Sunday, May 18, 2008

Joyce Arthur Continues Down the Yellow Brick Road

Abortion Rights Coalition coordinator continues to peddle hysteria, disinformation, false choice

Ever since the debate surrounding Bill C-484 -- the unborn victims of crime bill -- has intensified, one thing that has stood the test of time is the pro-abortion lobby's refusal to engage in honest debate on the topic.

For her own part, the Coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (and self-Googler) Joyce Arthur has continued to take her message to the places where it will receive the least possible scrutiny -- in this case, an article in Edmonton's Vue Weekly.

The article starts off rather predictably:

"In March, a new law that gives fetuses legal personhood passed second reading in the House of Commons. This bill threatens both abortion rights and the rights of women in general."

Arhur certainly wants her readers to believe so. What follows is nothing more than a folly of hysteria, disinformation and false choice.

"Bill C-484, the 'Unborn Victims of Crime Act,' creates a separate offence for injuring or killing a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked. The language of the bill is unprecedented, basically transforming fetuses and embryos into persons with rights. The bill has a clause that specifically negates the Criminal Code definition of 'human being.' Currently, a child becomes a human being when it has exited the birth canal alive, but Bill C-484 says this definition is not a defence for injuring or killing a fetus. In other words, the fetus is a human being under Bill C-484."

Arthur is, unfortunately, right about this. The Canadian criminal code arbitrarily states that an unborn child is not a person until it is born alive.

That law is written. However, just because a law is written doesn't mean it's right or just.

Canadian law has adhered to other arbitrary definitions of personhood before. In particular, Canadian law once only recognized wealthy white individuals with penises as persons (read: property-owning white males).

It took long, hard agitation on behalf of various "radicals" such as Nellie McClung and Carrie Derrick in order to change that unjust legal issue.

Ironically, it's taking long and hard agitation on behalf of others, now being dismissed as "radicals" (as if radicalism is now such a bad thing) who would likely insist they're anything but radical.

"The bill does contain an exemption for “lawful” abortion, and exempts pregnant women themselves from prosecution for harming their fetuses."

It's good to hear the pro-abortion lobby finally acknowledge this, but unfortunately, they've only insisted on engaging in protracted rhetorical gymnastics in order to argue around this simple fact.

"However, the bill sets a very dangerous precedent because it can be used as authority to give more rights to fetuses in new contexts. For example, legislators can cite the act to justify re-criminalizing abortion. Judges could interpret other laws meant for protecting children to compel pregnant women to meet a standard of care for their fetuses."

Of course, those people who are actually familiar with the bill itself know this to be untrue.

Certainly, legislators could attempt to cite the bill as justification for re-criminalization of abortion -- something an admittedly disturbing number of grassroots social conservatives support -- but they would still have to pass a law to actually recriminalize abortion, which would have to pass not only through Parliament (in itself an unlikely feat), but also through several committees (a doubly unlikely feat), and the Senate (something almost entirely implausible).

Any Judges who felt so compelled certainly could try to interpret other laws in such a way -- but they could not use Bill C-484 in order to do it, because it explicitly exempts any act of omission or commission on behalf of the mother.

Even if a Judge did try to set such a precedent, it would still have to pass through several appeals -- including, inevitably, one before the Supreme Court.

The likelihood of such a ruling surviving is extremely slim. Not only did the Supreme Court of Canada set the precedent that fetuses do not qualify as persons until they exit the birth canal, but Canadian courts have consistently set precedents that are alarmingly dismissive of the victimization of the unborn child.

If Bill C-484 really does pose such an imminent threat to women, that threat certainly won't come about as a result of the acts of legislators or courts.

As for Arthur's point about compelling women to "meet a standard of care for their fetuses" (read: unborn children), one would wonder why Arthur and her ilk are so opposed to something as implicitly reasonable as that.

"So-called “fetal homicide” laws in the United States have been used primarily to target pregnant women—not third parties as the laws intended. Hundreds of American women have been arrested under fetal homicide laws, or under child endangerment laws that cite a fetal homicide law as authority. Most of these women are poor minority women, and have drug or alcohol abuse problems. But some women have also been charged with murder after suffering a stillbirth, in one case after not following a doctor’s recommendation to have a Caesarean section. Is this the road we want to go down in Canada?"

Once again, all of this falsely assumes that Canadian law operates according to the same nuances as American law. Simply not so.

Beyond that, many of the cases sited by the pro-abortion lobby in support of this point are promoted under extremely dubious interpretations.

In most of these cases, the women charged and prosecuted were either knowingly and willingly using drugs or alcohol while pregnant -- something that, quite frankly, Canadian law should address.

In one particular cited case from 1973, Claudia Tucker chose to shoot herself in the abdomen in order to terminate an eight month pregnancy. She (a mother of two) would later claim she didn't know she was pregnant until after it was too late to get an abortion. But in the United States women are allowed to seek abortions until their pregnancy has reached 23 weeks.

It's impossible to believe that a woman pregnant twice previously wouldn't know the signs of pregnancy until it was too late.

And this is only one example of the extreme intellectual dishonesty under which Joyce Arthur and like minded pro-abortion zealots have resorted to in order to push their agenda.

"Bill C-484 conflicts not only with the Criminal Code definition of human being, but with important legal precedents. The Supreme Court of Canada has decisively ruled in several cases that fetuses are not legal persons, and a woman and her fetus are 'physically one.' We cannot compromise women’s established constitutional rights in order to give rights to fetuses. Creating a legal separation between a pregnant woman and her fetus has tragic and punitive results. For example, pregnant women in the US will forego pre-natal care completely if they fear arrest for drug abuse."

