Anti-abortion group pushing UCP to debate defunding abortion at party convention

A proposed policy on defunding abortions has made it onto the final list that will be debated at this weekend’s United Conservative Party convention in Red Deer, partly due to efforts by an Alberta anti-abortion group The Wilberforce Project.

Wilberforce Project group encouraged members to vote in UCP surveys

An anti-abortion group says UCP Leader Jason Kenney welcomes all viewpoints into the party even those considered unpopular. (CBC)

A proposed policy on defunding abortions has made it onto the final list that will be debated at this weekend's United Conservative Party convention in Red Deer, partly due to efforts by an Alberta anti-abortion group The Wilberforce Project.

Policy number 477 states: "Review what procedures are defined as 'medically necessary' and remove non-compliant procedures from provincial insurance coverage."

Although the policy doesn't specifically mention abortion, the Wilberforce Project noted in an email circulated to members last month that "this proposal would result in defunding abortion."

The proposal has made it to the final group of 250, but a party source confirms it is at the very bottom of the list, so may not get debated.

The Wilberforce Project circulated an email on April 13 urging members to get their UCP memberships prior to the deadline to vote for pro-life policies and get pro-life members on the board of directors at the Red Deer Convention.

"These steps are VITALLY important to creating a future law to protect pre-born children in Alberta," executive director Stephanie Fennelly writes in the email.

In an interview, Fennelly said her group did not submit the policy but believes Albertans would support an end to publicly funding abortion.

"It's an elective procedure and if it is not one that actually risks a mother's health, then Albertans are obviously interested in not funding elective procedures," she said.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said abortion is legal in Canada and has been funded under medicare for 30 years. She said it is necessary for women to have the ability to make their own health-care choices.

"To say that you would be in support of choice without having funding for that choice would certainly take that choice away from a number of the women who believe that they would benefit by having this service," she said.

Final list of 250 up for debate

The UCP, as part of its policy-development process, has allowed members to submit proposals for consideration.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney said the party originally received 1,300 policy ideas.

A document distributed in March listed nearly 800 policies and amendments.

The list has been whittled down to 250, ranked in order of support, following surveys of party members.

Due to time constraints, a number of policies ranked lower on the list may not be debated this weekend, Kenney said.

He noted the party has more than 100,000 members, so many people will be voting on the proposals.

"When you involve large numbers of people, they tend to support resolutions that reflect the mainstream," he said. "I think that's what we'll end up with. I don't want to prejudge all of this because I've been very resolute about keeping my hands off the process."

Both the Wilberforce Project and Parents for Choice in Education, a group that has fought GSAs in Alberta schools, have encouraged their members to take part in these surveys.

They have asked members to vote in favour of policies like parental notification when a child joins a gay-straight alliance, and support for the traditional definitions of gender and marriage.

Those last two items did not make it on the list, the UCP source said. The final list will not be released to members and the media until the start of the conference Friday.

However, the draft policies could raise new worries for pro-choice advocates, women's groups and the LGBTQ community about what effect UCP leader Jason Kenney will have if he is elected premier.

While he is personally opposed to abortion, Kenney has said he would not change the status quo.

Fennelly sidestepped a question about whether she sees an opportunity with Kenney's leadership of the UCP.

She says unlike other politicians, he would at least consider her group's point of view.

"He's welcoming that diversity into the party and being inclusive of viewpoints that some people might believe are unpopular," she said.

Hoffman thinks it goes further than that.

"They definitely think they have a chance," she said. "They encouraged people to buy memberships to support Jason Kenney and they feel that things are owed to them. I am not surprised they are getting organized."

Hoffman notes that her government was the first to fund Mifegymiso, medication that allows women to have an abortion without having to travel to a medical clinic.

A government that opposed abortion could cut that funding as well as limit access to surgical abortions, she said.