A Direct Attack on Abortion Rights: Liberal MP Paul Steckle introduces bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks

Monday, July 26 2010

A Direct Attack on Abortion Rights

By Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
June 25, 2006

On June 21, Parliament saw first reading of a private member’s bill by Liberal MP Paul Steckle to re-criminalize abortion. Bill C-338, 'An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (procuring a miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation), would restrict later abortions performed after twenty weeks.

The bill would allow exceptions to save the woman’s life and "to prevent severe pathological physical morbidity of the woman." It would impose a prison term of up to five years, and/or a fine of up to $100,000 on anyone who "uses any means or permits any means to be used" to perform an abortion past 20 weeks.

While this bill is very disturbing on several levels — not the least of which is the criminalizing of women’s healthcare — let's keep in mind that private member's bills like this are unlikely to get very far. Parliament still has a pro-choice majority. Even in the unlikely event it ever came to a vote, such a blatantly anti-choice bill would not pass. And since Parliament rose for the summer the very next day (June 22), nothing will happen until at least the fall.

However, this bill is significant in that it is the first private member’s bill to directly attack abortion rights by attempting to return abortion to the Criminal Code. Another bothersome aspect of the bill is that it's an obvious cynical ploy by the "Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus"—made up primarily of Conservative MP's—to get around Harper's promise not to legislate on abortion.

On its face, the bill is seriously misguided and completely unnecessary. Instead of limiting access to abortion, we need to expand it. Access is still unequal and spotty across the country. For one thing, the main reason that some women need second-trimester abortions is because they were unable to access first-trimester abortions. So, the most effective way to reduce later abortions is to guarantee and fund widespread access to subsidized contraception, comprehensive sexual health education, and first-trimester medical and surgical abortion— none of which are included in Steckle’s bill.

Regardless, the bill is trying to solve a "problem" that doesn’t even exist. About 90% of abortions are done by 12 weeks in Canada, and about 97% by 16 weeks. Only 0.3% of abortions occur after 20 weeks gestation, almost all because of serious fetal or maternal health problems. So the reason for this bill is clearly cynical — it will be used as a foot-in-the-door to enact even more restrictions against abortion. Read our editorial on why Canada doesn’t need any new law against abortion.

To highlight Canada’s current access problems, here’s an excerpt from the January 2006 Choice Update (PDF), published by Ottawa-based Canadians For Choice (thanks to Politics’n’Poetry for first posting this info):

We have a baseline against which to measure whether a woman's right to choose is being rolled back.

That baseline shows that eighteen years after the historic Morgentaler decision, Canadian women still face challenges with realizing choice, in particular with access to abortion services. A recent national study of access to abortion services at hospitals across Canada found that:

Please contact Mr. Steckle to tell him this. You won’t change the mind of this dogmatic anti-abortionist, but at least let him know his bill will face some stiff opposition. He can be reached in Ottawa:

Email: Steckle.P@parl.gc.ca
Telephone: (613) 992-8234
Fax: (613) 995-6350
Land mail (postage free):
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

or at his Constituency Offices:

30 Victoria St North,
Goderich, Ontario
N7A 2R6
Telephone: (519) 524-6938
Fax: (519) 524-9374

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