By Mark Penninga (www.ARPACanada.ca) First published in Reformed Perspective Magazine, September 2010: When it comes to politics and abortion, Canadians should be given a gigantic F on our moral report card. Of all countries in the world, we seem to be the only one that can’t have a reasonable discussion about abortion or make any laws on the matter. So when MP Rod Bruinooge introduced a bill in the House of Commons this spring that would make it a crime to coerce a woman to have an abortion, one might have expected a good number of people to shout forth a collective and joyful HURAY! The reality is quite the opposite.
You may remember Rod Bruinooge from an article about him in RP a couple of years ago when he became the new chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus. With a Metis-Dutch heritage and a previous life devoted to computer game and film productions, he isn’t exactly a stereotypical pro-life leader. But he has made it clear that he wants to challenge the status-quo when it comes to abortion.
Providentially, Bruinooge will get the opportunity to have an item of Private Members Business (a bill or a motion of his choice) debated and voted on this fall, as a result of the “lottery” system that determines at the start of each Parliament the order in which Parliament will deal with each MP’s chosen item.
Bruinooge chose a bill to address an issue that touched his heart. The bill was inspired by a fellow Winnipegite, Roxanne Fernando, who was brutally murdered for refusing to have an abortion. It was therefore fitting to call Bill C-510 “Roxanne’s Law” in her memory and to put a face to the reality of the pressure that women face to “get rid of the problem” of a pregnancy that is unwanted by an upset boyfriend or family member.
Exposing the Pro-“Choice” Lie
This legislation addresses abortion in a way that no reasonable person can oppose without giving the impression that they think women should be coerced. Pro-life or pro-choice, who would argue that we shouldn’t address the sad plight of women who face this kind of abuse?
Of course the pro-abortion activists have not come out in support of this. In Canada these forces are so strident and vehement that anything that deviates from the current reality (absolutely no laws addressing abortion) is instantly condemned and labeled as an attack on women’s rights. How ironic and sad it is that a bill that would protect women from attacks is viewed this way! What this bill does is reveal that those who oppose it cannot be called pro-choice. If they really support choice, they should be supporting the choice of the women who are abused because of their choice to keep their child. There is little hiding the truth that these forces are pro-abortion, not pro-choice.
Healing the Pro-Life Rift
But there is more to this. Canada’s pro-life community has a sad history of division. When it comes to strategically working to end abortion, Canadian pro-lifers generally fall into one of three camps.
In one camp are those who would argue that a law that does not provide equal legal protection for all unborn children is simply not moral and cannot be put forward or supported by pro-lifers. For this group, it is unjust to advance a law that leaves some unborn children outside of its scope – such as a bill that would limit abortion to 12 weeks gestation. To do so would be to “condone” those abortions not prohibited by the legislation. But it becomes evident quite quickly that most attempts at addressing protection for unborn children politically cannot be supported with this criteria. Take for example the recent “unborn victims of crime” bill in Canada, which would have recognized a separate legal offence for killing a pregnant woman’s unborn child during the commission of an offence against her. This bill would have given legal protection only to those unborn children who are “wanted” by their mothers, and not to those children whose mothers want to abort them – making the bill unjust, according to this “equal protection for all unborn children” view. It becomes very difficult to find any legislation that would be considered just with this criteria, apart from a complete ban on abortion.
A second camp generally argues that we live in a sin-filled world and being involved in politics means that we simply have to work with what is possible. We have to move in steps toward a complete ban on abortion which means that some steps may require support for a law that protects some unborn children more than others. This view has sometimes been referred to as the “incremental” or “imperfect legislation” approach. Pro-lifers in this camp would generally support all steps as long as the effect is a continuing chipping away at abortion. For example, they would support a bill in Canada that would limit abortion to 20 weeks gestation (but continue to work to bring that to a complete ban).
A third group is somewhat in the middle. They recognize that incremental measures must be taken because that is the very nature of politics. But they are not comfortable with gestational limits on abortion, as it seems to put a stamp of approval on the abortions before the gestational limit (eg 12 or 20 weeks). As a result, they would support legislation that makes it more difficult to have an abortion (like informed consent laws, requirement to view an ultrasound, etc). But there tends to be inconsistencies with this approach. What exactly are the differences between the morality of gestational limits and other limits? Does requiring informed consent still put a stamp of approval on abortions after the consent is obtained? If that argument is made, how is it different then a gestational limit?
The good thing about Roxanne’s Law is that it speaks to abortion in a way that should not divide pro-lifers on this contentious matter. Everyone who calls themselves pro-life should be able to support this law because it doesn’t give partial legal protection to the unborn. No abortions are actually prohibited by C-510 (so all unborn children are still treated equally.) Rather, the bill affects only the mother of the child. It gives additional protection to those women who want to keep their babies. It does this by making it a crime to coerce a woman against her will to have an abortion. Sadly, no babies are directly protected by this legislation (as they were with the Unborn Victims of Crime Act), but at least their mothers are given additional protection in order to help them choose life. This is an important step in uniting pro-life Canadians because we can work together in support of this legislation and hopefully increase our trust as we realize our common heart and the need to combine forces more in the future.
Work To Be Done
When ARPA members met with MP’s in Parliament this spring we were surprised at the critical reception this bill was getting, even from pro-life MP’s. Why was this so?
Anything relating to abortion has become a liability to our politicians, at least that is what most believe. There are some good reasons for this. The mainstream media simply can’t cover the issue without rhetoric. When the Conservative government went along with what the House of Commons voted for and chose not to include abortion in the maternal health plans that went to the G8 meeting, the Globe & Mail, CBC, and Toronto Star found a way to rant about this for at least 4 weeks straight. Even though this “controversy” didn’t register in most of the other G8 nations, apparently Canada was being extreme by not forcing abortion upon third world countries, some of which currently outlaw it. So the media has successfully turned any mention of abortion into a hot potato.
Another reason why our MP’s have become increasingly hesitant is because of us, the pro-life community. When some MP’s have in the past tried to show leadership on the abortion issue, they experienced the practical effects of a divided pro-life community (for example, Paul Steckle’s PMB C-338 to ban late-term abortions, introduced in 2006, was not supported by some pro-life groups). When not even the pro-life community can be counted on to support legislation against abortion, and the pro-abortion community has the mainstream media on their side, it takes a rather strong politician to still tread these waters.
Yes, some blame does lie on the shoulders of the MP’s themselves. Many don’t seem to realize that running from the issue doesn’t help their cause. If the public knows that they are pro-life already, why bother trying to hide it? The media can smell blood and will only strengthen the attack as the politician squirms. Just admit that you are pro-life and want to see abortion ended. That is what being a leader is about. Some “pro-life” MP’s need to be challenged by their constituents to show some integrity in this regard.
When the 1990 attempt at an abortion bill failed, some pro-lifers used the justification that a flawed bill couldn’t be supported and that we should not have a hand in bringing anything forward that doesn’t protect all unborn life. But after 20 years of no changes, perhaps it is time that we realized that we can’t count on the pro-choice crowd to introduce abortion legislation. The options are to either work at achieving the most restrictions possible and continually working for more, or give up on all political efforts and retreat to other sectors of the pro-life movement. It is exactly the latter option that many seem to be taking. So little effort is being put into legislative changes. It is much easier to stay outside of the political process and condemn it and those involved in it.
This may all seem like too big of an issue to do anything about, but the reality is that we have an opportunity right now to make a difference. We need to support Roxanne’s Law and encourage our MP’s to do the same.