Canadians now know where the NDP and several select Liberal MPs stand when it comes to protecting a woman’s choice: abortion is the only choice they are politically willing to protect.
In the first hour of debate on Cassie and Molly’s Law (The Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act), 62-year-old Liberal MP Bill Blair was one of the numerous men to respond to Cathay Wagantall’s private member’s bill. Blair provided assurances to Jeff Durham and representatives of the Kaake family, whose story is one of the motivating factors behind the bill and who were in the House of Commons for the debate, that the Liberals do care about violence against women. He followed this declaration, however, with spurious references to previous iterations of Bill C-225, fabricating similarities with Wagantall’s bill and claiming this bill will threaten a woman’s “right to choose”.
Next up to challenge Wagantall was the NDP’s Murray Rankin. He too expressed sincere support for the families affected by tragedies involving pregnant women. Rankin, a 66-year-old MP from Victoria, was also sympathetic to the need to address violence against women, even suggesting that the best way to protect fetuses is to protect mothers. After this, he dismissed Cassie and Molly’s Law as not going far enough – as though he cannot vote in favour of a step in the right direction, only an all-encompassing leap that ends all violence against women.
Both Blair and Rankin had just finished listening to Cathay Wagnatall explain in great detail what her bill would do, as well as what it would not do. Wagantall was motivated to do something after learning about the tragic death of Cassandra Kaake, who was seven months pregnant with her daughter Molly at the time of her murder in December 2014. Wagantall’s stated intentions with Cassie and Molly’s Law are to ensure that a woman’s choice to carry her child to term is protected and that anyone who abuses pregnant women will face stiff penalties. At one point in her speech she referenced a woman who had had an abortion and then become pregnant with a wanted child being appalled that her choice to terminate was protected but not her choice to actually have a child.
Wagantall had deftly anticipated the responses of Blair and Rankin by speaking directly to the matter of so-called “abortion rights” and legal “personhood” of the fetus. She stated clearly that she had studied the previous incarnations of similar bills and made many necessary changes to ensure that the offences created by Cassie and Molly’s Law are not stand-alone offences, but can only be engaged if an accused person commits a criminal offence against a pregnant woman knowing that the woman is pregnant. In regards to personhood, she questioned why there would even be a need for a fetus to be defined as a person since the Criminal Code already has many protections for non-persons, citing animals as one example.
The debate today reinforced the sad reality that there are too many politicians in Canada who are more concerned about public perception than about taking concrete action to do something about violence against women and their pre-born children. The irony of “choice” in Canada is at the heart of the matter. Canada doesn’t need our lawmakers to patronize the families of victims by saying they want to protect a woman’s right to choose, when it means they ignore Cassie’s choice.
Women’s rights are not founded on abortion rights and, contrary to the fear displayed by Mr. Blair and Mr. Rankin, there is no risk of Cassie and Molly’s Law affecting a woman’s right to choose. That fear is to their shame, as it devalues women, children and real choice by insisting Cassie’s choice is irrelevant and babies like Molly – wanted babies – don’t matter.