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Bill C-311 – The good, the bad and the ugly.

“An estimated 324,000 pregnant women in the United States experience domestic violence annually. For about 1 in 6 the abuse starts for the first time during pregnancy. Pregnant women who experience domestic violence are at increased risk of suffering pregnancy complications, miscarriages and bleeding, as well as mental health issues such as postpartum depression and substance use disorder. These conditions can gravely impact their health and the health of their babies. In the most extreme cases, domestic violence leads to death. A 2021 study of maternal deaths in the US found that women were more than twice as likely to die from homicide during pregnancy and the year following childbirth than from hypertensive disorders, hemorrhage and infection.”1

If this is true, how can a bill meant to protect pregnant women against violence be defeated in the House of Commons? In short, they made it about abortion rights rather than about the safety of women.

A previous generation of this bill was tabled by former conservative MP Ken EPP in 2007. It was defeated because proponents for reproductive choice were concerned that it would affect the abortion rights of women by giving personhood entitlement to the unborn.

In 2015, Cathay Wagantall brought Bill C-225, also known as Cassie and Molly’s law. It too was defeated for similar reasons. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) were concerned about the term used in the bill, “preborn child”. Again, they were apprehensive with regards to the unborn being granted the state or rights of being a person.

In their statement regarding Bill C-225, the ARCC said the following: “because pregnant women are more vulnerable to violence and abuse than non-pregnant women, they fit into the reasoning for aggravating factors. To be clear, it’s not because they have another “person” inside them – the clause relates only to a crime against a pregnant woman, not her fetus, so does not carry any risk of granting fetal personhood….However, if it might help give some redress and comfort to victims and their families, ARCC would be willing to support an aggravating circumstances clause, but it must be separated from C-225 and presented as a standalone bill.”

MP Cathay Wagantall’s Bill C-311 seems to fit within ARCC’s mandate as a stand-alone bill that they would be willing to support. It simply says that if someone is found guilty of a violation against a woman and had knowledge she was pregnant and that the infraction induced physical or emotional damage, the judge should take this into consideration when issuing a sentence. This bill does not even seek to create additional criminal breaches. There is nothing in its language that would influence revisions to abortion rights.

We believe that the bill was defeated not on the bill’s merit or quality but rather it was unsupported because the sponsor has taken a staunch pro-life stand. They could not separate Cathay from her bill. Jeff Durham who supports this bill and is the father and husband of Molly and Cassie, claims to be pro-choice but argues that choice must also include the choice to have the child. For these families, this bill would have afforded them some measure of justice when a desired pregnancy is lost because of violence. The ARCC did a disservice to women with this about-face of their stance.

It’s unfortunate that the PM decided to spin this about abortion rights. They could have had a real win in legislation with this protective measure for women.

There were some good wins that came about from this bill. For those members who were allowed to vote their conscience, we saw collaboration. Members who are supporters of a woman’s right to choose were able to see the merit of this bill and were able to work with Cathay to help present it. One such MP is Michelle Rempel Garner who wrote a post on Substack about C-311 said that she would be supporting the bill as “it could bring more protection to women and justice for losing a wanted pregnancy without restricting access to reproductive health services.” In fact, Cathay received unanimous support from her caucus including the party leader.

  • Pray that there would be a change of climate on Parliament Hill. Pray that parties would release their heavy-handed grip on the ability of MP’s to vote their conscience.

  • Pray that they would be able to put down their partisan rhetoric and be able to work together in humility, treating each other with kindness and patience and that they will bear with one another in love.

1. Solutions For the Most Dangerous Part of Pregnancy: Violence in the Home by Claudia Boyd-Barrett for California Health Report

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Gabe McReynolds
Gabe McReynolds
Jun 24, 2023

Thank you for this update on Bill C-311. Praying with you.

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