NDP member of the Alberta legislature Marie Renaud has challenged Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney on his anti-abortion stance and publicly declared she once had the procedure.
"Just one question for Mr. Kenney, Pro-choice or not?" tweeted Renaud, the MLA for St. Albert, on Wednesday evening. "I had an abortion and I thank God I was able to. Who wants to change that?"
"It was just a question," Renaud told CBC News on Thursday, adding that she wanted Kenney to clarify his position. "You know, if you're running to do this, I'd just like to know where you stand on that particular issue.
"People have fought for a very long time to have access to appropriate health care, and all ranges of health care, and this is part of it. I guess we'll just wait and see what he says."
'I believe in the value of human life'
Kenney announced Wednesday that he would be seeking the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party under a mandate of uniting the Wildrose and PC Party under one tent.
Kenney said Thursday that his campaign is focused on economic opportunity, not "hot-button" social issues. However, in an interview with CBC News, Kenney didn't shy away from stating his personal convictions.
"My position is consistent since I first ran for Parliament in 1997. I believe in the value of human life and I apply it to capital punishment and all bioethical questions, but in my 20 years in Parliament I haven't given a speech about this, let alone proposed a motion or a bill."
I had an abortion and I thank God I was able to. Who wants to change that? #ableg— @MarieFrRenaud
Kenney said he has always supported the former federal Conservative government's stance not to initiate abortion legislation. "Frankly, I think these are just issues designed to distract voters from what Albertans are really concerned about."
But in 2012, when he was the immigration minister, Kenney defied the wishes of then prime minister Stephen Harper and supported a motion to set up a parliamentary committee to study when life begins.
Critics said the motion, defeated 203-91, was an excuse to reopen the debate on abortion in Canada and set limits on the procedure.
'My position is consistent since I first ran for Parliament in 1997. I believe in the value of human life and I apply it to capital punishment and all bioethical questions, but in my 20 years in Parliament I haven't given a speech about this, let alone proposed a motion or a bill.' - Jason Kenney
Kenney predicted that the "NDP will continue to throw out failed efforts to distract people with hot-button social issues."
If he becomes leader he will "allow for freedom of conscience for [MLAs] to represent their constituents on ethical issues, and to do so when those matters come up as votes, but as a government we wouldn't be taking initiatives on those issues."
Kenney said that as leader he would focus on one subject on the ballot for the next election.
"Which is how do we restart the Alberta economy as the engine of Canada's economy after four years of massive tax increases, job-killing new regulations, a betrayal of our energy industry and huge multibillion-dollar carbon tax.
"Those are the issues they don't want to talk about, but they're going to have to defend the record."
'You're not alone,' MLA tells women
Renaud said she decided to share her story to help other women.
"Had I seen another woman publicly share her tough decision, I know I would have been grateful to know I wasn't alone," she said in a tweet. "That's all."
In an interview, she said she thinks there are a lot of women like her who might have had to go through the experience alone
"It is liberating in a way," she said. "And just feeling like you're not alone is not a bad thing."
Had I seen another woman publicly share her tough decision, I know I would have been grateful to know I wasn't alone. That's all.— @MarieFrRenaud
Reaction on social media was mixed, with some vitriolic attacks on Renaud for raising the issue and making her abortion public. Others supported her and some shared that they had also had abortions.
"It's pretty empowering to feel that you're not alone," said Renaud, who had her abortion about 20 years ago.
'If you look at the comments he has made [on abortion, LGBT and education issues] are concerning for a lot of folks who are socially progressive like myself.' - Sandra Jansen
Sandra Jansen, the PC MLA for Calgary-North West, said on Wednesday that she feels Kenney's social conservatism will be at odds with the party — in particular with PC MLAs and members who are left-of-centre on social issues.
"If you look at the comments he has made [on abortion, LGBT and education issues] are concerning for a lot of folks who are socially progressive like myself."
Jansen said she will fight to "make sure he's not successful."