Last night I got a phone call alerting me to watch the show "Legal Briefs," simulcast on CP24 (a 24-hour news station) and CourtTV Canada. The subject would be the "Unborn Victims of Crime Act," and activist Carolyn Egan would be debating Ken Epp, the Member of Parliament who introduced this private member's bill.
I know Carolyn from the War Resisters Support Campaign, but she also is a stalwart of the women's movement. (As it happens, many Campaigners have been very involved in the pro-choice movement, which is wonderful for me on a personal level.)
I had never seen "Legal Briefs" before, so I didn't know what to expect. The show is a full hour; the moderator, Lorne Honickman, is a lawyer, and seems very knowledgeable. People are given an opportunity to express their views, there's no screaming or people talking over each other, and in general it seemed very fair. (How Canadian!)
Throughout the debate, Epp repeatedly claimed that this bill has nothing to do with granting legal status to a fetus, is not anti-abortion, could not be used to prosecute pregnant women... on and on. Carolyn and others (it's a call-in show) were insisting that if the goal truly is - as proponents of the bill claim - to bring harsher penalties for attacks on pregnant women, why not put forth a bill that would make pregnancy an aggravating circumstance which would automatically trigger a harsher sentence? Why put the emphasis on the fetus?
Honickman asked Epp if he would support such a bill. Epp claimed he would - in addition to this bill. And why would his bill still be necessary? When Honickman posed this question directly to Epp, for the first and only time on the show, Epp had no immediate answer. There was a long pause.
Finally, he replied, "Because we want to recognize the humanity of that unborn child. Whether that child was killed three months before birth or three months after birth, it was still a child, there was still a loss of life. The other side might wish to deny the humanity of that unborn child, but we want the law to recognize it."
This is not a direct quote. I wasn't taking notes, because I was waiting to get on the air, and wanted to stay focused. But I assure you, it's a very close paraphrase.
They want to recognize the "humanity" of the "unborn child".
Do they now.
And this is not a springboard to legal personhood for fetuses?
Towards the end of the show, a caller turned out to be Mary Talbot, whose daughter, Olivia Talbot, was murdered while six months pregnant. (I can't provide a link, because almost every link I found was from an anti-choice group! They are obviously using this poor woman's death as a weapon.) Naturally everyone expressed tremendous sympathy for Mary Talbot; she was allowed to go on at length about how she held her "grandson," touched his silken hair, how she knows he (the fetus) was her grandchild because she's a grandmother... It was rough.
However, much to his credit, Honickman followed up with both Epp and Talbot. And guess what? Even under this proposed law, the murderer of Olivia Talbot would be serving the same exact sentence that he is serving right now. He is already serving the harshest sentence possible under Canadian law. So how would this "unborn victims" law bring Mary Talbot justice? It would recognize that "two people" were killed, not just one.
We cannot allow a survivor's grief to make our laws. And we cannot allow anti-choice legislators to exploit that grief for their own anti-woman agenda. Please contact your MP, ask where she or he stands on this matter, and urge her or him to vote against this bill.
I was afraid the show would end with Mary Talbot, but they got one more caller in - a pro-choice, female police officer from Mississauga. Her voice came through loud and clear: pregnant women are more vulnerable to assaults. We should be protecting women. Period.