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The Bad Old Days are they here again?

June 7th, 2008     by Mir Verburg     Comments

With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside. When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe “bad old days.” Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.

Waldo L. Fielding, M.D is a gynecologist who spent the early part of his career (1948 - 1953) working at a New York City hospital. His recollections of the days before abortions were safe and legal is a chilling reminder that the fact of a women’s unwanted pregnancy is often mistaken for a moral issue.

And this isn’t just a problem stateside. Here in Canada, we have our own private members Bill C-484: “An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence)”. What this means in plain speak is that if a pregnant woman is attacked or killed and the fetus also dies, then the person who attacked the woman is on the hook for two attempted homicides. Sounds fair, right? Except that according to current Canadian law a fetus is not a person, and therefore termination of a fetus does not constitute murder. If a fetus were a person then abortion would be murder.

At present in Canada, one reason that women have the right to abortion is because it is legal, and one reason it is legal is that a fetus is not yet a person and therefore has no rights under Canadian Law.

Bill C-484 takes the fetus, which is an integral part of a woman’s own biological real estate (up until the moment of its birth), and separates it from her rights so a single body can be host to two homicides. That in itself is pretty darn weird when you think about it closely enough.

Apart from being totally confusing, Bill C-484 is totally disturbing. There are two main ways people are understanding this bill. One view is that it protects or further protects the rights of women who experience violence. This is the position taken by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Rona Ambrose.

Others view it as a back-door attempt to re-open the debate about a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Antonia Zerbisias outlines this position succinctly in her piece in yesterday’s Toronto Star.

To further muddy the waters, this National Post article quotes ethicist Margaret Somerville:

“Unavoidably, this bill tells us that a fetus is not a nonexistent entity. Which is really what the pro-choice people have struggled to get Canadians to believe: that until it’s born it doesn’t exist, so you don’t have to worry about abortion.”

Now, I tend to think that Somerville swings wide of the mark as far as ethics and human values are concerned so it doesn’t surprise me that she got this one wrong as well.

Pro-Choice is exactly that, being in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Nobody is questioning that a fetus exists - of course it exists, that’s called being pregnant Somerville (ahem: you nitwit). A fetus can certainly exist, but in the humble opinion of this writer, it is incredibly important that fetuses are not seen as persons, in Bill-C 484 or any other piece of legislation, for the sake of the women who are responsible for carrying pregnancies to term. Or not, as they choose.

Tags: body politics

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