Hotly contested Bill C-484 had support from a surprising quarter on Mar 5: NDP MP Peter Stoffer.
The private member’s bill, dubbed the Unborn Victims of Crime Act by the Tories, was introduced in the fall of 2007 by Conservative MP Ken Epp. The bill, which would amend the Criminal Code to allow a separate charge of murder to be laid for the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked, is seen by many as jeopardizing abortion rights for women since it would, in effect, legally recognize the fetus as a person. Currently the law does not regard the fetus as a person until after live birth.
The NDP, along with many women’s rights groups, has taken a strong stand against the proposed bill. NDP MP Irene Mathyssen spoke passionately against the bill in Parliament calling it “the thin edge of the wedge” which would have “an effect on the legal status of abortions in Canada.” She went on to say that the bill was unnecessary since the “courts already take aggravating circumstances into account when deciding on sentences for crimes.” Mathyssen regards the bill as a direct contradiction of the Conservative party’s promise “not to initiate or support any legislation to regulate abortion.” Bill C-484 does just that, she says.
Why then did Stoffer, who has served more than ten years as an elected member of the NDP, go against his party’s stand on this issue and vote in favour of the bill on its second reading?
In a phone interview with Xtra.ca, Stoffer stated that he wanted the bill to go to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for review and clarification and this was the only reason for his vote.
“These are not black and white issues,” said Stoffer. The Nova Scotian MP said the bill requires “discussion and investigation” which is the purpose of the committee.
“If the bill came up for a third reading, as is, I would vote against it,” he said. “I am pro-choice.”
C-484 passed second reading on a vote of 147-133, with support of 26 Liberal MPs. A handful of Liberals, including leader Stephane Dion, were absent for the vote. Dion has since said the Liberal Party is against reopening the abortion debate, but has not confirmed if MPs would be whipped to follow the party line on future votes.