Parliamentary Attack on Women’s Rights

MP Ken Epp introduced a private member’s bill, the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act” (C-484), which will likely reappear in the House on February 29 and be voted on on March 5. The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code so that separate homicide charges can be laid when the fetus of a pregnant woman is harmed if she is attacked.

If this bill passes into legislation, it would be an unconstitutional infringement on women’s rights. It is a key step towards re-criminalizing abortion, but it could also criminalize pregnant women if their behaviours are deemed to be harmful to fetuses.

Please take a moment to sign the online petition against the bill. Then, contact your MP to ensure s/he votes against it. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has developed 14 talking points which can be used to argue against the bill:

1.    Fetal personhood conflicts with the Criminal Code: The bill grants a type of legal personhood to fetuses. This conflicts with the existing Criminal Code provision that fetuses are not persons until they exit from the birth canal alive. (Section 223[1]). Further, the bill tries to amend Part VIII of the Criminal Code, “Offences Against the Person and Reputation”; however, the fetus is not a legal person and cannot rightly fall under this section.

2.    We need to address domestic violence against pregnant women: The bill takes the focus away from the real issue—domestic violence against pregnant women. When media coverage focuses on the victim’s fetus, the pregnant woman is forgotten. But homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women and new mothers, and violence against women increases during pregnancy. What we need instead of this bill are better measures to reduce violence against pregnant women. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/02/23/earlyshow/main675945.shtml)

3.    The bill does not protect women, only fetuses: The bill does not make it a crime to attack pregnant women, and applies narrowly only to the fetuses of pregnant women. Further, Mr. Epp’s stated intent of the bill is to protect only wanted fetuses. (He said: “This is all about protecting the choice of a woman to give birth to her child.” (http://kenepp.com/newsroom/insidepage.asp?ID=69) However, women who have recently given birth, or have had abortions or are planning to have abortions, are also at increased risk of domestic violence. This bill completely fails them. By far the best way to protect fetuses is to protect pregnant women, their sole caretakers. We need to give pregnant women the supports and resources they need for good pregnancy outcomes, including protection from domestic violence.

4.    The law has no rational or evidential basis. This is a “feel-good” bill designed to satisfy emotional needs, and the wish for punishment and vengeance. There is no evidence the bill will have any deterrent or beneficial effect. “Fetal homicide” laws in the U.S. have done nothing to reduce domestic violence against pregnant women or fetuses (http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/whats_new/sc_womens_health_coalition_members_speak_the_truth_about_scs.php). Further, the bill wrongly capitalizes on the grief of families to push a fetal rights agenda.

5.    The bill’s real intent is to give fetuses personhood and criminalize abortion: The narrowness of the bill indicates that the real intent is not to protect women, but to give fetuses legal personhood, for no apparent reason other than to try and use it as a wedge to re-criminalize abortion. The bill was introduced and promoted by anti-abortion groups and individuals (e.g., Campaign Life Coalition, Conservative anti-abortion MP’s, Margaret Somerville, and others). Also, it uses anti-choice language, including “unborn child”, “child” and “mother”. The bill is modeled after similar bills promoted and passed in the U.S. by anti-abortion groups and legislators. In South Carolina, anti-abortion lawmakers explicitly stated they wanted to use the state’s fetal homicide law as a legal foundation to overturn Roe v. Wade (the decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.). (http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/whats_new/sc_womens_health_coalition_members_speak_the_truth_about_scs.php)

6.    The bill conflicts with women’s guaranteed rights and equality under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman and her fetus are considered “physically one” person under the law (Dobson vs. Dobson, http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/1999/1999rcs2-753/1999rcs2-753.html), and that rights accrue to the pregnant woman. It would be extremely difficult to give fetuses any legal recognition without compromising women’s established rights in some way.

7.    Legally separating a woman from her fetus causes harm: Creating a legal separation of a pregnant woman and her fetus can result in a harmful, adversarial relationship between them. When their interests conflict, one or both can be endangered. For example, if pregnant women are threatened with arrest for abusing drugs, they are less likely to seek pre-natal care. (http://advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/issues/punishment_of_pregnant_women/prosecuting_mothers_wont_protect_our_children.php)

8.    The bill creates an inherent contradiction and confusion in the law, by pitting fetal rights against women’s rights, and creating a conflict with abortion rights. If a fetus is a legal entity with the right not to be killed, how then can abortion be exempt, and why should a pregnant woman’s potentially harmful behaviours be exempt? The law opens the door to pregnant women being targeted for their behaviours or for self-abortions, as has happened in some U.S. states.
 
