Neighbour to the south ramping up laws to protect life in the ongoing battle over unborn babies
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
VANCOUVER--Six U.S. states recently passed tough new abortion laws, and pro-choice groups have been scared to challenge them in court. As the battle heats up south of the border, in Canada there has been little tension.
Here, abortion is legal up until birth, advocated, funded, and pushed through education. It was even celebrated when Henry Morgentaler received the Order of Canada.
“The courts are a menace to society,” remarked pro-life activist Donald Spratt, referring to the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada ruling overturning Morgentaler’s abortion convictions. The ruling meant Canada no longer had any law governing abortion.
“It’s good to see some U.S. states are rolling back the abortion laws.”
Last year the state of Nebraska started what became a domino effect when they passed a law forbidding abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. They based this on new medical evidence that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks.
While this issue has brought attention to the abortion debate in the United States, supporters here, on either side, have been silent.
Spratt thinks it’s time for that to change. He said laws in Canada actually encourage abortion, like B.C.’s so-called “bubble zone” law. The Access to Abortion Act turned pro-life advocates Spratt and Cecilia (Sissy) Von Dehn into criminals, he noted.
Spratt and Von Dehn were arrested June 19, 2009, for entering the “bubble zone” around an abortion clinic on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. They were distributing information about the gag zones and not information on abortion.
They were both sentenced to two years’ probation, and Spratt was slapped with a $1,000 fine. They’ve both appealed the decision.
“They were convicted because they are prominent pro-life activists,” commented Don Christie, Von Dehn’s lawyer.
“True to the pattern of repressive governments everywhere, our constitutional protections are swept aside, and off to jail we go!” Spratt said after his sentencing.
A member of the B.C. Liberal government turned down an interview request regarding the “bubble zone” law.
Courting political opinion
While politically there seems to be no opposition to abortion, some politicians see a changing of the guard. Conservative member of Parliament Brad Trost is noticing a political shift between generations. “Most MPs who are pro-life are under 40,” he said.
Trost has been an anti-abortion advocate in Ottawa since his election in 2004. During the last election, the Liberals, NDP, and media outlets blasted Trost for his pro-life views.
“The majority of parliament value unborn life,” Trost said, referring to the majority vote of 147-132 supporting Bill C-484, The Unborn Victims of Crimes Act. The pro-life bill passed, but never made it into law because of the 2008 Federal Election.
“We need to get (young people) interested in this debate. Right now abortion is viewed as being too much of a religious issue. We have to reach out to other communities.”
Courting public opinion
John Hof, president of the Campaign Life Coalition of B.C., said the political situations in the U.S. and Canada are completely different. For example, in the States there have already been restrictions to abortion, while Canada has no legislation on it.
“That’s the reason they are able to work on it,” he said. “They are nibbling away at something that already exists.
Hof noted that pro-lifers want a law banning abortion, but because the media and public opinion polls show Canada doesn’t want that conversation, they have to be pragmatic.
“Politically we have to do what is possible,” he said. “Very slowly and very methodically, we have to nominate and elect prolife politicians.”
He added that in the U.S., socially conservative people have been organized for a long time, which is only starting to happen very slowly in Canada.
“We’ve been silent for too long,” he remarked. “It’s time for people who believe abortion is wrong to raise their voices politically.”
Encouraging politicians to draft regulations would be a good start, he said, noting that national abortion figures range from 46,000 to 120,000 annually. (B.C. doesn’t submit figures to Statistics Canada.)
“We’ve got a long way to go in regulating abortion and making it accountable. We’re not going to be able to draft a law saying ‘ban all abortions,’ but we can certainly introduce legislation to regulate industry.”
Despite the disappointing outlook, Hof said he’s not quitting anytime soon.
“I’ve been at this for a lot of years (and) we’ve got a long way to go, but I’m optimistic.”
With files from Brent Mattson.