bill,” he said. “It deals with no other issues.”

Bloc Quebecois MP Raymond Gravel, a dissident Catholic priest, said he could not “relate” to the bill because Epp is a member of a pro-life group that he described as “fanatical” and “extremist.”

“In my opinion, this bill will open the door to recriminalizing abortion, and that is not a good thing,” he said, telling the House he was speaking “as a Catholic priest.”

“When a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed and her fetus is killed at the same time, I agree completely that it is an abominable crime,” he said. “It is revolting, but at the same time I believe that when the fetus is in its mother’s womb, they are one being. Only when it leaves her womb does it become a child. I believe that is the Supreme Court definition of 1969.”

Gravel, who was divested of his ability to perform priestly functions once he entered politics, had also promised his bishop not to speak against any doctrines of the church or vote contrary to them.

While Gravel may be contradicting church teaching on when human life begins, Liberal MP Derek Lee disagreed the bill would recriminalize abortion because it “explicitly by its own terms does not deal with the lawful termination of a pregnancy consented to by the mother.”

“Who could reasonably deny to a child prior to birth during an assault or another criminal attack on the mother, knowing that the mother is pregnant, the protection of the Criminal Code that that child deserves?” Lee asked. “I could not deny that.”

Bloc MP Meili Faille and NDP MP Alexa McDonough also spoke against the bill, raising concerns that it might lead to recriminalization of abortion.

An Environics poll commissioned last fall by LifeCanada, an educational pro-life group, showed that 72 per cent of Canadians would support an unborn victims of crime bill. Among women the support rises to 75 per cent.

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