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From the IMFC: 10 Questions about Bill C-510

For your general information:

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada has put out the below Q & A sheet to help people understand Roxanne’s Law, or Bill C-510.

Ten questions about Bill C-510

Life is busy. A cheat sheet to understand the basics about one bill being discussed on Parliament Hill

By Andrea Mrozek, Manager of Research and Communications, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada

1. What is Bill C-510? 

Bill C-510 is a private member’s bill that aims to add coercing or attempting to coerce to have an abortion as an offence to the criminal code. 

2. Why is it also called Roxanne’s Law?

Bill C-510 is named after Roxanne Fernando, a Manitoba woman whose boyfriend viciously beat her and left her in a snow bank to die because she would not have an abortion. She died in 2007 at age 24. 

3. Why do we need this bill?

In Canada today, we overwhelmingly sanction and support the abortion choice in the following ways: the legal void on abortion, meaning that a woman can freely obtain an abortion for all nine months of her pregnancy, private abortion clinics funded by taxpayers, “bubble zone” laws around clinics, which force protestors to keep a distance, public funding for Planned Parenthood, among others. This bill offers support for women who want to keep a pregnancy to term in face of intimidation and violence. 

The bill also identifies  threatening a pregnant woman as a unique form of intimidation, one we should expressly identify is wrong. Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada explains in one media interview: “You could compare, for example, to the crime of assault. In the criminal code it’s broad; it includes all forms of assault. So one could easily ask why do we have a section dealing with assault with a weapon, or sexual assault or aggravated assault? It’s because the legislator and Canadians want to single out some crimes as being specifically worthy of condemnation. So for this case we want to make it clear that it is wrong to try and force a woman into aborting a child she wants to keep.” 

4. Who brought it forward?

This bill was brought forward by Conservative Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South, Rod Bruinooge. He is also chair of the parliamentary pro-life caucus. Mr. Bruinooge does not have the support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Bill C-510.

5. What is a private member’s bill? 

A private member’s bill is a piece of draft legislation brought forward by a Member of Parliament who is not a Minister of the Crown or a parliamentary secretary. The order in which they are debated is subject to a random lottery. Following introduction in the House of Commons, there are two hours of debate on two separate occasions and then a vote. If the vote passes, the bill progresses to the committee stage where it is studied and changes are suggested. Once through the committee stage, the bill returns to the House of Commons for a final vote. It is then introduced in the Senate. 

6. What stage is Bill C-510 at?

It has just had its first hour of debate in the House of Commons on November 1, 2010. The second hour of debate will likely be December 6 or 7, followed by the Second Reading vote on December 8. If it passed on December 8, it would go to committee. 

7. Is there precedence for Bill C-510?

Germany, Italy, France and 13 U.S. states have similar laws.  

8. What chances does this bill have of becoming law?

There’s no real way of gauging this and support or opposition shouldn’t be based on a preconceived idea of whether the bill will pass or not. Historically, private member’s bills have had a harder time passing into law than other bills. 

9. What is accomplished if Bill C-510 doesn’t pass?

First of all, it honours the victim of a terrible crime, Roxanne Fernando. Were it not for Bill C-510, many of us would not have heard of her. Secondly, it raises the point that pregnant women can be more vulnerable, and may need additional protection be it under or outside the law. Thirdly, it raises the issue of how to protect pregnant women—a positive framing of a question we hear less and less. Finally, this bill is generating public discussion on abortion. 

10. What are possible areas of opposition? 

Some (those who are pro-abortion) have expressed concern that this bill is intended to be a first step in recriminalizing abortion. 

Others are concerned the language in the bill is too vague, and that it would be too difficult to enforce, also that our criminal code already has provisions to deal with intimidation.

Still others (those who are pro-life) are concerned about section four in the bill, which expressly states that the bill does not apply to doctors who counsel women to have an abortion to save their health or life. “This section does not apply in the case of a physician who attempts to convince a pregnant female person to have a medical intervention that results, or may result, in the death of the child when, in the physician’s best medical judgment, that medical intervention is necessary to avoid a serious threat to the female person’s physical health.”

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