“I think all members of this house, whether they agree with it or not, understand that abortion is legal in Canada and this government, myself included, have made it very clear that the government does not intend to change the law in this regard.”
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper, under questioning in the House of Commons on Thursday.
“We’re not going to be fooled by Stephen Harper and his troops. Mr. Harper swears out of one side of his mouth that he doesn’t want to reopen the abortion debate but he constantly uses his backbenchers to send in new attempts to.”
— Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair in a conversation with Postmedia News last December
However Canadians may feel about Stephen Harper, on the issue of abortion and a woman’s right to choose in this country, the prime minister has been entirely consistent.
He does not want the issue reopened, even if the leader of the Official Opposition suggests otherwise.
Yet questions of the prime minister’s veracity continue to dog him as members of his own party attempt to reopen the debate yet again.
Earlier this month, three Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario sent a letter to the RCMP asking the police organization to investigate hundreds of abortions as possible homicides.
As the National Post reported yesterday, the MPs say abortions performed at 20 weeks gestation or later breach Section 223a of the Criminal Code, which says a person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.
The Criminal Code states that a child is a human being when it emerges completely from the womb, whether or not the umbilical cord has been severed, whether it’s breathing on its own or has “independent circulation.”
In their letter, the MPs called abortions “possible murders” that require a thorough police investigation.
One of the signatories, MP Maurice Vellacott of Saskatoon-Wanuskwein, said he doesn’t believe the letter will embarrass the Conservative party or the prime minister. He also told The Canadian Press that he did not share the letter with Harper’s office before sending it to the RCMP.
And yet, the issue landed squarely in Harper’s lap during Thursday’s question period and he was forced to, once again, confirm that his government has no intention of reopening the abortion debate.
There is no question that reopening the abortion debate would be a hugely unpopular decision for the Conservatives and Harper knows this. He has gone to great lengths to try to calm the waters, just as a few rogue MPs keep rocking the boat.
Last year, the House of Commons struck down Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion to strike a committee that would have studied when a child is considered a human being. And as he promised back in April, Harper voted against the motion.
Another Conservative backbencher, Langley MP Mark Warawa, introduced his own private member’s motion in December that would outlaw sex-selective abortions. When that bill gets debated in the House later this month, we fully expect the prime minister will once again give this second attempt to reopen the abortion debate the short shrift.
Such a debate would hardly be politically helpful to him or his party. And he knows this even as rebellious backbenchers continue being thick about their own party’s best electoral interests.
But we also note that, in spite of Harper’s consistent denials, the damage may already be done. Though it was much easier to keep his MPs in line during his minority government years, hardline Conservatives feel more at ease under a majority government in appealing to their voter base by thumbing their nose at Harper and his ministers and pushing the abortion buttons.
And that may just scare away moderate voters who were already leery of the Reform elements of the neo Tories.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 2, 2013