Harper accused of silencing anti-abortion protesters

Organizers of Thursday's March for Life rally are on Parliament Hill today, accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of stifling any kind of discussion or debate on abortion.

Organizers preparing for Thursday's rally on Parliament Hill

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, pictured at last year's March for Life rally on Parliament Hill, stirred the abortion debate in the House of Commons in the fall and will be attending tomorrow's rally. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Organizers of this year's March for Life events were on Parliament Hill Wednesday accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of shutting down any form of discussion or debate on abortion.

Attendees of the annual rally, to be held Thursday, are coming to Ottawa after months of procedural wrangling and debate on the abortion issue and freedom of speech on Parliament Hill.

The annual anti-abortion events get underway today with a candlelight vigil at a human rights monument in a park not far from Parliament Hill, Thursday protesters will march through downtown Ottawa and hold a rally on the Hill and a youth conference will take place on Friday.

At a news conference on the Hill to kick off the events, organizers from the Campaign Life Coalition said the federal government is ignoring an issue that Canadians want to talk about.

"As thousands of pre-born children at various stages of development are killed every year in this country, our government continues to do everything in their power to avoid having an intellectual conversation on this fundamental human rights issue," said Matthew Wojciechowski.

This year's theme is "end female gendercide" and youth co-ordinator for Campaign Life Coalition Alissa Golob said sex-selective abortion is a serious problem in Canada.

"Yet our prime minister continues to stifle the outcry of the people he is supposed to govern by stifling any debate or discussion when the 'a word' is brought up," she said.

"This year's March for Life gives Canadians an outlet to have their voices heard at the steps of Parliament Hill when they are being silenced not only in some of their constituencies but by the government that prides itself on freedom of speech and human rights," Golob said.

MP thanks organizers in House

She called on Harper to publicly condem the practice of sex-selective abortion and said if he doesn't, people should assume he supports it.

The March for Life events were highlighted in the House of Commons Tuesday by Conservative MP Leon Benoit during his member's statement before question period.

"I am proud to stand here today to thank everyone involved in the pro-life movement for the work they do, and to congratulate them for the efforts they put forth to have this wonderful March For Life, which is such an important issue for all of us," he said.

How and when MPs make their member's statements and a motion related to abortion have caused recent controversy on Parliament Hill.

Conservative MP Mark Warawa was set to make a statement in the House of Commons in March, the day after a motion he proposed condemning sex-selective abortion was deemed by a House committee to be ineligible for a vote. He was told about 15 minutes before he was to stand in the House that he'd been taken off the list provided by his party whip's office to the Speaker.

That set off a controversy about MPs' freedom of speech and Warawa made a formal complaint to Speaker Andrew Scheer arguing that his rights and privileges had been breached. He had several Conservative MPs backing him, raising questions about rifts in the Conservative caucus. Benoit was one of the Tory MP's who said that his rights had also been taken away before by his own party.

Questions about caucus conflict were also raised in the fall when the House voted on another Conservative MP's motion that would have seen a committee investigate when life begins. Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth's motion was defeated but a number of Tories voted for it, straying from Harper's commitment to keep the abortion debate closed. 

With the most recent motion from Warawa opposition MPs argued that it came too close to reopening the abortion debate and the NDP called on Harper to clamp down on his caucus members who propose motions and bills related to abortion.

The MP for Langley, B.C., could have appealed the committee's decision to block his motion but he eventually decided to drop the issue.

Woodworth, however, plans to introduce another motion in the House whenever he next has the opportunity to that would affirm a human's "equal worth and dignity." Woodworth told CBC News on Monday once it is agreed that a human being has a right to dignity and equality, there can be a public and parliamentary discussion on the definitions of "human being," "dignity" and "equality."

Warawa and Woodworth are among the MPs who are expected to attend Thursday's rally on the Hill.