It’s time to protect the unborn victims of crime

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Several years ago, a California fertilizer salesman named Scott Peterson was sentenced to death by a California jury for killing his eight-months pregnant wife, Laci.

The media coverage of the murder and the trial was remarkable in that reports constantly referred to the humanity of their unborn (yet already named) child, Conner.

In other words, Laci wasn’t the only victim of the crime; Conner was also a very human victim who had suffered at the hands of his father.

The media’s personalization of the unborn Conner created a growing perception that this was a double murder that demanded a double dose of justice.

Public concern quickly led to such a law, the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act (known unofficially as Laci and Conner’s Law) that was signed into law in 2004.

In Canada, we have no such law. We haven’t had the high-profile, sensational media coverage or the public outcry for justice. But we do have victims.

Over the past three years, there have been at least five pregnant women who were slain—stabbed and shot in the abdomen or beaten to death for refusing to have an abortion.

The violence has been perpetrated against the women specifically because they were pregnant. Yet, under Canadian law, there is only one victim in each case. The unborn child doesn’t exist, so it’s a two-for-one murder in terms of criminal liability.

The abuse of pregnant women is far more common than we would like to believe. In 2001, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that pregnant women are more likely to die of homicide than any other cause.

In Canada, pregnant women are four times more likely than other abused women to experience serious acts of violence, involving knives, guns, choking and beating. Even worse, the most common area of the body struck in pregnant women is the abdomen.

In other words, the baby is the target and killing the mother is just a means to an end.

We can create a form of deterrence against such acts. The Unborn Victims of Crime Act (Bill C-484) is now before Parliament, and will be up for debate at the end of February.

If passed into law, those who abuse pregnant women will be charged with two counts of assault—on the woman and on the unborn child.

Abortion advocates are fighting the passage of this bill because they don’t want the unborn to have any legal recognition; nor do they want the child to gain any degree of humanity or personalization in the eyes of the public.

All this is out of fear that it would lead to the re-criminalization of abortion.

But such claims are merely fearmongering. The creators of the bill carefully insulated it against such attacks by including very clear wording that recognizes the unique situation of violence, protects the choice of pregnant women and explicitly excludes elective abortion.

As such, drafters of the bill claim it is pro-choice in that it protects a woman’s right to abortion and pro-life in that it offers a measure of protection for the unborn child.

A 2007 Environics poll showed that 72 per cent of Canadians (and 75 per cent of Canadian women) would support legislation that makes it a separate crime to injure or kill a fetus during a criminal act against the mother. Apparently, Canadians still possess an inherent moral abhorrence to abortion that remains intact—despite all the chatter about women’s rights to an abortion.

Monday will mark the 20-year anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada judgment that struck abortion from Canada’s Criminal Code. We have yet to place any restrictions on the procedure, so Canada is now entering a third decade of history with the most radical and permissive abortion laws in the western world.

No modern, seemingly civilized nation should celebrate the fact that it allows women to abort unborn children at any time during a nine-month pregnancy.

Such licence flies in the face of a growing body of scientific evidence that unequivocally points to the humanity of the unborn.

Sadly, we can’t eradicate the modern liberties of pregnant women in terms of abortion. But when women commit to having a child, then society has a moral duty to care for, and protect, that child.

We now have the rare opportunity to take a very small step towards becoming a more compassionate society by giving a measure of protection to the unborn.

We’ll be a better society for doing so.

Latest posts by Susan Martinuk (see all)

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