Pro-choice groups warn against Harper majority

Women's right to choose abortion may be at risk if Stephen Harper's Conservatives win a majority government, a coalition of pro-choice groups warned Monday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seen here waiting to speak in Conception Bay, NL last Thursday, said he would not reopen the abortion debate. On Monday, pro-choice groups said they fear for women's rights if he wins a majority government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Women's rights may be at risk if Stephen Harper's Conservatives win a majority government, a coalition of pro-choice groups said Monday.

The group said Canadians should look at the Conservatives' actions rather than Harper's reassurances the party wouldn't reopen the abortion debate, and pointed to comments last week by Conservative candidate Brad Trost, the incumbent in Saskatoon-Humboldt. 

Trost said the government de-funded Planned Parenthood because of pressure from groups opposing abortion.

Carolyn Egan, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said the most striking example was when the government decided last year not to provide funding under the G8 maternal health program for groups that offer abortions to women in developing countries.

During a news conference in Toronto Monday, Egan said the Conservatives also ended an arbitration process in 2006 that would have allowed for funding abortions in New Brunswick clinics, forcing women there to pay to end pregnancies.

"We are quite concerned about the possibility of a majority Conservative government and we have to judge the Harper government on its deeds, and not its words," she said.

Egan said the groups aren't asking people to vote strategically, but to vote for anyone other than a Conservative candidate.

She noted there are enough Liberal MPs opposed to abortion that it could be possible to vote to limit abortion access even if not all Conservative MPs elected to the House of Commons were in favour.

In a vote last fall on whether to make it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion, several Liberal MPs voted in favour. Conservative cabinet ministers all voted against the bill.

"What we're asking people to do is simply look at this [history] and see what it's telling us, and not vote Conservative, however they may choose to cast their ballot," Egan said.

"We feel there's been just a number of very significant examples where Conservative Party has been step by step trying to change the abortion policies of the Canadian government, and this really contradicts Stephen Harper's pronouncement of not reopening the debate."

A spokesman for Harper said Harper was clear last week and he had nothing to add.

Planned Parenthood waiting

Planned Parenthood provides worldwide counselling and services, which include family planning, contraceptives, HIV-related services and abortion-related services.

In response to questions last week about Trost's statement, Harper said he wouldn't reopen the abortion debate in Canada.

"As you know, in our party, as in any broadly based party, there are people with a range of views on this issue," Harper said Thursday. "But I think I’ve been very clear as party leader.… As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate."

Asked in French by a reporter whether he is personally for or against a woman's right to choose abortion, Harper repeated his answer.

"That is my position, now and in the past five years as well, and as long as I am prime minister, we will not reopen the debate on abortion. We will leave the law as it stands."

Planned Parenthood has two outstanding applications for funding with the Canadian International Development Agency. A spokesman said last week the organization hasn't heard back about either one.