New Brunswick

Liberal candidate would allow free vote on abortion

One of the front-runners for the Liberal party leadership says he'd allow free votes on abortion policy.

But Michael Murphy calls it 'non-issue'

Michael Murphy says abortion is a matter between a woman and her doctor.

Michael Murphy, one of the front-runners for the Liberal party leadership, says he would allow free votes on abortion policy if he were elected premier of New Brunswick.

But the Moncton lawyer also said he is fine with the status quo, raising questions about what he would do if he were elected premier.

In 2009, Murphy, who was the province's health minister, addressed an anti-abortion rally at the legislature.

"It is my personal belief that the unborn at any stage from conception on is human life, and I believe in human life," he said.

At the time, Murphy said that he was "not entirely" comfortable with existing provincial policy, but he'd live with it.

The provincial government currently covers abortions, but only in certain hospitals and only with the approval of two doctors.

On Tuesday, Murphy called it a "non-issue" on Twitter, after social media users began discussing his abortion views earlier this week.

He said "the law is there" and described abortion as being a matter between a woman and her doctor.

Murphy did not respond to requests by CBC News for an interview about how he would reconcile that statement with the current requirement that two doctors approve an abortion.

But he said on Twitter that if he becomes premier and his caucus wants to reopen the issue, he'll give MLAs a free vote.

"The last three Liberal platforms have satisfied diverse groups," he said. "Personal view has no place directing policy.

"Candidates ran in 2006 under the platform. Caucuses direct these things."

Other candidates

Nick Duivenvoorden, one of Murphy’s rivals in the October leadership race, said he would modify the existing two-doctor policy.

"Not sure of rationale for two docs. So, yes to your question," Duivenvoorden said on Twitter.

"Hopefully, always the option of last resort," he said.

"I reserve the right to believe that life starts at conception, but ultimately the decision to have an abortion must be left to the patient and her doctor hopefully in consultation with her family to make sure all possible alternatives have been explored," Duivenvoorden said.

"I appreciate that these decisions are not made easily."

The other leadership candidate, Brian Gallant, was not available to explain his views on the issue.

Calls to debate issue

Earlier this month, the provincial anti-abortion movement called on the Alward government to debate the issue of abortion.

About 200 people attended the annual anti-abortion rally at the provincial legislature in Fredericton, one of many held across the country.

In February, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, who represents the Ontario riding of Kitchener Centre, made a private members’ motion, calling for a committee to study when life begins.

Woodworth said current Canadian law says human life begins when a child has fully emerged from the mother's birth canal, which is based on a 400-year-old definition imported from Britain.

When he announced the motion, Woodworth had argued he was simply interested in updating the law to agree with 21st-century medicine. But in an interview with Radio-Canada, he admitted his motion is linked to abortion.

The motion is expected to be voted on in June, or September when the House returns from its summer break.

The Harper government has said it will never reopen the debate on abortion.

Abortion was legalized in Canada on May 14, 1969.