Abortion coercion bill up against stiff opposition

  • November 10, 2010
Rod BruinoogeOTTAWA - A bill that would make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion faces a rough ride in the House of Commons.

During its first hour of debate Nov. 1, Rod Bruinooge’s private members’ Bill C-510 faced challenges from women MPs from the Bloc, Liberals and NDP who argued the bill would interfere with a woman’s “right to choose” abortion.

But Bruinooge, who chairs the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, argued his bill protects women from being threatened and coerced into ending pregnancies they choose to keep.

Bruinooge has found support outside government circles however, as the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) is calling upon Catholics to contact their Members of Parliament to show their support for Bill C-510.

“Violence and coercion against women, whether they are pregnant or not, betrays a profound irrespect for the dignity and integrity of women,” said COLF director Michele Boulva, who added Bruinooge should be commended for introducing the bill.

Bruinooge told the story of Roxanne Fernando, whose boyfriend tried to coerce her to have an abortion. When she refused, her boyfriend arranged to have his friends murder her, leaving her in a Winnipeg snowbank to die.

“This bill might be based on Roxanne Fernando but there are many Roxannes across this country, and sadly, many of these vulnerable women are often targeted for violence,” he said. “When women find themselves in dangerous situations and without specific legal protection, they may feel that an unwanted abortion is their only option.”

Bruinooge stressed Bill C-510 would not affect women’s access to legal abortion. Instead it would clarify what constitutes coercive behaviour and “send a clear message” that coercing women to end a chosen pregnancy “will not be tolerated.”

The Harper government has signaled it will not support the bill because of its pledge not to “reopen the abortion debate.”

Bruinooge did receive support from fellow Conservatives David Anderson, the parliamentary secretary to the natural resources minister, and Kelly Block.

“We need to protect pregnant women, especially when they are at their most vulnerable, from being coerced into having abortions they do not want,” Block told the House.

For Bruinooge, going against his own government may be a career-limiting move. But the MP told the recent International Pro-Life Conference here Oct. 29 that efforts like his “may not succeed but begin to focus attention on things that need to be addressed.”

He spoke of recent victories and momentum gained in the battle to restore a “culture of life,” such as the defeat of Liberal MP Bob Rae’s motion to force the government to include abortion in its maternal health initiative and the defeat of Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde’s euthanasia bill.

But even a failed bill can have an impact. Lalonde, he said, knew that win or lose, there would be “significant progress” just from having her pro-euthanasia philosophy discussed. He pointed to the ongoing commission investigating euthanasia in Quebec.

He said he hoped to do the same in the opposite direction. 

“Any pro-life initiative comes with the angst of very unfriendly media,” he said.

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