Politics

Anti-abortion campaign takes on assisted suicide ruling in election year

Activists opposed to abortion and euthanasia called on Parliament to bring forward legislation "that will protect all human life from the time of conception to natural death" during the annual March for Life rally on Parliament Hill Thursday. Read a recap of Kady O'Malley's liveblog.

Activists gathering for annual March for Life rally on Parliament Hill step up campaigning

Thousands gather on Parliament Hill to hear MPs, religious leaders and anti-abortion activists speak against abortion and euthanasia at the annual March for Life event Thursday. (Kady O'Malley/CBC)

Activists opposed to abortion and euthanasia called on Parliament to bring forward legislation "that will protect all human life from the time of conception to natural death" during the annual March for Life rally on Parliament Hill Thursday.

The theme for this year's march was "Let Life Win," which organizers explained would "challenge all Canadians to choose life when faced with a life or death situation."

Among the speakers to address the crowd was Veggie Tales creator and author Eric Metaxas, as well as Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes.

More than a dozen Conservative MPs and senators also took the stage — which was assembled on the steps outside Centre Block, below the Peace Tower — including David Anderson, Royal Galipeau, Stephen Woodworth, Rob Anders, Wladyslaw Lizon, Brad Trost, Maurice Vellacott, Dave Van Kesteren, Ed Komarnicki and Stella Ambler, and several Conservative senators: Betty Unger, Norm Doyle and Tobias Enverga.

Former MP Pat O'Brien, who was among the former Liberals to sign onto a letter criticizing party leader Justin Trudeau over his decision to require all future Liberal candidates and MPs to vote against any attempt to limit abortion, was also in attendance.

March for Life has brought thousands of protesters annually to the parliamentary front lawn to mark the anniversary of the 1969 bill that legalized abortion in Canada. This year's turnout was between 9,000 and 10,000, according to the RCMP, although event organizers had said they were expecting more than 20,000 people to attend, and told the crowd there were "more than 25,000 of you out there."

On the fringes of the event, several dozen pro-choice activists, including representatives from secular-humanist communities, gathered to protest the rally.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Ottawa has organized a counter-event to take place at a nearby restaurant on Thursday evening, which will invite participants to "Stand for Choice."

A topless protester yelling "My body, my rules" is intercepted by event organizers as she interrupts a speech at the March for Life rally Thursday. (Kady O'Malley/CBC)

For the second time in two years, the rally was targeted by topless protesters. Three women attempted to rush the stage while Woodworth was speaking, but were quickly pulled away by police, who covered them up before escorting them from the lawn.

During the 2014 event, topless protesters Neda Topalovski and Delphine Bergeron rushed the stage where Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, the Cardinal and Archbishop of Québec, was speaking to the crowd. RCMP officers dragged them away and put them in the back of a police van.

More focus on euthanasia

Although the March for Life program made it clear that abortion will remain the focus of the annual event, there was another hot button issue on the agenda this year: physician-assisted suicide, which was thrust onto the political front burner earlier this year when the Supreme Court unanimously declared the existing laws unconstitutional.

Several MPs urged the crowd to contact their local MPs to express their concern over the looming deadline, and Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg spoke at the event as well.

Even the theme of this year's march — "Let Life Win"— works equally well in the context of both issues.

That may be a savvy strategic move for a movement that has thus far gained little traction in its efforts to convince the government to bring in legislation to restrict abortion.

Pro-choice supporters gathered on the margins of Thursday's March for Life rally on Parliament Hill. (Kady O'Malley/CBC)

While neither the governing Conservatives nor any other major federal political party has indicated interest in reopening the abortion debate, there is no consensus — even within the parties themselves — how far Canada should go to regulate the right to die.

The government has until next February to come forward with a new law before the existing prohibitions are automatically repealed.

Election preparations

Meanwhile, the coalition is readying itself for the upcoming election.

Earlier this spring, the CLC teamed up with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform to launch a campaign that takes direct aim at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's very public position in support of abortion rights.

Last year, Trudeau announced that all Liberal MPs and candidates would be expected to vote against any attempt to limit abortion rights.

Among the tactics employed by the "No2Trudeau" campaign: anti-Trudeau postcards that include graphic images of aborted fetuses, hundreds of which have been distributed in ridings across the country, including Surrey, B.C.

The group is calling on opponents of abortion to "work harder than ever to ensure that the pro-life candidates who won the nomination races also win a seat in the House of Commons."

To that end, they're urging "pro-lifers on the ground level to campaign with their local pro-life candidate to ensure their election in the upcoming federal nomination."

Ambler made the same suggestion during her speech to the March for Life rally on Thursday.

She urged attendees to get involved in the political process by working to nominate more pro-life candidates, and elect more pro-life MPs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.

With files from CBC News

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