Conservative backbencher and chair of the Parliamentary all-party “pro-life” caucus Rod Bruinooge recently introduced a Bill to penalize those who “coerce” women into having an abortion.
Despite his position with the “pro-life” caucus, Bruinooge maintains that he is not trying to make abortion illegal; he just wants to protect women from being forced to have abortions against their will.
Those of us who are pro-choice are, by definition, committed to the principle that women make reproductive choices freely and with autonomy. Indeed, that is why we call ourselves pro-choice. We are concerned about women who are threatened or intimidated into making any decision related to their reproductive capacity.
Bruinooge has said he created this bill because of a case in his riding in which a young woman, Roxanne Fernando, was killed by her boyfriend, allegedly after he told her to have an abortion and she refused.
This is a tragic tale, indeed, but really is no different from any other femicide or violence against women story. Men kill, beat, strangle and otherwise physically assault their female partners and former partners when those women leave them, make their own decisions, do not make dinner on time, do not dress as directed to – in short, when they do not do as they have been told.
Men also threaten and harass their partners and former partners for all the same reasons.
Laws against all these kinds of behaviours already exist. Roxanne Fernando’s former partner, Nathanael Plourde, is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years for his involvement in her murder.
We could, and do, argue that these laws are not always appropriately enforced and that courts do not always take violence against women related charges seriously enough. But we do not need a law about coercion with respect to abortion to ensure that women are safe from men’s violence.
What we might need, if we need more laws at all, is a law that prevents people from coercing women not to have abortions. Think about the possibilities if Mr. Bruinooge’s bill were just modestly revised as follows (my changes are noted in boldface type, and I include only selected sections of the Bill):
Whereas many pregnant women have been coerced not to have an abortion and have suffered grievous physical, emotional and psychological harm as a result;
Whereas the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in Tremblay v Daigle  2 S.C.R. 530 that: “No court in Quebec or elsewhere has ever accepted the argument that a father’s interest in a foetus which he helped create could support a right to veto a woman’s decisions in respect of the foetus she is carrying;”
And whereas Parliament wishes to ensure that women are able to continue to make autonomous decisions with respect to their reproductive capacity:
Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
1. This Act may be cited as An Act to Prevent Coercion of Pregnant Women Not to Abort.
2. The Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after section 264.1:
264.2 (1) Every one who coerces a female person not to procure or attempt to procure an abortion for herself is guilty of
(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.
(2) Everyone who attempts to coerce a female person not to procure an abortion for herself is guilty of
(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
(3) The following definitions apply in this section:
“abortion” means the act of using or prescribing any instrument, medicine, drug or any other substance, device or means with the intent to terminate the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a female person. (Remainder of this definition removed.)
“coercion,” in respect of an abortion, means conduct that, directly or indirectly, causes a female person to reject the possibility of an abortion to which she might otherwise have consented. A person coerces a woman not to have an abortion if he or she knows of or suspects the pregnancy of a female person and engages, or conspires with another to engage in, conduct that is intentionally and purposely aimed at directing the female person who is considering having an abortion not to have an abortion, including but not limited to the following conduct:
(a) committing, attempting to commit, or threatening to commit physical harm to the female person, a child or another person;
(b) committing, attempting to commit or threatening to commit any act prohibited by any provincial or federal law;
(c) denying or removing or making a threat to remove financial support or housing from a person who is financially depending on the person engaging in the conduct;
(d) attempting to compel by the use of religious or moral pressure or intimidation, and
(e) attempting to compel by pressure or intimidation including argumentative and rancorous badgering or importunity; . . .
“course of conduct,” for the purposes of the definition “threat” means a pattern of conduct that consists of a series of two or more separate acts evidencing a continuity of purpose.
“threat,” for the purposes of paragraph (c) of the definition “coercion” means one or more statements or a course of conduct by an individual that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual is likely to act in accordance with the statements or as implied by the course of conduct . . .
Surely, this is the kind of Bill that is more needed than yet another back door attempt by the Conservatives to reopen the abortion debate.