Apr 152010

Heard about the proposed law to make “coercing a woman to terminate her pregnancy” illegal?

Let’s call it what it is: silly, transparent, and unnecessary.

Put forth by Tory pro-life caucus member Rod Bruinooge, the proposed legislation is dubbed “Roxanne’s Law,” after a young Winnipeg woman who was brutally murdered in 2007. After Roxanne Fernando chose to continue her pregnancy, her boyfriend, Nathanael Plourde, and two accomplices took her to the outskirts of Winnipeg, beat her almost to death, and then buried her under rocks in a snowbank and left her to die.

I may be missing something crucial here, but I would say the bigger problem than Plourde’s urging Fernando to have an abortion is that his plan B was brutally destroying her. Maybe Bruinooge thinks that beating Fernando to death was an attempt at coercing her to have an abortion, in which case… sure, let’s prevent that. Come to think of it, we might already have a law against it. Someone should check.

How exactly would Roxanne Fernando’s life been saved by the law proposed in her name? There is no evidence that Plourde coerced or intimidated Fernando to abort, though he has agreed the couple discussed it. Granted, this is the word of a convicted killer… which underscores how it would difficult it would be to police this law. Where do you draw the line between sharing your opinion, perhaps even begging, and coercion?

Furthermore, what exactly would be the punishment for this? In the Fernando case, if Plourde had been found to be attempting to coerce her to abort, would he have been placed into jail for the duration of her pregnancy? Realistically, given the pace of the court system, would the case even be heard in that time?

In all matters, the safety of women should be paramount. And it’s well-known and supported by statistics that women are at their most vulnerable when our reproductive realities come into play; a pregnant woman is substantially more likely to be murdered than a non-pregnant woman.

But the key elements that might be included in any attempt to coerce or intimidate a woman into getting an abortion are already illegal. Physical assault? Illegal. Uttering threats? Illegal. Harassment? Illegal. If a woman fears for her safety while a partner attempts to force her to have an abortion, she can file for a restraining order.

So what exactly will “Roxanne’s law” accomplish? (Well, besides giving Bruinooge a chance to sign a bright new patch onto his Pro-Life Scout sash.) Answer: nothing. It’s just another legislative attempt to paint a publicly tragic picture of abortion… a tragic picture that at best accounts for a tiny fraction of the otherwise valuable system of abortion access in Canada.

I can only draw one conclusion from this little fracas: that Bruinooge’s law is simply another step in the fetishizing of pregnancy and paternalistic coddling of pregnant women that runs rampant throughout the pro-life movement. “The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized… ‘It is difficult to imagine a human condition that is more important to society (than pregnancy),’” Bruinooge said in a statement, and added “Canadian law, however, provides no specific protection for pregnant women.”

That’s probably because a pregnant woman has all the same rights to freedom from violence and harassment as anyone else. Pregnant women do not need “specific protections,” because there is nothing about the status of being pregnant that imparts on us special rights or needs. If you beat, murder or harass us when we’re pregnant, it’s illegal.

Really, when Bruinooge et. al. say “special protections,” they mean that the law, the courts, and the health care system should treat women, and especially pregnant women, as if they were fragile creatures that are desperately in need of a loving but firm hand to keep them from danger. Okay dad, I won’t stay out late at night. And I won’t have an abortion and I won’t take emergency contraception.

Oh, shove it.

Another point to consider. Abortion isn’t the only thing women are coerced into when pregnant. It is well documented, for instance, that abusers attempt to force a woman to become and stay pregnant by refusing to allow contraception and preventing access to abortion. I have met women who were terrified for their lives if their partner found out they had been seeking abortion.

And it’s also not unheard-of for parents of pregnant teens to force, coerce or threaten their daughters not to have a wanted abortion due to the parents’ views on the procedure.

So what about these women: women who are coerced or intimidated into keeping a pregnancy, when they would rather choose abortion? Do they not deserve the same ”special protections” against being forced into a choice against their will that women who are being coerced or intimidated into having an abortion do?

Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. We all know Bruinooge et. al. don’t really care about what happens to women who desperately want abortions and can’t get them.

I am a lifelong, diehard supporter of free, legal, safe and accessible abortion. I believe that access to abortion is a crucial right of women in a free society. I am deeply engaged in reproductive rights issues at every level of my life.

So this is not about being insensitive to the needs of women who have been coerced into having an abortion. I’ve known them. I’ve wept with them. In my volunteer work as an unplanned pregnancy counselor, I have listened as women have told me what they’ve told nobody else: their partner hurts them. Their partner will not allow them to continue the pregnancy, even though they don’t want an abortion. They are scared.

It seems like Rod Bruinooge’s concept is that we then go, “oh, that sucks. Well, let’s get you scheduled in then, so he doesn’t beat you further.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, we work with them to build a safety plan. To get out. To get the resources they need to continue their pregnancy and raise their child, if they choose to do so.

At all facilities that provide abortion, there are policies that ensure that trained counselors meet with women choosing abortion alone, without anyone else present. These trained counselors know what to look for. They know what to ask. And the question always comes down to this: are you making this decision of your free will?

If the answer is ever, ever “no” – or even if it just seems like a hesitant “yes” – we swing into action. And this system protects women better than any almost unenforceable law ever could.

We don’t need a new law that will slap people on the wrist for trying to push someone to have an abortion. What we need is better resources to help women facing an unplanned pregnancy get out of a threatening situation, safely, and get on their feet.  

For that, we need housing, we need shelters, we need outreach workers. We need a faith that women are strong enough and smart enough to choose their lives, to rise from darkness, to stand on their own too feet.

I have that faith. Rod Bruinooge doesn’t. And that’s the difference between us.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • Digg
  • Delicious
  • MySpace
  • LiveJournal
  • Technorati Favorites
  • Share/Bookmark

Leave a Reply