EDMONTON, Alberta (BP) — A Canadian woman who gave birth to a baby, strangled it with her underwear and then tossed the body over a fence outside her parents’ house will not get any prison time in a decision that may be matched in shock only by the judge’s logic.
At issue is Canada’s controversial “infanticide” law, which dates back to 1948 and carries a maximum sentence of five years for women who kill their newborns under a “disturbed” state of mind. The United States has no such law, nor does any U.S. state.
The Alberta woman, Katrina Effert, was 19 in 2005 when she gave birth to the baby in her parents’ basement. The baby’s body ended up in a neighbor’s backyard, and she initially lied to police about the murder and also blamed her boyfriend for it.
She was twice convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but each time the conviction was overturned. In the latest ruling, an Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench judge, Joanne Veit, said Effert could serve a three-year suspended sentence, meaning no time behind bars, the CBC reported.
“Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother,” Veit wrote in a decision that has received widespread criticism. “This is a classic infanticide case — killing a newborn after a hidden pregnancy by a mother who was alone and unsupported.”
Canada has no laws restricting abortion. That fact, Veit wrote, shows that “while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support.”
The judge also ruled that Effert was mentally unstable, a claim with which government lawyers disagreed, pointing to the fact that she smoked and drank during the pregnancy — potential signs she was trying to cause a miscarriage. The government had wanted a murder conviction and is asking the Canadian Supreme Court to take up the case.
Mark Steyn, a writer at National Review, dubbed the killing a “fourth-trimester abortion” — a label that others, including R. Albert Mohler Jr., say is fitting.
“We are now extending the murderous logic of abortion into a fourth trimester, which is to say, after the baby has been born,” Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his “The Briefing” podcast. “This judge in Canada has bought into the sickest and most depraved form of the thinking and ideology of the culture of death.”
Steyn said the judge’s logic has no end.
“[A] superior court judge in a relatively civilized jurisdiction is happy to extend the principles underlying legalized abortion in order to mitigate the killing of a legal person — that’s to say, someone who has managed to make it to the post-fetus stage,” Steyn wrote. “How long do those mitigating factors apply? I mean, ‘onerous demands’-wise, the first month of a newborn’s life is no picnic for the mother. How about six months in? The terrible twos?”
Said Mohler, “What we are looking at is the culture of death with its teeth bared. And what we see here — not only in terms of this case but in the relative lack of outrage against it — is the fact that a supposedly civilized society is evidently at peace with this.”
Between 1977 and 2010, 86 women in Canada were charged under Canada’s infanticide law, according to the Toronto Star.
The infanticide law states that if at the time of the newborn’s death the mother “is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth to the child and by reason thereof or of the effect of lactation consequent on the birth of the child her mind is then disturbed.”
In 1991, Canadian Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote that the law was “based on the questionable premise that the experience of childbirth temporarily reduced a woman’s moral capacity and responsibility.” But her opinion came in a scholarly paper, not a court ruling.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.