26 November 2019
By Alithea Williams
MPs backing Diana Johnson's decriminalisation bill in 2017.
The big news in the election campaign in the last week is that both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have pledged, in their manifestos, to decriminalise abortion. The Liberal Democrat manifesto says that it will “decriminalise abortion across the UK while retaining the existing 24-week limit.” The Labour manifesto simply says the party will “uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions” – with no guarantee to retain the existing time limit. (Labour have since hedged this by saying that there will be ‘wide public consultation on the detail of new laws and regulations’.)
What does decriminalising abortion actually mean? Many pro-choice campaigners say it is just about protecting women from being prosecuted under “Victorian era laws” (they never seem to campaign against all our other laws that date back that far or further, but that’s another story). They say that decriminalisation will not lead to an increase in abortions. On the other side, pro-lifers are concerned that , leading to more babies losing their lives and putting women at further risk.
We don’t just have to wonder about what such an abortion regime would look like. There already is already a Western nation that has completely decriminalised abortion - Canada.
What has happened in Canada
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark decision in the R. v. Morgentaler case to throw out the 1969 abortion law on the basis that it was 'unconstitutional'. Despite subsequent failed attempts to create new legal sanctions, this created a legal vacuum in which, to this day, no abortion law exists in Canada.
In 1991, the Supreme Court defined a person as one who is born alive. This was the result of a case brought against midwives attending a baby who died in the birth canal. The Supreme Court found that a person could not be charged with murder or homicide in the demise of a foetus, as a foetus does not become a person and does not attain the rights of a human being until it is fully born (i.e. separated from the mother).
A preborn child has no rights at all
Even this brief history shows that decriminalisation in Canada has led to a situation where a preborn child is afforded no rights at all – to the extent that even a baby in the birth canal is not recognised as having human rights. But the consequences are even more horrifying.
For a start, because there is no law, abortion is permitted throughout all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason, up to the moment of birth. There is also nothing to prevent sex-selective abortion – in fact, the Canadian Medical Association Journal has described Canada as “a haven” for those seeking to abort their daughters.
In 2012, Statistics Canada admitted that 491 babies died after they were born alive during abortions between 2000 and 2009. This is Canada, a Western, modern, democratic nation, where newly born babies are left to die.
And what about women?
And what about women? Does this regime make life better for them?
Not if the story of Roxanne Fernando is anything to go by. Ms Fernando, from Winnipeg, was beaten to death by her boyfriend when she refused to have an abortion. In 2010, Rod Bruinooge MP introduced a parliamentary bill named after her, which would have made coercing a woman into having an abortion a criminal offense. It was voted down after being condemned by pro-abortion politicians as “anti-choice.” Clearly, the ideology of choice is so strong in Canada that politicians are willing to sacrifice women’s lives rather than put any curb on abortion.
In the UK, it is already very difficult to convict abusive men who cause the deaths of unborn children, and evidence is emerging that coercion of women is widespread. Removing abortion from the criminal law could only make these problems worse.
This election, do not be fooled by the rhetoric that decriminalising abortion will help and empower women. Interview your parliamentary candidates and use your vote to elect MPs who will stand up for unborn children and their mothers.