Monday, August 29, 2011

Why does Canada have no laws protecting unborn children?

I'm looking at two documents. One is American, and is called A reason to celebrate: 80+ pro-life laws passed this year.

The second is Canadian, and is called "Striving for a pro-life law".

I look at one, and then the other. I ask myself, what's wrong with this picture? Why do the Americans have pro-life laws and we do not?

The “reason to celebrate” article details pro-life legal successes in the United States this year, of which there were many. Like Nebraska's ban last year on late-term abortions. Like outlawing abortions after 20 or 21 weeks of pregnancy in Kansas Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma. In fact, US state legislatures have passed more than 80 bills this year, restricting access to abortion, up from 23 such laws enacted last year.

Wow, I thought, how wonderful.

Then I look back at the other paper: "Striving for a pro-life law" written by Campaign Life Coalition.

I realize that Canada has accomplished nothing to create legal protection for the unborn. We have no laws. We have no successes. None. After more that 20 years.

What are we doing wrong?

So I start reading CLC's paper to see if they can answer this question. CLC describes themselves as:
"Canadian national pro-life organization working at all levels of government to secure full legal protection for all human beings from conception to natural death."

The paper provides background on the topic of legal protection, and two different definitions of possible legal protection.

First, is what CLC calls “Compromise” legislation, and they define this as:
“any type of legislation that would explicitly or implicitly accept or admit that killing any category or class of unborn children as lawful, or that unborn children may be lawfully killed in any specified circumstances, whether or not the existing law already permits abortion in these cases. This would include gestational legislation permitting an abortion to be committed based on the age of the developing human being. An example would be legislation that would prohibit all abortions after 15 weeks gestation. This would at the same time be legislative approval for all abortions up to that date.”

CLC seems to be saying in this example, that because such a law would only protect babies older than 15 weeks gestation, and not those under 15 weeks, that such a law would condone abortion for babies under 15 weeks. Therefore, CLC would not support this type of legislation.

Okay, I understand that viewpoint.

But then I say to myself, but our current legal situation is such that abortion is already legally sanctioned for all babies under 15 weeks and older than 15 weeks. So if we had a law that protected those babies over 15 weeks, at least some of the existing inequity would be solved, right? Some babies would be protected. Isn't that better than no babies?

Then CLC gives their definition of an “Incremental Law”. They believe this is:
“any type of law, other than compromising legislation, which would help to stop or curtail abortion or would help to generate a culture of respect for human life, from conception to natural death. An example would be one carefully crafted legislation making it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion”.

(Many pro-life people say that CLC’s definition of "compromise" law is really "incremental" law because they see each incremental gain as adding more and more protection to the unborn, one step at a time.)

Last year MP Rod Bruinooge introduced Roxanne's Law, a Bill that would make coercing an abortion a criminal offence. So I wondered, did CLC support this bill? Well Jim Hughes, president of CLC, seemed to say they did.

But then the Interim reported this:
"CLC also took exception with the wording of the bill that conceded the permissibility of abortion (Section 4), that states it "does not apply in the case of a physician who attempts to convince a pregnant female person to have a medical intervention that results, or may result in the death of the child when, in the physician's best medical judgement, that medical intervention is necessary to prevent a serious threat to the female person's physical health." Hughes said CLC cannot support a bill that acknowledges abortion as a permissible option for Canadian women. He told The Interim that he wished that Section 4 was not in C-510."

Again, this is a situation where it is already legal to abort all children, so a law such as C-510 would improve what we currently have today. Isn’t that progress?

Then I asked myself if CLC isn't happy with such laws as these two examples, maybe they should propose some laws themselves? They could in fact even provide the exact wording of a law that they could support, and find an MP willing to table that law.

If they were to come up with such an “Incremental” law as they define it, as long as it would have broad public support, maybe Canada could finally move forward in legally protecting the unborn.

How do we get from where we are now, to our goal of full legal protection, if we don't take small incremental steps along the way? It seems to me that we can't get there from here if we continue on the path we've chosen so far.