9.    Pregnant women have been arrested under U.S. fetal homicide laws: In the United States, 37 states have enacted fetal protection laws or so-called “fetal homicide” laws, which make it a crime to cause harm to a fetus. (http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=135873)  But under these laws, it’s been shown that pregnant women are more likely to be punished for behaviours and conditions that are not criminalized for other people, such as drug or alcohol abuse and mental illness. (http://www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/issues/unborn_victims_of_violence_act/)  Women have also been charged or jailed for murder for experiencing a stillbirth after refusing a caesarean section, or just from suffering a stillbirth. Some states have proposed punishing pregnant women in abusive relationships who are unable to leave their batterers. The worst offender is South Carolina, where nearly 100 pregnant women with drug abuse problems have been arrested under its fetal homicide law, even though they had virtually no access to drug treatment programs. Meanwhile, only one man has been arrested for killing a pregnant woman under the South Carolina law. (http://www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/issues/punishment_of_pregnant_women/south_carolina_leading_the_nation_in_the_prosecution_punishment.php)

10.    The bill’s exemptions for pregnant women may not work: Epp’s bill specifically exempts pregnant women from prosecution, as well as abortion. However, in the U.S., arrests of pregnant women have occurred even under state fetal homicide laws that make exemptions for the pregnant woman. For example, pregnant women with drug abuse problems have been arrested for “murdering” or “assaulting” their fetuses in Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, and California under “fetal homicide” or fetal protection laws that exempt pregnant women from criminal liability. Courts have so far struck down these types of prosecutions, but arrests continue based on a growing body of law declaring that fetuses have rights separate from those of pregnant women. http://www.tompaine.com/Archive/scontent/10189.htmlWomen in the U.S. have been and continue to be the primary target of “fetal homicide” laws, because these laws dehumanize pregnant women by elevating fetal rights over women’s rights. This encourages law enforcement and prosecutors to take harsh punitive action against pregnant women for perceived misconduct or illegal activities. Epp’s bill endangers women’s rights in a similar way, by setting up a legal conflict between the personhood of women and fetuses.

11.    People who help women self-abort could be prosecuted. If women try to self-abort and persuade someone to help them, the helper can be prosecuted under a fetal homicide law and suffer grave injustice. In 2005, Texas teenager Gerardo Flores (http://www.siecusdc.net/policy/PUpdates/pdate0186.html) was found guilty on two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison for helping his girlfriend end her five-month pregnancy of twins. At the time, anti-abortion legislators lamented that Texas’ law would not allow prosecution of his girlfriend, too. The desperate couple had decided to self-induce an abortion because they couldn’t get one legally – Texas had recently banned abortions after 16 weeks. This shows how fetal homicide laws can seriously impact abortion rights.

12.    Polls do not reflect justice or informed opinion: A recent poll in Canada (http://www.ccrl.ca/index.php?id=4889), commissioned by anti-abortion group LifeCanada, found that 72% of respondents support legislation that would make it a separate crime to injure or kill a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman. However, most people don’t realize there’s a hidden agenda against abortion behind the promotion of these laws, or that it could end up hurting pregnant women. The public would probably be much less willing to support a “fetal homicide” law if they understood its real effects.

13.    Victim’s families should not determine legal remedies: Some of the victims’ families have called for a “fetal homicide” law. While we deeply sympathize with them and understand their wish, it must be recognized that victims of violence are not those who should be making decisions about justice in a democratic society. Appropriate laws and penalties must be determined by impartial parties who do not allow emotion or personal bias to colour their decisions. This is done to fairly protect everyone’s democratic rights, such as the rights of the accused.

14.    We can impose harsher penalties for attacks on pregnant women: To achieve justice in these tragic cases, prosecutors can recommend more serious charges, such as first degree murder or aggravated assault. Judges may impose harsher penalties, and parole boards may deny parole to convicted perpetrators. We could even pass a law mandating greater penalties for attacks on pregnant women, as has been done in 13 U.S. states. Alternatively, harsher penalties are already mandated under the Criminal Code’s hate crime law, which would cover attacks against women because they are pregnant. Any of these measures would provide justice, while avoiding the abortion controversy and protecting the rights of all pregnant women.

For more information, see:

ARCC’s Position Paper The Case Against a Fetal Homicide Law, http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/fetal_homicide_law.html

ARCC’s Nov 23 press release: Bill to protect fetuses would hurt pregnant women: http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/press/ARCC-CDAC-release-nov-23-07-english.pdf

Joyce Arthur’s op-ed piece in the National Post Nov 13: “Fetal Homicide Laws are not the Answer” http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=171ab1e2-a77b-4791-a646-0ebc27512b9a&p=1

This Talking Points document is on the Internet at http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/unborn-victims-act.htm

This is way better than an Oscar!

