Dr.Dawg

The future of abortion law in Canada?

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supreme court of canada.jpg

While “pro-lifers” scuttle around for votes in the House of Commons on Stephen Woodworth’s infamous Motion 312, a woman has just been sentenced to eight years in prison in the UK for aborting her fetus. That’s more than the maximum penalty for infanticide in Canada.

One could regard this as a kind of limit case—the fetus was apparently days away from being born. But, with Guardian commentator Simon Jenkins, I cannot see how a lengthy jail term accomplishes anything: as he says, it’s just another exercise in judicial machismo.

The judge, Sir Jeremy Cooke, has been vice-president of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship since 2003. His lordly pronouncements from the bench echo those of Mr. Justice John O’Driscoll (Murphy v. Dodd) and Mr. Justice Jacques Viens (Tremblay v. Daigle) in two “irate boyfriend” cases from the 1980s here at home.

In 1988, R. v. Morgentaler decisively struck down Canada’s abortion law in favour of women’s reproductive rights. The cases just mentioned were brought in 1989, to end-run that result. But the Supreme Court supposedly put a stop to that nonsense with its ruling in the Daigle case.

It ain’t over till it’s over, however, and the so-called right-to-lifers, if thinning in numbers and public support, aren’t about to go away quietly. I’m not as sanguine as some that the defeat of Woodworth’s motion closes the matter forever. The latter may be just a noisy distraction.

Mr. Justice Louis LeBel, who as a Quebec judge ruled against Daigle on appeal, now sits on the Supreme Court. Stephen Harper has been appointing new judges to the SCC at a rapid rate (he has already chosen four since 2006), under a highly secretive process, and there are more to come. By 2015 or even earlier, it might be fair to refer to the SCC as the Harper Court.

We have no knowledge of where his personal picks stand on the abortion issue.

We do know of Harper’s attitude towards the judiciary in general, however, and despite soporific words in the pro-Harper media, there is cause for concern.

Progressive judges, after all, aren’t the only judicial activists around. Just as the pro-choice movement managed to end-run Parliament with R. v. Morgentaler, could it be that Harper, a wily chess-player who has shown no public sympathy at all for the already-doomed Woodworth motion, has a similar long-term strategy in mind?

[H/ts Ben Oliphant and Lauren DH]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on September 19, 2012 10:20 AM.

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