No plans to change abortion laws: Harper

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to steer clear of the abortion controversy on Tuesday.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to steer clear of the abortion controversy Tuesday, saying his government has no plans to change Canada's abortion laws.

Harper was questioned by reporters about comments by the Conservative's health critic who called for third-party counselling for women who want to terminate a pregnancy.

"I've been clear. A Conservative government led by me will not be tabling abortion legislation. It will not be sponsoring an abortion referendum," Harper said, adding he has no intention of discussing the subject further during the election campaign.

Harper said Alberta's Rob Merrifield's comments have nothing to do with federal policy and the practices he was advocating fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Harper said his own views on abortion fall somewhere "in-between the two extremes." When asked how he would vote on an abortion bill, Harper said it would depend on the content.

But he said he would oppose any bill limiting provincial funding to abortion services, again asserting that this is a health matter and under provincial jurisdiction.

"I just think that it's the social conservative agenda that comes out again," said Toronto Liberal candidate Carolyn Bennett in response to Merrifield's statement. "We just wondered how long they could keep the sheep's clothing on."

Merrifield's comments are the second stumble for the Conservatives in the election campaign. Last week, the language critic resigned after controversial remarks about bilingualism.

David Docherty, a political scientist at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, believes the abortion issue could spell trouble for the Conservative campaign.

"I think this is exactly the type of issue that Stephen Harper was trying to avoid," said Docherty. "He very much risks alienating those small c conservatives, those people who would have voted for Joe Clark last time around and are angry at the Liberal party. He really doesn't want to lose these folks."