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March 5, 2008
By: Lorna Dueck

There was a faint heartbeat in baby Gul when she arrived at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital last October; her mother's was equally weak. Aysun Sesen, 25, was seven months pregnant, but neither survived stab wounds to Ms. Sesen's abdomen. The husband was charged with one count of second-degree murder.

In Edmonton two years earlier, baby Lane Jr. was hope and purpose personified for his 19-year-old mother, Olivia Talbot, who was six months pregnant. On a day she'd spent hanging curtains for her baby's nursery, she opened her door to a friend who may have been in a state of crystal-meth-induced paranoia. There, on her step, she was shot three times in the abdomen and twice in the head. Later, Ms. Talbot's mother, Mary, held baby Lane and observed that only his right leg had been grazed by a bullet. But he'd died because his mother had died. Mary Talbot says police recordings of the killer's confession hear him say: "I wanted to get the baby. ... Will I be charged for two murders?" Not in Canada.

Neither will the Winnipeg teens who beat to death 24-year-old Roxanne Fernando last year because she refused to have an abortion. Nor will the Dartmouth, N.S., man who stabbed his pregnant girlfriend, Charlene Knapp, with a sword last July. Ms. Knapp survived, but her child did not. No charges were laid in connection with the death of the fetus.

We can find more recent horrific facts from our reality with domestic violence, but they will always point back to an issue we should be embarrassed to own. We do have not justice in place for unborn children.

In the House of Commons today, a free vote is scheduled that would finally present something to the justice committee to examine on this issue. Bill C-484, a private member's bill tabled by Conservative MP Ken Epp, would amend the Criminal Code to allow separate charges to be laid in the death or injury of an unborn child when a pregnant woman is attacked. While the vote would only launch C-484 into committee for study, it's ignited a firestorm of activism by abortion-rights advocates.

The pro-life camp is muted; there are no petitions that I can find, and the usual petition-happy Campaign Life calls C-484's wording "unfortunate."

This bill doesn't cover what anti-abortionists are after. The Unborn Victims of Crime Act contains a "for greater certainty" clause explicitly excluding abortion, excluding any acts or omissions by the mother, and would criminalize attacks on a woman's preborn child by third parties only, and only "death or injury during the commission of a crime."

It protects a mother's right to give consent to pregnancy termination, and that's explicitly stated in the proposed bill, which would anathematize a pro-life campaigner. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada still wants the bill voted down because it feels it's an "unconstitutional infringement on women's rights" and is calling for petitions against it.

Here's the heart of the conflict: unborn child versus human being. A child is considered a human being with protection in the Criminal Code only "when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother." Bill C-484 does not propose to change that definition, but would add the phrase: "every person who directly or indirectly causes the death of a child during birth or at any stage of development before birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother."

So even though the bill contains "for greater certainty" points to protect abortion activity, pro-choice advocates object. "I am a pro-choice person and it wasn't ever intended to be an issue like this, pro-life or pro-choice," said Mary Talbot. "Everyone should be behind this bill."

I am a pro-life person, but I am just as equally a person wanting to give justice to a woman who made the choice to keep her child but was attacked and robbed of her choice. You may argue that, if someone is so angry they'll stab or shoot a pregnant woman, the thought of two murder convictions won't slow them down. Perhaps not, but it will say that Canadians fight for a woman's right of safety when pregnant, and we provide justice when a women's choice is attacked by violence.

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