UCP MLA-elect attends anti-abortion rally to 'support my friends'

UCP MLA-elect Dan Williams was among more than a thousand people who showed up for the March for Life anti-abortion rally at the legislature on Wednesday.

Peace River MLA-elect Dan Williams among 28 caucus members estimated by NDP to have anti-abortion views

Dan Williams, the UCP MLA-elect for Peace River, attended Thursday's anti-abortion March for Life, which started at the Alberta legislature. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

UCP MLA-elect Dan Williams was among more than 1,000 people who showed up for a March for Life anti-abortion rally Thursday at the Alberta legislature.

Williams was elected the MLA for Peace River last month, defeating NDP incumbent Debbie Jabbour.

"I'm pro-life. It's been a position of value of mine, deeply held belief for a long time," Williams said. "And I just came out to support those folks who hold the same beliefs. I was at the mass this morning as well."

The NDP official Opposition estimates 28 members of the 63-person government caucus hold anti-abortion views but Williams was the only one seen at the rally. Former UCP MLA Wes Taylor, who chose not to run for re-election, was also there.

Asked whether he hoped to raise abortion as an issue within caucus, Williams said UCP members have a diversity of views.

"I'm just one voice and I'm just here to support my friends," he said.

Anti-abortion views 

The UCP's connections with the anti-abortion movement have alarmed some who believe in women's freedom of choice.

A number of UCP candidates won their nominations with the help of anti-abortion groups like Right Now.

Adriana Lagrange, former Red Deer Catholic School trustee and former president of Red Deer Pro-Life, is now education minister. Mark Smith, who was re-elected the UCP MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, suggested in a 2013 sermon that women who choose abortion are murdering their babies.

Premier Jason Kenney, a devout Roman Catholic, is personally opposed to abortion but has said he has no plans to change legislation.

Former health minister and MLA-elect Sarah Hoffman was with a group of about 100 pro-choice counter-protesters, who were kept apart from the main crowd by a barrier erected by Alberta sheriffs.

Hoffman, who introduced legislation passed last year to keep protesters farther away from abortion clinics to protect patients, said she was not surprised to see Williams at the rally.

'I'm really disappointed'

"I'm not totally shocked but I am disappointed," she said. "Knowing that (Kenney) has 28 people walking these halls that clearly want him to do something hindering my reproductive health and my bodily autonomy, I'm really disappointed."

A spokesperson for the premier's office said Albertans have a right to express their views, as many did at the legislature on Thursday.

"Albertans also have a diversity of views on this issue and each is entitled to his or her own opinion," Christine Myatt said in a statement. "But the premier has been clear that he will not revisit the matter."

Both sides at Thursday's rally were peaceful. The pro-choice side heckled and chanted during speeches by the Calgary Catholic Bishop William McGratton and Ed Hoogerdyk, Alberta manager for the Association for Reformed Political Action.

Master of ceremonies Father Dean Dowle told the crowd not to engage with counter-protesters. He said the only outlet they should speak to was Grandin Media, which is run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

A sizable number of participants were high school students who were bused in to attend the rally.

Karen Kerr is a member of the pro-choice Handmaids Coalition, a group that silently protests anti-abortion events while wearing red hoods and white bonnets inspired by Margaret Atwood's A Handmaids Tale. She noted the UCP government had little to say about the presence of so many students on a school day.

"Last week, we had Kenney on record saying he didn't think kids should walk out of school for 20 minutes to protest GSAs, yet you've got kids being bused in for the entire day from Calgary and Red Deer," she said.


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.