Ken Epp’s Phony Act

As promised, here is the article that appeared in the May 22 issue of the prairie dog. Btw, the editor has suggested I invite my fans to “write SHORT letters to the editor praising [my] last column…otherwise how will the dumb editor know anyone reads it?” So, ah, any takers? The address is at the end of the article!

Ken Epp’s Phony Act

Tory member’s legislation is a sneaky attack on reproductive rights

by Bernadette Wagner

“The intent of this law is to give rights to fetuses so that abortion can be re-criminalized.”

Not surprisingly, Ken Epp’s introduction of the Unborn Victims of Crime Act met opposition from pro-choice groups like the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) when it was introduced last fall.

That opposition has continued as the bill slimed its malevolent way through second reading and into committee this past March.

“The intent of this law is to give rights to fetuses so that abortion can be re-criminalized,” said Joyce Arthur, ARCC’s coordinator.

Epp claims the bill provides protection for pregnant women by allowing for two sets of charges to be laid should a pregnant woman be assaulted. While this may sound good, it isn’t. For starters, it attempts to separate a woman’s body from the fetus she carries — hardly a practical notion.

It’s useless in any case — even if two charges could be laid, incarceration time would remain the same. In Canada, sentences are served concurrently.

Many were shocked to see the Conservative MP from Edmonton-Strathcona’s private members bill pass second reading March 5. A Conservative-Liberal anti-choice vote was enough to edge it through the House and on to the Justice Committee for review.

Conservative shenanigans have stalled the Justice Committee from conducting any business so the NDP who, except for one MP, opposed C-484 along with the Bloc, now propose it move to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Fears around C-484 are justified. It contradicts the definition of “human being” already established in Canadian jurisprudence — namely, that a fetus is part of a woman’s body until it is born.

And — despite Epp’s claims to the contrary — this bill would indeed legally establish the fetus as a human being.

Here’s the problem: if the fetus a woman carries has rights, what happens to her rights? This is why, according to ARCC, the bill would endanger reproductive freedom. Any moderately astute anti-choice activist would cite it as a precedent when pushing for re-criminalization.

That Epp did not consult with anti-violence advocates in drafting this legislation should not be a surprise. The membrane of C-484 is thin; it is clearly about establishing fetal rights. “Pregnant women don’t need Bill C-484. They need the men in their lives to stop being violent,” wrote Coalition Against Violence coordinator Vyda Ng in the Western Star.

In the U.S., laws like this are being used to police, arrest and jail women. And the rates of violence against women, pregnant or otherwise, are not dropping.

Epp’s claim to “protect women” is paternalistic at best and disingenuous at worst. “There is something seriously wrong with our system when the so-called ‘right’ to end a pregnancy takes away another pregnant woman’s right to have her wanted baby protected in law.” he said in a recent newspaper commentary. But Canada has laws which prohibit assault against women, men and children. And as part of a woman’s body, a fetus is protected.

Epp’s legislation “would not protect pregnant women, and would do nothing to respond to violence against women,” says Arthur on ARCC’s website. “The Criminal Code already recognizes that spousal violence is an aggravating factor in sentencing. Judges already do recognize pregnancy as an aggravating factor in sentencing,” she says.

Epp’s suggestion that women’s reproductive rights trump pregnant women’s rights makes no sense. His attempt to pit the one idea against the other is spin which detracts from the real issue: good old-fashioned intolerance of women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies.

A Facebook group in support of C-484 states that the bill is “a key step in recriminalizing abortion.” A social-conservative blogger dubbed C-484 the “Kicking Abortion’s Ass bill”.

Clearly, this bill is part of an incrementalist strategy, typical of the Harperites, to attack women’s reproductive freedoms. As Harper struggles to win favour with women voters, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to wipe the blood from his hands on the matter of women’s reproductive choice.