Power & Politics

Green Party won't ban members from trying to reopen abortion debate, says May

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says elected members of her party won't be prevented from trying to reopen the debate on abortion in the next Parliament, despite her own stated belief that "a woman has a right to a safe, legal abortion."

Greens issue statement saying there's 'zero chance' of a Green MP reopening the debate

Green Party Elizabeth May sits down with Power & Politics for a special Leaders edition of the Power Lunch series. (CBC, Aug. 28) (CBC)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says elected members of her party won't be prevented from trying to reopen the debate on abortion in the next Parliament, despite her own stated belief that "a woman has a right to a safe, legal abortion."

But within hours of May's remarks becoming public, the Green Party issued a statement insisting that there is "zero chance" of an elected Green MP reopening the abortion debate.

"I could talk to them. I could try to dissuade them. I could say it would be unfortunate ... but I don't have the power as leader of the Green Party to whip votes, nor do I have the power to silence an MP," May said in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, recorded last Wednesday.

"And frankly, I think that's a good thing because democracy will be healthier when constituents know that their MP works for them and not their party leader," May told host Vassy Kapelos.

Green Party policy aside, May was candid about her own beliefs regarding abortion.

"A woman has a right to a safe, legal abortion. I've never wavered in that position since I was, like, eight years old and realized what was going on when I heard my mother arguing with people about the issue," said May.

After an earlier version of this story was published, the Green Party issued a statement.

"It is, and always has been, the Green Party of Canada's policy that all women must have timely access to safe, legal abortions," said Green Party Press Secretary Rosie Emery.

"Although the leader does not have the power to whip votes, all Green Party members of Parliament must endorse the Green Party's values, including a firm support of a woman's right to choose. There is zero chance an elected representative of our party will ever reopen the abortion debate."

Emery said that during the candidate vetting process, the Green Party ensures that all candidates "wholeheartedly agree that the abortion debate is closed in Canada."

"Any who disagree are not allowed to run," said Emery.

CBC reached out to the Green Party on Friday asking whether the party was aware of any federal Green candidates who hold anti-abortion beliefs or positions.

That inquiry went unanswered.

In 2014, Liberal Justin Trudeau barred any new members of his caucus from supporting any restrictions on abortion access.

NDP spokesperson Melanie Richer said a candidate must be pro-choice in order to run for the party. "There's no room in the NDP caucus for those who don't support a woman's right to choose," she said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said a Conservative government led by him would not reopen the debate on abortion, but it remains unclear whether he would allow a Conservative MP to table a private member's bill on the issue.

Scheer said backbench Conservative MPs are free to follow their consciences but he would "oppose measures to reopen" the abortion debate and is "confident" the caucus "understands that."

May's personal hero

May is a practising Anglican and studied to become an Anglican priest before entering politics full-time.

When asked who her personal hero is, May said: "Jesus Christ. Sorry. That's my answer."

When asked why she apologized, May told host Kapelos that "politicians in Canada should not put their religion on their sleeve.

"And I gave you my quick, honest answer. I didn't self-edit.

"We are an inclusive and all embracing society. Within the Green Party, we have candidates from every faith and religion and a lot who don't believe there is a God and wonder why anyone would be so foolish as to think so. And everyone is respected and welcome."

Catch the full Power & Politics interview with Elizabeth May at 5:00 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

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