We need to work together constructively. We need to propose bills that all pro-life people can support. More important I think, we need to get the people in the mushy middle on side too. How about banning all abortions over 24 weeks? Even the most extreme pro-choicers would have difficultly publicly saying they didn't support such a bill.

I don't think "striving for a pro-life law" will get us anywhere until we change our strategy. It was Albert Einstein who gave us his definition of Insanity:
"doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

It's been over 20 years since the Morgentaler decision and we've still had no successes in bringing forth any laws to restrict abortions. The United States has. We have to do something different.


  1. Right on! I was a member of CLC for a couple of years and didn't really understand their position on this incremental legislation. They seem to be all or nothing, so therefore we have nothing as you point out.
    In fact, I read that Brian Mulroney tried to get some legislation through Parliament back in the 80's, and he found the pro-life people to be so divided and unsupportive of his efforts that he told them to forget it, that he would never try to help them again. If that is true, then Harper is simply acting upon past experience in refusing to reopen the debate because he knows it will simply remain a debate and achieve no results.
    Incremental is better than nothing. So how do we get CLC to budge off their high horse and realise that some protection is better than none? And that this would then lead to more protections.

  2. Julie: the thinking was 20 years ago was that if there was compromise, pro-lifers would lose their only chance to ban abortion. The thinking was: elect a majority pro-life parliament, ban abortion and it would take 5 years.

    Here in Ottawa, I have simply not seen the all-or-nothing attitude. Incrementalism is supported. In fact, I was surprised to learn that CLC was once all-or-nothing because it's not now, especially since the turn of the millenium. I had to hear the story from others about uncompromising the pro-life movement was. Because I'd simply never seen it in Ottawa.

  3. RE: original topic. Oh, I can write a dissertation on this.

    You can't think of the movement purely in terms of electing pro-life MP's and getting the to submit legislation and vote the right way.

    The pro-life movement is actually a very young movement. How long did it take for women to secure the vote? How long did it take to legalize gay marriage? Decades. Abolishing slavery took at least 100 years.

    What made it possible was not just a bunch of militants and the voting booth (although there are issues to be addressed there). Activists have to change the culture and change society. EVERY ASPECT OF SOCIETY. If we ever hope to get pro-life legislation, we can't just remain a bunch of activists showing abortion pictures on the sidewalk. I'm not saying we should stop-- far from it-- but it can't be JUST that.

    I wrote a blogpost called "Ramping up the pro-life movement". One of my points is that we have to reshape our local community so that nobody can avoid pro-life thought or belief. They must come into contact with it everyday. It must not be some alien ideology-- it has to be part of their daily lives. When it becomes part of daily thinking for people, when MP's will not be crucified in the public square for saying pro-life things, that's when we will have a shot at pro-life legislation. Even mushy middle abortion legislation won't pass-- as we've seen in recent decades-- because it's still too politically dangerous.

    And note that legislation based on gestational age has a very poor track record of actually stopping abortion. There are always exceptions that render these laws a dead leader. That's why the US pro-life movement was so keen on banning partial birth abortion instead of banning abortions after 20 weeks.

    Legislation is based on social norms. We have not had any impact on social norms. I know we look at the polls and say most Canadians support pro-life laws. Let's cut the BS. Support for banning abortion after 20 weeks is a mile wide and an inch deep, and as long as politicians risk losing elections over it (or think they will) nothing will ever pass. It's a useless measure of pro-life support. We should be looking at the other side of the poll, where support for personhood is about 5-10%. That's the number we should be REALLY working on. Call it trickle up public opinion. If we can double our numbers-- and by "our" I mean real pro-lifers-- we will influence the public discourse so support for incremental legislation will eventually reach a critical mass.

