Federal Liberals and NDP playing a reckless game on abortion issue


The abortion question isn’t something to be raised in the context of my blog (or anyone else’s) lightly.  Though I have always believed it’s imperative that a women decide for herself whether to have one or not, I also agree that the decision isn’t one that lends itself to sensational political debates and remains a matter of personal conscience that should never be exploited for political ends, no matter how noble the motives behind it may be.  As anyone who has seen the consequences of this decision firsthand knows, the last thing a woman wrestling with this potentially life-altering choice needs, are some federal politicians weighing in with their two cents on the issue.

That’s why I was upset to see Justin Trudeau doing just that last week.  Inexplicably, Trudeau decided to wade into this moral minefield by announcing that he would require all Liberal candidates in the future to take a pledge to the effect that they support a women’s right to choose, and would, most likely, be subject to the party whip (though he seemed non-committal on this point) in the event that the issue ever came to a vote in the House of Commons.  Except for those in the Party caucus who would be exempted (or grandfathered) because they were elected before the new leader took over the party (there are at least three current members of the caucus who are anti-abortion, for the record).

This is troubling for a number of reasons.  For starters, it seems to be at odds with the Liberal leader’s new approach to party discipline, which was supposed to be loosened to allow the grass roots of the party to select their own candidates through an open nomination process, regardless of what the establishment thought of them.  Strangely enough, for a self-proclaimed progressive party that presumably could trust its membership to weed out those candidates that don’t support the party’s official line on abortion, the Liberals appear to be pre-empting any threat to their image from the right-wing of the party.  Further, it seems like a sort of top-down, hierarchical deference to the wishes of the leader that the Grits are always complaining the Harper government has become.  If you want to set an example of how different you would be from Harper if your party ever forms government, you certainly have a funny way of showing us!

Never one to miss an opportunity to drive a wedge between themselves and their arch-rivals, the New Democrats announced through their shadow cabinet minister for women’s issues, Niki Ashton, that the NDP would be tabling a motion that calls upon the government of Canada to recognize a women’s right to choose as being a fundamental human right in Canada and around the world.  It would also propose changes to Canada’s foreign policy to include funding of abortion clinics abroad.  While I would never question Ms. Ashton’s sincerity in this matter, or that of any of her fellow New Democrats, the timing of this announcement, seeing as it has a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing, smacks of political opportunism and appears to be nothing more than political mischief designed to make the Liberals look divided in advance of the next Federal election.  A division that the Dippers may eventually well want to exploit for political gain.

The dangerousness of the one-upmanship going on between the NDP and the Liberals appears not to have caused either party much pause.  The fact is that the anti-abortion movement will jump at any opportunity to revive the disturbing debate, even if it means expressing sympathy for the initiative of a party like the NDP, that they would never support otherwise, at a time when their cause is rapidly losing steam.  A case in point is the group called We Need a Law that came out in support of the NDPs motion last week, saying that “It’s interesting that in light of the government’s promise not to reopen the abortion debate, the NDP is willing to do so.”

The Harper government has walked a fine line between its own right-wing base (represented by MPs Stephen Woodworth and Marc Warawa) and the overwhelming majority of Canadians who believe that the question is settled and should not be reopened under any circumstances.  That said, Harper tried to frame the question as one of openness to debate within the party on different “conflicting views.”  Something that will come as a surprise to many within the Tory ranks including Warawa whose views on the issue have been blatantly muzzled by the Prime Minister Office.  

What is most worrying about this situation is that the question is not just being debated in the House of Commons.  It is also the subject of a very heated debate in New Brunswick, causing both pro and con protests outside the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, which is closing due to a lack of government funding.  The Liberal opposition in Fredericton claim the closure infringes Canadian law, specifically the Canada Health Act, a federal piece of legislation, designed to ensure uniformity of medical services throughout Canada.  Something that Harper denied, making the familiar and tired excuse that this was strictly a provincial matter.

As if that weren’t bad enough for a women’s right to choose, regulations introduced by the Conservative government of New Brunswick has made it near impossible to get an abortion, requiring a woman to get the permission of two doctors and limiting publicly accessible abortions to two hospitals in the Province.  It’s as if the whole province is headed towards the socially charged climate of the 60’s when Henry Morgentaler first fought and won his legal battle to have abortions recognized as a human right in court.  Somewhere the crusading doctor must be turning in his grave.


Other articles by David DesBaillets

Supreme Court Chief latest victim of the Harper shoot-the-messenger policy
Chickens coming home to roost on “open nominations” promise
What’s really behind the silence of Harper on the trial of Fahmy in Egypt
Harper has a bad day in court

Follow David DesBaillets on twitter @DDesBaillets


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