Kitchener-Conestoga candidates reflect range of debate on abortion

Kitchener-Conestoga incumbent Harold Albrecht stands behind his anti-abortion stance and says while his party won't re-open the debate, he is allowed to vote his conscience. Some of his challengers say the abortion debate has been settled and there's no question about a woman's right to choose.

Conservative incumbent Harold Albrecht 'proud to stand up for the most vulnerable of our citizens'

The five candidates in Kitchener-Conestoga are (from left) Raini de Wet of the NDP, Liberal Tim Louis, Conservative Harold Albrecht, Stephanie Goertz of the Green Party, and Koltyn Wallar of the People's Party of Canada. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Stephanie Goertz says abortion and a woman's right to choose whether to have one should not be a federal election issue.

The Green Party candidate for Kitchener-Conestoga says she believes in a woman's right to make that decision.

"We need make sure we are steadfast in ensuring that we elect governments and MPs that are also hard fast on this stance and ensuring that there is actually no option to defund abortion from public health. That should not be on the table, should not have been raised," Goertz said Thursday morning following a panel discussion on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition.

But the issue is making a comeback in this election. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been asked to address the issue several times and on Thursday, said he is "personally pro-life" but he would not reopen the debate on abortion.

It's also a conversation locally because the incumbent in Kitchener-Conestoga, Conservative Harold Albrecht, has been supportive of the anti-abortion movement.

He was called out on Twitter earlier this year by then minister of status of women Maryam Monsef for advocating to bring the movie Unplanned to Canada. The movie is based on a book by Abby Johnson of Texas who says she had a change of heart about abortions after an experience working for Planned Parenthood.

Albrecht also sponsored a petition on the House of Commons website that asks the federal government "to cease providing taxpayers' dollars" for abortions because, it said, an "abortion is not a medically necessary procedure."

He and fellow Conservative MPs became a target by the Liberal party in a fundraising email after he attended an anti-abortion rally.

Albrecht: 'I will work to continue that conversation'

Albrecht noted Scheer has said on several occasions he won't reopen the abortion debate, but he said the party does give them the "freedom of conscience" to express their views.

"I will always champion the right – the fundamental rights human rights – of all of our human citizens and I will work to continue that conversation," he said. "I am proud to stand up for the most vulnerable of our citizens, those of our pre-born, and will do everything I can to let their voices be heard."

He said he supported the petition on defunding abortions this summer because he believes any petition brought forward by Canadian citizens should be tabled in Parliament.

"I have tabled dozens of petitions in my time," he said, noting in some cases, he doesn't necessarily agree with the topic. That includes one petition, he recalled, about genetically modified organisms.

"I may not have initiated this particular petition but the general thrust of the petition in terms of reducing the number of abortions I can agree with," he said of the petition this past summer.

Pro-choice demonstrators went to Harold Albrecht's Kitchener-Conestoga constituency office in July. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

'I don't think people believe the Conservative leader'

People's Party of Canada candidate Koltyn Wallar said he's neutral on the issue and, if elected, he would put it to a referendum in the riding to see if voters wanted him to raise the issue in Parliament.

"If they vote yes, then I will move to do that in the House of Commons," he said. "I'm not going to fall on either side of the fence. But I think we need to have a debate on it."

For NDP candidate Riani de Wet and Liberal candidate Tim Louis, neither said they would support reopening the debate.

"Abortion is a decision between a woman and her health provider," Louis said.

"It's amazing that we're having this conversation in 2019. I've talked to so many people who said, 'I can't believe that we might be going back.' I don't think people believe the Conservative leader about opening the abortion debate — certainly not in this region."

De Wet, who grew up in South Africa, is a health activist and she says abortion is a health issue as well as a social one.

"I grew up in a country at a time where abortions were illegal that did not mean that abortions didn't happen," she said. Instead, it meant the wealthy took trips to have abortions while people without the money to do that had to get a "a backstreet abortion endangering her life."

"When we ban abortions, all we create is an economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots," she said. 

She added if the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, "we need to start by providing proper sex education to children and we need to make sure that women have access to safe and affordable contraceptives."