    I would also like to say that one thing the average pro-lifer lacks in my experience is what I call "Eye of the Tiger". A hunger so deep and so abiding to end abortion that they're willing to do anything (moral) to achieve it. (For an understanding of Eye of the Tiger, watch Rocky II and Rocky III). How many of our activists are *willing* to be arrested for the pro-life cause. Not too many. The pro-lifers I'm referring to are outside the typical CLC/pro-life movement circle. They're timid, they think: what's the point, we'll never get abortion legislation anyway, I want my tax cuts now (so I keep voting for Harper no matter what) etc. We need to build up that hunger, otherwise I guarantee we will never see legislation.

    And one last thing (sorry to go on, but like I said, I could write a dissertation) there is one gaping hole in the pro-life movement in Canada: Quebec. It's getting better. But it's still embryonic (sorry for the pun). Pro-lifers are so in the closet in this province there are people who claim never to have met one. I know some people are banking on Quebec separating. Totally unacceptable as a strategy. Even if it does, we still have to fight abortion there. The bulk of opposition to pro-life laws in Canada comes from Quebec, especially the medical and legal groups. Until we can reshape public opinion and break the support of these extremely powerful lobbies, nothing will happen.

  4. I also think that we don't appreciate enough the difference between Canadian government and the US. Obviously, their senators can introduce legislation, they get people signing up in support, they get things passed. Nothing could ever happen that way in Canada.
    The abortion situation here is locked up in the federal government, the provinces have no jurisdiction over it at all. Does this not have to change in order for us to start making changes in legislation?
    It is like a brick wall, if we can't take out a brick here and there, weakening the wall, I don't see how we can make anything change.
    Why can't we get someone to introduce a law such as girls under 16 must have parental consent before having an abortion? after all, if parents have to consent to dispensing aspirin in school, shouldn't abortion require their consent as well?

  5. Actually, much could be done at the provincial level to reduce the harm of abortion. A criminal prohibition could only be done federally. But regulations for doctors and clinics, freedom of conscience legislation, defunding abortion, changes to civil laws to make it easier for women to sue abortionists, parental/informed consent legislation--all of these could be done to a greater or lesser degree at the provincial level.

    In Canada, Senators can introduce Private Members Bills.

  6. @Suzanne
    Take it from the horse's mouth, CLC is incremental but NEVER gestational, and that is also the policy in Ottawa.
    Gestational legislation has been rejected for perhaps the same reason Sir Thomas More might have rejected it: as a legislator it would be repugnant for him to "tell a lie" and say that it is "ok" to kill children under 15 weeks, even with the "good intention" of closing that gap over time. It is never good to do evil (tell a lie) so that good may come of it (so that abortion can eventually be eliminated). This is the logic, and this is why CLC has never yet tabled gestational legislation.
    But not all incremental legislation (i.e. Roxanne's Law) is gestational, which is why CLC supported Roxanne's Law.
    -Georges from Campagne Québec-Vie

  7. Georges, as I noted above in my blog, CLC didn't support Bill C-510 as it was written, according to the Interim article. They wanted it to go to committee so that they could have the wording changed:
    "CLC also took exception with the wording of the bill that conceded the permissibility of abortion (Section 4), that states it "does not apply in the case of a physician who attempts to convince a pregnant female person to have a medical intervention that results, or may result in the death of the child when, in the physician's best medical judgement, that medical intervention is necessary to prevent a serious threat to the female person's physical health." Hughes said CLC cannot support a bill that acknowledges abortion as a permissible option for Canadian women. He told The Interim that he wished that Section 4 was not in C-510."

    I suppose it might also depend on what one means by "support".

    So I googled "bill c-510 Roxanne's law support" and came up with a lot of groups who did actively campaign for the Bill. Nothing comes up for CLC though, at least I couldn't find anything, except that one article with the caveat that they would support it going to committee, so that they could try to get the wording changed at committee.

    Then I googled with "bill c-510 Roxanne's law support campaign life coalition", and found the video put out by CLC, that once again, said it supported the bill, but with the committee caveat again. But as far as supporting the bill, in the sense of actively campaigning in favour of it, I just did not see that, Georges. Maybe you are aware of something I'm not?

    And then you say that "and this is why CLC has never yet tabled gestational legislation." So what incremental abortion legislation has CLC tabled?