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Progressive politics, ideas & culture

November-December 2016

Is Bill C-225 a stepping stone to restrict abortion rights in Canada?

Behind the controversial bill that, if passed, could add charges to offences committed against pregnant individuals where the fetus is also harmed

Courtney Dickson@dicksoncourtney

A photo posted by @mmeijuu on

Cassandra Kaake was seven months pregnant when she was murdered in 2014, leaving her family and friends to deal with not one, but two tragic losses.

In the wake of Kaake’s death, Jeff Durham, father of the unborn child, whom the parents planned to name Molly, called for a change to the Criminal Code. He demanded that unborn children of assault victims be recognized as people, making it possible to punish assailants for their crimes not only against the adult, but also the fetus.

Moved by Durham’s tragic loss, conservative MP Cathay Wagantall introduced Bill C-225 to the House of Commons in February 2016. If passed, the bill, dubbed Cassie and Molly’s Law, would amend the Criminal Code by adding charges to offences committed against pregnant individuals where the fetus is also harmed.

Abortion rights activists are critical of the bill. They suggest the law would give a fetus human rights, validating the anti-abortion argument that fetuses are humans and abortion is murder. It’s a slippery slope, says Joyce Arthur, to eroding the hard-fought gains made by pro-abortion rights activists.

“This is a backdoor attempt to smuggle in fetal personhood and make it a building block towards recriminalization of abortion,” says Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. “The bill would give legal personhood to a fetus by making it a victim of crime.”

If someone is charged with committing an offence against a fetus, adds Arthur, the line between what is a human, with rights, and what isn’t becomes blurry. “[Right-wing activists] make it appear that it’s all about protecting women, pretending to be pro-choice,” she says. “It’s neither here nor there. As soon as you give legal status to a fetus you separate the woman from the fetus.”

It’s not hard to understand that victims and their families want, and deserve, a voice in tragedies like what happened to Kaake. And while the desire to protect an unborn, wanted child is justified, it shouldn’t drive new laws, says Arthur. Opinion polls aside, Arthur is confident the bill won’t pass. “Canada is one of the only countries in the world that has no abortion restrictions,” she notes. “It makes it difficult for a bill like this to get a foot in the door.”

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