1st PlacePolitics’n’Poetry would like to thank everyone who supported the Canadian F-word Blog Awards, and most especially Pale and Prole at A Creative Revolution, for taking on the task of making them happen! I have to say that I am more than impressed that my suggestion for a feminist blog award category in another awards forum resulted in something so much better than one simple award! Special thanks as well to media women, Antonia and Heather, for their support and their strong feminist voices in the mainstream media.  Inspiration and breaths of fresh air, those two are!

Politics’n’Poetry would also like to thank all those who voted for P’n’P in the CFBA rounds of voting. Thanks to you we snagged 1st Place in the Best Environmental Blog category and this ecofeminist is pretty durned happy about that!  It is very validating to know that the work one does is appreciated.

Finally, P’n’P would like to congratulate all the winners and nominee in the CFBAs.  It is awesome that we have so many fantastic feminist bloggers in Canada!  I look forward to reading those I do not already know.  Oh, and the Winners List is here.

Scandal still growing

Three weeks I’ve been away and the Chalk River Scandal carries on.  Glad to see the blogosphere (you know who you are!) has kept up with taking it on, showing up the Cons for the creeps and liars they truly are! And good on the Globe and Mail for this:

Over the past month, The Globe and Mail has interviewed dozens of people with intimate knowledge of the company and the global nuclear landscape, including AECL employees, retirees, former board members, federal bureaucrats, former government ministers, current and former members of the CNSC and business people with close ties to AECL.

The interviews revealed:

  • AECL has been fraught for years with internal management problems that were repeatedly acknowledged by government officials and flagged by business partners and the federal auditor-general, yet never fixed;
  • the company’s lobbying campaign to have the government decrease tensions with the CNSC, backed by private-sector partners, has been mounting steadily for more than a year;
  • Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn was allegedly e-mailed information about problems at AECL at least two days before he admitted to learning about the reactor shutdown (he denies seeing the e-mail);
  • emergency legislation passed last December restarted the reactor only days earlier than it could have been if the safety commission had not been overruled.

Chalk River: Crisis ‘foreseeable and preventable’

UPDATE! I’m out of town and not blog-reading.  Here’s updated material from JimBobby and TGB which I read *after* I posted what’s below!

It becomes clearer, with each bit of information, that Parliament was seriously hoodwinked on the Chalk River issue by Harper. From the Inbox:

—- Original Message —–

From: Gordon Edwards
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 1:47 PM
Subject: Isotope suppliers could have met 250% of world market needs
Clarification on isotopes:
It is important to realize that technetium-99m is not used
for therapeutic purposes but for diagnostic purposes, so
it is completely untrue that “lives” were at risk during the
so-called Chalk River isotope crisis. In fact it was a major
inconvenience and upset hospital schedules considerably,
but it put no lives at risk. And in fact the inconvenience
was avoidable.
Frank von Hippel is a very careful and credible researcher.
In a 2006 article he said that 250% of world demand for
short-lived radioisotopes like molybdenum-99 (the source
material needed for making technetium-99m available) could
be met by the world’s isotope suppliers and that even
without Canada, 100% of demand could be met.
Thus all the talk about a “crisis” was actually foreseeable
and preventable. If AECL and Nordion had plainly informed
their customers that the MAPLE isotope-production reactors
were seven years behind schedule (because those reactors
were seriously flawed in both design and construction) and
that Canadian supply depended on a 50-year old geriatric NRU
reactor that was not up to modern safety standards, then the
customers could have arranged for other suppliers to be prepa-
red to take up the slack. Result: no crisis.

Activist Killed As Nazis Attack Anti-Nuclear Camp

This is a very frightening attempt to shut down dissent on the nuclear issue! It’s dated, but news to me.  From UK Indymedia

Activist Killed As Nazis Attack Anti-Nuclear Camp In Siberia

imc-uk-features | 24.07.2007 23:00 | Ecology | Repression | World

In the early morning of 21st July, neo-nazi skinheads launched a vicious and unprovoked attack on an anti-nuclear protest camp in Angarsk, Siberia, Russia (see map). The nazis violently attacked activists in their sleeping bags and tents with iron rods, knives and air pressure guns. 21 year old Ilya Borodaenko from Nachodka suffered a head-fracture during the attack and later died in hospital from his injuries. At least nine others have been reported to be seriously injured, one of which has had both their legs broken. Tents were set on fire and several belongings were stolen.

Read the full entry.