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Abortion issues trail Harper, Trudeau as each take different positions

OTTAWA - The abortion debate might not be open in the House of Commons, but it continues to dog the federal leaders.

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were put on the hot seat Thursday on different aspects of the issue.

Harper was asked during an event in New Maryland, N.B., whether Health Canada would intervene to force the New Brunswick government to remove obstacles and delays to publicly funded abortions.

With the province refusing to fund the private Morgentaler clinic, women must get two doctors to declare an abortion medically necessary before qualifying for the procedure at one of two hospitals. Three Liberal MPs argue this contravenes the Canada Health Act's provision for access to services.

Harper sidestepped the question.

"I think you know full well that our government's going to do everything we can to keep from reopening that particular debate," Harper said. "The administration of health-care systems is in the hands of the provinces."

Trudeau, meanwhile, continues to face questions about his position that Liberal election candidates must pledge to vote in favour of a woman's right to choose in any matter that comes up in Parliament.

Toronto's Roman Catholic archbishop, Thomas Cardinal Collins, wrote to Trudeau earlier this week, urging him to reconsider his position and allow candidates to be faithful to their conscience.

Trudeau said he welcomes the input from the prelate, but his party is committed to the values laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Since 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that a woman's right to choose in this matter is part of her fundamental rights and freedoms," Trudeau said.

"And the Liberal party is the party of the Charter. And Canadians need to count on the fact that Liberals, with our votes, will defend women's rights and Charter rights."

Harper took the opportunity during his visit to New Brunswick to take a swipe at the Liberal party's new policy.

"Ours is a big party where we understand the Canadian people have different, often conflicting views on issues like this, deeply held views, and all such views are welcome in the Conservative Party of Canada," Harper said.

Still, Conservative MPs who have attempted to raise abortion-related matters in the Commons have not gotten far. The last major attempt, by MP Mark Warawa, was quashed by his own colleagues when it reached a Commons committee.

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