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LN Feature: Taking the Long View on Pre-born Human Rights

On the feature this week, a conversation with We Need a Law director Mike Schouten, about a proposal his organization is putting forward for an “International Standards” abortion law.

We talk about the history of the law, and the long-term plans to have it passed.

LN: Last year, Parliament had the discussion about Cassie and Molly’s Law – that was the big push. Last week, we had John Sikkema on the program, and he made mention of this International Standards abortion law. I know it’s something we’ve been working on, but it’s not something we’ve given a lot of time or coverage to on Lighthouse News, so I thought I’d give you a call and just see what that’s about, and how this is going to move forward. What are we doing on this file?

MS: Well essentially, when John talks about – and others talk about – an International Standards abortion law, what we’re referring to is a full-on abortion bill that’s modeled after regulations in many other jurisdictions around the world. We’ve particularly honed in on three European countries; France, Spain, and Germany. It’s a comprehensive abortion law that includes things like mandatory waiting periods, mandatory reporting, (and) sometimes mandatory counseling depending on the situation. But the key component is that it ensures that abortions are prohibited after a certain gestational age. And the International Standards bill that we’re promoting – and we have a draft copy available on our website – it would prohibit abortions after 13 weeks of pregnancy. This essentially is modeled after Spain, France, and Germany, which all prohibit abortion after 12 weeks gestation, which is after the first trimester.

LN: So how do we move this forward? Last year we had – as I said – Cassie and Molly’s Law. That came forward at the behest of Cathay Wagantall from Yorkton-Melville in Saskatchewan. Do we have MP’s that are prepared to put a bill like this into the process paper/order paper on Parliament Hill?

MS: At this point in time, there is no MP who is willing to champion this particular bill. But that’s not to say that an MP won’t come forward in the next 6, 8, 12, (or) 18 months’ time. In fact, this might even be something that an MP won’t pick up until after the next election cycle has concluded in 2019. But one of the reasons why we are starting to promote it already is because we know that in order to advance public policy, sometimes these bills are going to have to be introduced time and time again before it becomes self-evident to the Canadian public and to our elected lawmakers that this in fact should be part of Canada’s public policy in regards to protecting preborn human rights at some stage of pregnancy.

LN: So we’re taking the long view here. That’s what I’m hearing you say. I mean, there’s kind of a horizon out there, and it may take a while to get this done.

MS: Absolutely, and that’s something that I believe is consistent with how We Need a Law has approached things in the political realm of the pro-life movement. We need to see this as a long road, and one of the challenges is convincing elected lawmakers – convincing MP’s – that they also need to play into that long road.

And what I mean when I say this is that by introducing a Private Member’s bill that you know is not going to pass…does not mean that this is a fail. And one of the reasons we’re convinced that this can work is because the other side does it all the time.

For example, many of your listeners will know the name Svend Robinson. They will recognize that name. Now Svend Robinson never served in Cabinet. He was never part of a party that formed government. But yet, everything that Svend Robinson championed through Private Member’s bills – everything he championed – is now public policy in Canada. Whether it’s abortion rights, trans-gender rights, gay rights, hate speech laws, gay marriage. All of these things are now public policy in Canada. Not because his Private Member’s bills passed, but because he was persistent in introducing them time and time again. It forced Canadians to deal with this topic time and time again. It forced the public office-holders in Ottawa to debate it. It forced the media to cover it. So these are things we need to accept as a reality when we’re advancing pre-born human rights legislation; that it might take three or four times of introducing this International Standards abortion law before whatever government of the day is in place says: “You know what? We should just make this part of our policy, and implement it as we’re sitting here in government.”

LN: What about the criticism – and we’ve had this discussion before – about the whole “incrementalism” piece. There are some in the pro-life movement who look at a bill like this – a bill that provides some gestational limits, but doesn’t outright ban abortion – and they say it’s “not good enough.”

MS: We have to accept that that is the reality. That there will be people in the pro-life movement who are on the same page as us when it comes to “human life starts at conception and needs to be protected” that will not support this. We need to fully accept that, and be prepared for that. I’m convinced that there are less and less of those people than even when I started this work five years ago. But it’s another actually very important reason why as a country, we have the opportunity to debate a bill like this. We have had many opportunities to debate Private Member’s bills, whether it be anti-coercion bills or something like you mentioned off the top; Cassie and Molly’s Law, which did little to impact abortion, did little to actually protect pre-born children. This (International Standards) bill, for example, would protect pre-born children after 13 weeks. Fifteen percent of the abortions in Canada – so over 15,000 abortions every year – occur past that point.

LN: Final question. Ultimate goals here. I know the ultimate goal is to get the law passed, but timelines. You say it may take two or three tries to get this done. Do we have, mentally, a goal that says for example “by 2020, we want this bill passed?” Or is it a case of “we’re going to take it as it comes”?

MS: We’re of the mindset right now that we need to focus on building support for the introduction of this the very first time, and our goal is that this would be introduced prior to the next election. So put on the Notice Paper this fall or next spring, or maybe even late spring/summer (of next year). Because we want Canadians to have the opportunity to debate it before the next election. And then the goal would be that right after the next election to find somebody to introduce it and champion it through Parliament once again. So we’re really taking this one step by one step.

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