NRL News

Rationalizing Infanticide

by | Sep 20, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

Katrina Effert

Last week when I wrote about a Canadian woman who was given a suspended three-month sentence for infanticide [!], I was rushed and was unable to give the case the attention it so richly deserved.

At first blush, the case seemed just another example of a stunning tone-deaf verdict from a jurist (Justice Joanne Veit) who misread her own prejudices for the law of the land. Let me quickly rehash the case, before adding additional details.

It’s not in dispute that in 2005, Katrina Effert, then 19, secretly gave birth in her parents’ basement, strangled her baby boy with her underwear, and threw his body over a fence into a neighbor’s yard. In my haste to write about the case, I discussed only the reasoning of Justice Veit of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.

In fact Effert’s case had a long, long history. Two juries found her guilty of second-degree murder (in 2006 and 2009). Two times the verdicts were thrown out by provincial appeals courts.  Then in May, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the 2009 murder conviction ruling that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable,” and replaced it with the much reduced charge of infanticide.

Veit reasoned backwards. Canada has no abortion law, thus that must mean 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.”

But to believe that Canadians “accept and sympathize with abortion simply because they accept the status quo of having no federal abortion law is blatantly false,” writes Susan Martinuk of the Calgary Herald.

A 2009 Angus Reid Strategies poll showed that 46 per cent of Canadians believe that abortion should be permitted in all cases. That’s not many Canadians, as the judge asserts — that’s less than half.

Further, that same poll revealed 92 per cent of Canadians had no idea that our country allows an unborn child to be aborted at any time during gestation — from the moment of conception to the time of birth.

So only 46 per cent of Canadians support the legal status quo for abortion — and the vast majority (nine out of 10) of them, have no idea what the legal status quo is. Based on her assumptions about Canadians’ support for abortion, Veit appears to be a member of that uninformed majority.

“Naturally,” according to Veit, “Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother.”

There was a spirited debate between the defense and the prosecution over Effert’s mental condition. Veit sided with the defense, concluding that this was “a classic infanticide case — the killing of a newborn after a hidden pregnancy by a mother who was alone and unsupported.” But according to Patrick Craine of,

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, a woman who has not “fully recovered” from the effects of birth can be found guilty of the lesser charge of infanticide.  To bring forward the infanticide defense, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, there must be evidence that the woman’s mind was disturbed.

According to the Crown, the evidence showed Effert was not suffering mental disturbance.  They highlighted the fact that she planned for the birth by getting scissors to cut the umbilical cord and towels, and then hiding in the bathroom in her parents’ basement.  They suggested that she had tried to miscarry the child during pregnancy by smoking and drinking.  She lied during initial police questioning…

Martinuk places the case in the long-line of increasingly bold defenses of infanticide. She concludes

“This determination that human life somehow has a lesser value when first born is the logical ending to decades of abortion PR, convincing women — and apparently girls — that human life has no value at any time while in the womb. Based on this decision, that devaluation has now been taken one step further in that a child has no value when first born. It makes one wonder where the cut-off date now stands for the state to protect a live child. Will that line soon move to a week? A month?”

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Categories: Infanticide