Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in the debate at second reading of Bill C-484, which makes it a criminal offence to injure or cause the death of a child, before or during its birth, while committing an offence against the mother. The bill presented by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park has the merit of being simple. However, it has serious repercussions for women in our society.
As a woman, mother and lawyer, I am disturbed, when I read this bill, by the underlying reactionary aspect of what at first seems to be a good intention. In fact, the logic of Bill C-484 suggests that an individual who causes the death of a fetus by attacking the mother may be prosecuted for the death of the fetus. Hidden behind what would seem to be a praiseworthy intention is a restriction on the right to abortion.
At first, this statement may seem surprising. However, my thoughts on the matter hinge on the fact that Bill C-484 attempts to limit abortion under the pretext of safety concerns which, typical of the Conservatives, emphasize repression rather than prevention. Therefore, the purpose of Bill C-484 is not what we might be led to believe by the preamble.
There are three points I wish to make. First, subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code clearly states that a child becomes a human being when it has completely proceeded from the body of its mother. This is very clear. Moreover, in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Tremblay v. Daigle that Canadian common law and Quebec civil law do not recognize the rights of the fetus unless it is born alive.
However, Bill C-484 rejects this definition and gives the fetus rights. It gives the fetus a totally separate personality under the law. In other words, Bill C-484 opens the door to an automatic quasi-right to life. In my opinion, this would create a direct conflict with the woman's rights, her personal dignity, her physical integrity and her independence.
The bill sets a precedent by recognizing the right to life of the fetus, which would lead to a restriction on the right to abortion or even pave the way for abolishing this right.
I have two children, and I am very proud of them. I have nothing but admiration for these joys life has given me. Like many parents, I find it regrettable that some women choose abortion. It is not something anyone wishes for. But women must be able to make that choice, for any number of reasons. Women fought long and hard to win the right to abortion. I could tell stories about that fight. With this bill, the Conservatives are trying, in a roundabout way, to undermine that right.
However, the courts have repeatedly had to rule on the rights of the fetus and the possibility of restraining the conduct of the mother in order to protect the child's right to be born. In every case, the Supreme Court has refused to invade the privacy of pregnant women and limit their right to freedom and independence.
In the famous case of Tremblay v. Daigle, which I mentioned earlier, a father sought an injunction to prevent the mother from having an abortion, claiming that the fetus had a right to life under the Quebec Charter. The Supreme Court once again ruled that only human beings have constitutional rights and that these rights start at the time of live birth. The Court also rejected the father's claim that he had rights over the fetus as a father. The Court determined that the father could not obtain an injunction to prevent the pregnant mother from exercising her constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
This could not be clearer. Bill C-484 is at odds with this decision. It runs counter to the general consensus in today's society.
Furthermore, the Leader of the Conservative Party promised in the last election campaign that he would not reopen the debate on abortion. However, the measure proposed in Bill C-484 has just completely contradicted that promise.
Second, Bill C-484 can result in some rather absurd situations. For example, granting these rights to the fetus will have to be done against everyone else, including the mother, whose habits and behaviour can just as easily compromise the development of the unborn child. Should we control all pregnant women and their lifestyle? I will leave the worst scenarios to your imagination, but the fact remains that controlling the mother is precisely what the Supreme Court has previously rejected.
As I was saying, the nature of Bill C-484 is appalling considering how living conditions for women have improved and the context of the times we are living in. The sponsor of Bill C-484 cannot be neutral either, since the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park is a self-described pro-life advocate. In 1997, he even said that if he were elected, he would work to exclude abortion from the services covered under the Canada Health Act. In 2003, he supported Motion M-83, a motion by the Canadian Alliance that attacked women's freedom of choice. The legacy of everything women have fought for is at stake here.
If he wants to protect life, my colleague should understand that far too often women's lives are endangered when they are forced to resort to underground abortions performed by people without training. To criminalize or restrict abortion is in fact to knowingly put in danger the lives of women who, for one reason or another, do not want to bring their pregnancy to term.
Third, I want to point out that there are solutions that better respond to the needs of pregnant women, or those who no longer wish to be pregnant. Those solutions would more easily achieve the hidden goal of this reactionary bill and still respect the freedom of choice of women.
I indicated earlier that abortion is a rights-based choice, but we have to recognize that it is a painful solution. It should be considered only as a last resort, after careful consideration. As a parent, I recommend to young women education, understanding and support as the best ways to help those who are pregnant and struggling with financial or marital problems. Compassion must also be shown to women in dealing with a pregnancy caused by rape, or any unwanted pregnancy. Through simple actions such as these, we could reduce the number of abortions in our society in a natural way.
Unfortunately, Bill C-484 does not provide for that. There is no compassion in it; only an expression of suffering and rancour, both of which would be dealt with using a purely punitive approach. It would invariably fail to achieve its hidden goal of curtailing abortion instead of protecting the fetus.
To conclude, for all these reasons, I must oppose Bill C-484, whose approach would slowly take us back sometime before 1969, to a time when it was illegal to perform abortions in Canada.
Again, the Conservatives would really like to take us back 40 years. It is the same thing with the death penalty. They supported it by defeating on January 31 Motion M-411 designed to reiterate our formal opposition to such an inhumane punishment. To my way of thinking, they are contradicting themselves because they want, on the one hand, to defend life and, on the other hand, to take it away.
Frankly, we can do better than that for pregnant women through enhanced social services, support from others and guidance with a human focus. Bill C-484 distracts from that necessity by making it illegal. Unless it proposed a solution respectful of the rights of women, this bill deserves at best a mention in the House of Commons records of deliberations. While the Conservative Party wants to take us back 40 years, Quebec chooses to be modern and to respect freedom.