In the same vein, however, for generations British Common law treated women and children as the property of their husbands. Because the British Constitution is unwritten and exists only in the form of various legal precedents, emancipating the legal status of women from their husbands very much did compromise what was considered a Constitutional right of British men -- and Canadian men as well, seeing as how the Canadian constitution wasn't repatriated until 1982.

Very few proper-thinking people will pretend that the lack of legal recognition of women as persons wasn't unjust. To claim it's any less unjust to explicitly define other human beings as "not persons" is an absolute embarrassment to the social tradition of feminism.

Perhaps such mothers will decline to seek pre-natal care in order to dodge responsibility for the harm they're doing their children. But law should still have mechanisms in place to take children from such clearly unfit parents.

"We all want to protect pregnant women from violence, but this bill is the wrong tool, and unnecessary. Judges already have the discretion to apply harsher penalties in these cases, and they have done so. But what’s really needed are substantive measures to prevent domestic violence, including more supports for abused women, more public education and better enforcement of existing criminal laws against violence."

But, as already shown, not only does the law not recognize the second victim. Considering that -- as the Olivia/Lane Talbot (Jr) case shows us -- unborn children can be targeted quite deliberately, it is simply logically remiss to pretend an unborn child can't be a victim.

What Joyce Arthur is actually proposing here is a false choice. She suggests that Canadian law can either prosecute crimes committed against unborn children -- and if they can be deliberately targeted (as the Gary Bourgeois case also confirms) they can be victims -- or address domestic abuse issues.

But this is a false choice because Canadian law faces no such law -- it can (and should) do both.

"We need a range of equality-advancing programs and policies that would help women leave abusive relationships, such as measures to reduce poverty, racism and economic inequality, as well as a childcare program. But these are all the things that the Harper government is not doing, or has reduced or taken away outright."

Certainly, these are all things that Arthur must believe Canadians need. Some of them (poverty reduction measures, racism reduction, and assisting women in leaving abusive relationships certainly are) but how some of these things -- particularly child care -- would help reduce crimes committed against pregnant women and, by extension, their unborn children, Arthur would have to elaborate on more than a little.

"Prime Minister Harper promised that a Conservative government would not legislate on abortion, but this is exactly what is happening, not just with Bill C-484, but with two other Conservative private member bills introduced last fall. Bill C-338 would re-criminalize abortion by prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Bill C-537 would guarantee the 'right' of medical personnel to refuse to provide medical care for religious reasons, which would mostly restrict women’s ability to access contraception and abortion care."

First off, however, recent polls have found that 72% of Canadians favour some regulation of abortion. A previous poll found that 64% of Canadians support legally protecting the fetus before birth (although they disagreed about at what point of the pregnancy this protection would begin).

Furthermore, Arthur once again chooses to discard honesty in order to promote her argument. Putting a time limit in place of abortion would actually put Canada in line with other countries where abortion limits have been put in place, yet have failed to result in an outright criminalization (or re-criminalization) of abortion.

But Arthur's opposition to legislation such as Bill C-537 really shows what the issue is about for Canada's "pro-choice" movement, and it certainly isn't about choice. If the issue were really about choice, they would support the right of physicians to not perform procedures they find ethically objectionable.

To pretend that such a bill would limit access to contraception is specious at best and facetious at worst. The bill would do nothing to limit a woman's access to other doctors -- doctors willing to prescribe contraception as sought -- nor would it prevent access to contraception in a day and age when condoms are available in virtually every corner store, and in the bathrooms of (often less-than-reputable) gas stations.

"Bill C-484 is a radical bill because it positions the fetus as a woman’s co-equal. By focusing on fetuses, not injured pregnant women, the bill is offensive to the full humanity of all women, not just pregnant women. The not-so-hidden agenda of the bill is to recognize the 'rights of the unborn' so that abortion can be restricted in the future. Indeed, fetal personhood is a long-standing objective of the anti-abortion movement."

Frankly, the idea that fetuses cannot be allowed to have any rights of any form is offensive to the full -- and indisputable -- humanity of unborn children. The very full -- and indisputable -- humanity that the pro-abortion (not pro-choice) movement moves rhetorical heaven and earth to deny when they dismiss fetuses as "nothing but a clump of cells", as opposed to the human life that it is.

"Only about 20 organizations across Canada officially support Bill C-484, and every last one of them is right-wing, religious and/or anti-abortion.

Not a single mainstream women’s group supports the bill. But the 100 groups opposing the bill so far are diverse: they include anti-violence groups, women’s shelters, medical organizations, legal associations, drug policy groups, labour unions, anti-racist groups and a broad range of women’s groups. None of these groups were even consulted on the bill before it was introduced by a Conservative, anti-abortion MP. They oppose the bill now because they know it won’t work to reduce violence against women. They already know that the best way to protect fetuses is to guarantee the rights and safety of pregnant women, because when a pregnant woman is safe, so is her fetus.

Arthur is again indulging herself in protracted intellectual dishonesty. To pretend that the opposition to Bill C-484 is more legitimate because it comes from such "diverse" groups is a specious claim.

Not only do the varying groups that Arthur cites not truly represent a diversity of opinion on any particular topic, but often they possess significant overlap of membership.

But to pretend that Bill C-484 will do nothing to reduce violence ignores the very principles upon which criminal law protects society: punishment, rehabilitation and deterrent.

Under current law, an individual who kills an unborn child without killing the mother will be charged with aggravated assault at worst. Under Bill C-484, that individual would be charged with murder, which covers a much higher penalty, and thus a greater deterrent. It certainly won't prevent all violence against pregnant women and their unborn children, but it will be a start.

No one rejects the idea that Canada needs stronger laws to address domestic abuse. But to pretend that the fruits of ideology could supplant one of the basic underlying principles of criminal law is utter folly.

To pretend that Canadian law should cave in to hysteria, disinformation and false choice is the height of such folly.

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