Margaret Somerville on fetal protection laws

In the past three years at least five pregnant women, along with their babies, have been killed in Canada in violent attacks. The most recent occurred last month in Toronto. Pregnant women are at increased risk of domestic violence and the abhorrence this elicits, especially when it is lethal, is magnified because of the loss of the fetus. At present it is not a separate crime to kill or injure the fetus, but should it be? A just released Environics poll asking this question found that 75% of Canadian women and 68% of men would support a fetal protection law — the level of support amongst all Canadians was 72%.  
The same poll found that, overall, 62% of Canadians support legal protection of the unborn child at some point before birth, and at the latest at viability. (The Canadian Medical Association guidelines define fetal viability — the possibility that the fetus can survive outside its mother’s womb — to be 20 weeks gestation and/or 500 grams in weight.)

In short, many Canadians’ moral intuition is that “there ought to be a law” or laws protecting fetuses from some harms, although we don’t all agree on what those laws should be, especially in the context of abortion. Presently in Canada there is no express abortion law.

The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently ruled that under our current law the fetus does not exist as a protectable human being, and the Criminal Code holds that a child becomes a human being for the purposes of a homicide offence only after it is born alive. This means that criminal liability specifically for the wrong of killing the fetus in the course of a criminal act cannot at present be imposed. Only the wrong to the mother is legally cognizable.

Proposals for an Unborn Victims of Crime Act are adamantly opposed by pro-choice abortion advocates, for fear that any legal recognition of the fetus will lead to the re-criminalization of abortion. They accuse pro-life supporters of promoting such legislation as a back-door way to prohibit abortion. It’s true that it could cause us to view the fetus and, therefore, abortion differently, but willful blindness on our part as a society is not an ethical approach to dealing with abortion, either…. (Source)

You go, Margaret.  Abortion: the issue that will never go away.

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