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Most Canadians support abortion, one-third see Tories as least supportive: poll

OTTAWA — Eight in 10 Canadians back a woman’s right to an abortion and two in three don’t want the notwithstanding clause used to restrict access to abortions, a new poll suggests.

The Leger survey also suggests support has diminished significantly since the fall for the idea of a province using the notwithstanding clause to ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Leger polled 1,545 people online between May 10 and 12. While the results were statistically weighted they cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random samples.

The survey was taken in the days following the annual March for Life anti-abortion protest rally on Parliament Hill. The issue of abortion rights has been prominent in the American news cycle since 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion access south of the border.

The Leger poll found 80 per cent of Canadians surveyed were in favour of a woman’s right to abortion — including 63 per cent who were strongly in favour — while 11 per cent were opposed. Support was slightly higher among women than men — 84 per cent to 76 per cent — and among Canadians over the age of 55.

It also found 63 per cent of people disagreed with the decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision in the U.S., and about half believed the abortion debate in the U.S. would affect Canada.

At least 14 states have made abortion illegal since 2022, leading to the closure of clinics that offer the service. As Roe v. Wade fell, activists took to the streets warning of the effects it could have on women’s healthcare, raising concerns about unsafe pregnancies, a woman’s right to choose and sexual assault, while anti-abortion activists celebrated by saying it will protect unborn babies.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who is facing off against former president Donald Trump in an election later this year, has vowed to protect abortion rights if re-elected, often criticizing the conservative-leaning Supreme Court that Trump helped build while in power.

The findings may explain partly why the Liberals have ramped up their political attacks on the Conservatives related to abortion rights in recent weeks.

The poll found one in three people believed the Conservatives were the least committed to protecting abortion rights, compared with nine per cent who said that of the Liberals. Conversely more than one in four said the Liberals were the most committed to protecting the rights, while only about one in nine said that of the Conservatives.

The Liberals have used abortion as a wedge issue against the Conservatives for years, often with success. It came up again earlier this month after two Conservative MPs appeared at the March for Life rally and one of them, Alberta MP Arnold Viersen tabled a petition calling for the government to regulate abortion.

Marci Ien, the minister for women, gender equality and youth, suggested the Conservatives might use the notwithstanding clause to walk back abortion rights.

“It is not too much to say that this is the slope we could be going down,” she said.

The Conservatives, in response to questions about the notwithstanding clause, said they would not use it on abortion. Leader Pierre Poilievre has said he would use it to protect his planned crime bills.

More than two in three Canadians surveyed did not support using the notwithstanding clause to restrict abortion while one in 10 said they would support it.

Support for using the clause to ban discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools was slightly higher than for using it for abortion, with 25 per cent of respondents backing it. More than half opposed using it for that purpose.

That is a significant change from October 2023 when a similar poll question asked by Leger had 37 per cent back the use of the notwithstanding clause to ban gender identity discussions in schools.

That poll came as the Saskatchewan government was invoking the clause to protect its move to require schools to get permission from parents before using a student’s preferred name or pronouns.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

Alessia Passafiume, The Canadian Press


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