Edmonton

Kenney's unclear abortion stance imperils reproductive rights, analyst says

Jason Kenney’s refusal to clarify where he stands on reproductive rights could jeopardize access to abortions in Alberta if his bid for the premier’s seat is successful, says a provincial political analyst.

'It's the provincial government that determines when and how and where women can get abortions'

NDP MLA publicly challenged Jason Kenney over his abortion views on social media. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press and CBC)

Jason Kenney's refusal to clarify where he stands on reproductive rights could jeopardize access to abortions in Alberta if his bid for the premier's seat is successful, says a provincial political analyst.

After Kenney announced his candidacy for leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives on Thursday,  NDP MLA Marie Renaud questioned his anti-abortion stance, and publicly declared she had once had an abortion.

Some accused Renaud of fear-mongering. Others criticized her for unnecessarily re-igniting the abortion debate. 

But Renaud's question is critical and demands an answer, said Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

"It's the provincial government that determines when and how and where women can get abortions," Thomas said.

"So if you've got a politician where there are questions on where they stand on reproductive rights, and they want to come into provincial politics, especially if they are seeking party leadership… then these are questions that are fair to ask."

When it comes to reproductive healthcare, Thomas says provincial governments are the most powerful.

Although federal law dictates the legality of abortions in Canada, provincial governments — not the federal government — have the agency to set healthcare policy within their own jurisdictions.

For instance, surgical abortions have not been performed on Prince Edward Island since 1982. And after a 20-year funding battle with the province, New Brunswick's only private abortion clinic was forced to shut down. A public fundraising campaign allowed another one to take its place months later.

Thomas said reproductive rights currently afforded to Albertans could easily disappear under a new political regime.

"Provincial governments are the ones responsible for setting the regulations around when reproductive rights can be accessed," she said.

"The federal government has been out of this debate for quite some time and probably will continue to be."  

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.

In an interview Thursday with CBC News, Kenney said he would abide by the federal decision to keep abortion legal, but didn't shy away from stating his personal convictions.

"My position is consistent since I first ran for Parliament in 1997," he said. "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."

Thomas said Kenney's answer was unsatisfying.
Melanee Thomas is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. (CBC )
 "It doesn't actually address what provincial governments would do," she said.

"The federal decision is all about the Criminal Code, and we have clear precedent on that. This is not the issue. The issue is how a provincial government would go about actually doing the details of establishing when and how and where women can get abortions."

For her part, Renaud has no regrets about her decision to challenge Kenney and make public her decision to have an abortion.

"If someone told me that I would say something like that publicly a while ago I would have laughed, but I guess everything happens for a reason," Renaud said.

"I think, for a lot of women like myself, it's something you've had to deal with, and maybe by yourself. And feeling like you're not alone is not a bad thing."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca