November 22, 2010
MP Rod Bruinooge

MP Rod Bruinooge

DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

OTTAWA — A bill that would make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion faces a rough ride in the House of Commons.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) is calling upon Catholics to contact their members of Parliament and ask them to support Bill C-510.

"Violence and coercion against women, whether they are pregnant or not, betrays a profound disrespect for the dignity and integrity of women," said COLF director Michele Boulva.

MP Rod Bruinooge should be commended for introducing the bill, she said.

"No one who cares about women's equality in Canada can oppose a bill that aims at protecting pregnant women who freely choose to bear a child," Boulva said. "Let's not forget that the ultimate violence - killing - is generally preceded by verbal, psychological violence, by coercion."

But Bill C-510, which comes up for its last hour of debate and a vote in early December, is under attack by MPs from all parties.

During its first hour of debate Nov. 1, the Conservative MP's private member's bill faced challenges from women MPs from the Bloc, Liberal and NDP parties who argued the bill would interfere with a woman's "right to choose" abortion.

But Bruinooge, who chairs the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, argued his bill does the opposite - it protects women from being threatened and coerced into ending pregnancies they choose to keep.

Bruinooge told the story of Roxanne Fernando, whose boyfriend tried to coerce her to have an abortion through threats. When the Philippine-born woman chose to keep her pregnancy, her boyfriend arranged to have his friends murder her.

They beat her to death with a hockey stick and left her in a Winnipeg snowbank to die.

"This bill might be based on Roxanne Fernando but there are many Roxannes across this country, and sadly, many of these vulnerable women are often targeted for violence," he said.

"When women find themselves in dangerous situations and without specific legal protection, they may feel that an unwanted abortion is their only option."

Bruinooge stressed Bill C-510 would not affect women's access to legal abortion. Instead it would clarify what constitutes coercive behaviour and "send a clear message" that coercing women to end a chosen pregnancy "will not be tolerated."

The Harper government has signaled it will not support this bill because of its pledge not to "reopen the abortion debate."

For Bruinooge, going against his own government may be a career-limiting move. But the MP told the recent International Pro-Life Conference here that efforts like his "may not succeed but begin to focus attention on things that need to be addressed."

Even a failed bill can have an impact, he said.