With Canada’s federal election rapidly approaching, Conservative politicians have been evasive about their plans for the status of abortion rights in Canada.
In the wake of this uncertainty, anti-abortion group Right Now is campaigning to elect Conservative backbenchers — essentially, party members who aren’t party leaders — willing to address the subject in the House of Commons.
Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer has said publicly that he does not intend to reopen the abortion debate in Canada. However, in an interview with Right Now that took place during the party’s leadership race, Scheer promised to allow backbenchers to table legislation that targets abortion rights, without requiring Members of Parliament to vote in accordance with stated party values:
We allow for a diversity of views on these issues within our own caucus and we don’t tell anyone that they have to park their conscience of faith at the door. It’s important that the next leader of our party not only allows that, but celebrates that tradition of having free votes on matters of conscience.
In other words, although the Conservative Party of Canada may officially state that it opposes re-litigating Canada’s abortion question, Scheer is happy to leave plenty of space for individual parliamentarians to introduce legislation that will chip away at Canadians’ abortion access.
At least, that’s how Right Now founder Alissa Golob understands the situation. She wrote a lengthy defense of Scheer on her personal blog:
Andrew Scheer has said that the government will not introduce legislation on abortion. When leadership candidates (or even elected leaders) of political parties say that, it means the Cabinet. Let’s say the Conservatives win 180 seats in the next federal election, and of the 180 MPs, 30 of them are in Cabinet. That means 150 other Conservative MPs would be allowed to introduce a private members’ bill on this. He also never said that he would whip his Cabinet not to vote for pro-life motions or bills, nor did he say he himself would not vote for them either.
It’s a clear way to tell her supporters that they shouldn’t take Scheer’s words at face value; he’s one of us. It’s not too different from how conservative Christians in the U.S. made it clear that Donald Trump was on their side no matter what he said about LGBTQ rights and abortion before the 2016 election.
Based on that understanding of Scheer’s position, Right Now has plans to strategically place anti-abortion candidates in Parliament to provide those bills and votes. Having set a goal of 50 new candidates — one for each year that has passed since Canada decriminalized abortion — Right Now launched their Operation50 Tour well in advance of the election campaign period:
From April until June of 2019, RightNow will be partnering with national, provincial, and local pro-life organizations to visit the top 50 swing ridings across the country to present to pro-life supporters on how to defend the pro-life position, including how abortion is not a Charter right, and our strategy of replacing 50 pro-abortion MPs with 50 pro-life ones in time for this year’s federal election. The only way we will start passing pro-life legislation is if we have enough pro-life politicians to vote in favour of it.
The group has supported provincial candidates Doug Ford (Ontario) and Jason Kenney (Alberta), both of whom were elected as the premiers of their respective provinces.
However, Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, is quick to point out that both of these candidates chose to back down on their anti-abortion commitments when it became politically expedient.
Arthur cites even more reasons why Canadians need not worry about Right Now’s plans to elect anti-abortion candidates.
What is interesting is that Right Now is quite sophisticated in its methods and successful at that riding level. But they have no plan going forward to have their hopes realized of those candidates actually passing legislation. It’s very, very difficult to pass anti-abortion legislation in Canada. I don’t even see that as a real threat… We also have our own list of anti-choice MPs. So we are keeping that up to date, and currently, going to create a list of ridings around 70 or so across Canada where, based on the 2015 results, we really need to support progressive candidates.
The most recent word from the Conservative Party seems to bear that out, with several Conservative candidates in Quebec affirming that the abortion debate is closed for good. That’s easier said in Quebec, where support for abortion access is high, than in more conservative or religious parts of the country.
For the time being, concerned Canadians can stay optimistic… as long as they also stay ready to vote. The best way to make sure abortion rights aren’t up for debate is rejecting any candidate who believes women aren’t capable of making choices about their own bodies.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Lorne for the link)