Canada reopens abortion debate
Abortion advocates claim a new bill is a backdoor attack
Cassandra Kaake was seven months pregnant with her child, Molly, when Matthew Brush murdered her in her home in Windsor, Ontario, in 2014. Authorities charged Brush with first-degree murder for killing Kaake but did not charge him for the murder of Molly. Proposed legislation aims to change the Criminal Code to require judges to consider the mother’s vulnerability and her preborn child during sentencing.
Cathay Wagantall is a professing Christian serving as a Conservative Party member of Parliament for the district of Yorkton-Melville in Saskatchewan. In January, she proposed the Violence Against Pregnant Women Act.
“It is focused on pregnant women being attacked by a third party who wants to cause injury or death to that individual,” Wagantall told lawmakers. The proposed bill aims to amend the Criminal Code to consider two additional factors when determining the appropriate punishment for a crime. Judges would be required to consider if the offender knew the victim was pregnant and if the offense caused emotional or physical damage to the pregnant victim.
After House debates, Wagantall held a news conference discussing the measure on May 9. “Canada needs this Violence Against Pregnant Women Act as we need to ensure that criminals who attack or kill a pregnant woman can be sentenced appropriately by our courts,” Wagantall said. “The sentence should match the crime.”
In 2016, Wagantall introduced a bill titled Cassie and Molly’s Law in honor of Kaake and her unborn child. Cassie and Molly’s Law would have amended the Criminal Code to define preborn children as victims in cases where their mothers were harmed.
Wagantall worked with Kaake’s family members to advocate for that bill through their “Molly Matters” campaign. Jeff Durham, Molly’s father, shared his grief in a video posted during the campaign. “My daughter was murdered, and Canadian law won’t do anything about it,” he said in the video. “Molly Matters is an effort to find justice in a situation where a man hurts a woman when she’s pregnant and murders her baby and takes away her choice.”
Under the Criminal Code, babies are not recognized as human beings until they breathe outside the womb. Abortion advocates opposed the language used to recognize babies in the womb as children. They feared passing Cassie and Molly’s Law could set a precedent for laws on abortion access. The bill failed.
Wagantall’s more recent bill removes any language about preborn children, but abortion advocates continue to oppose it.
“How frustrating it is to see that the Conservative Party … is reopening the debate on abortion and going after a woman’s right to choose,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said outside the House of Commons on May 10. “On this side of the aisle, we will always remain a solidly pro-choice government.”
Jill Doctoroff is the executive director of the National Abortion Federation Canada, which provides financial assistance to women seeking abortions. She urged members of Parliament to vote against the bill.
“It’s an attempt to get rights for a fetus, which is something we don’t recognize in the legal system in Canada,” Doctoroff said. “This is an attempt to have it recognized even though we have precedent saying this is not what we want to have in our justice system.”
In the 1988 case R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the existing abortion laws violated women’s rights as outlined in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result, Canada has since operated without a specific abortion law, making abortion legal across the country for any reason and at any stage of pregnancy.
Anna Nienhuis is a policy analyst and editor for the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada, a Christian organization. As part of the group’s We Need A Law campaign, the association created the There Were Two website to advocate for the Violence Against Pregnant Women Act.
“I think the big fear is that if people think that these are babies, then they’re going to start questioning abortion, which would be a positive step forward, in our opinion,” Nienhuis said.
The There Were Two website displays gravestones with the names of mothers and their unborn babies that were murdered.
“Over the last number of years in Canada, there have been about 70 cases in which a woman has been murdered while she was pregnant, usually by an intimate partner,” said Nienhuis. “These gravestones honor all those victims and the families still seeking justice for their daughters and grandchildren.”
Wagantall’s proposed legislation is a private member’s bill, which means it was introduced by an individual house member rather than a cabinet minister. Private members’ bills rarely pass, as they often encounter challenges in the legislative process due to limited resources and competing priorities. The bill is currently in its second reading in the House of Commons, with more debates scheduled for later this month.