Politics

'I am personally pro-life,' Scheer says, vowing not to re-open abortion debate

A day after three federal party leaders pushed him to declare his personal feelings about abortion in a debate, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he is personally "pro-life" but a government led by him would not change the status quo.

'As leader of this party it is my responsibility to ensure that we do not re-open this debate,' Scheer says

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaks at a volunteer fire department in Upper Kingsclear, N.B. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he is personally opposed to abortion — but a government led by him would not move to restrict access to the procedure.

Speaking to reporters in New Brunswick, Scheer, a practising Catholic, said that while he opposes abortion, a government led by him wouldn't enact any government legislation to ban the procedure or support the efforts of any Conservative backbench MP to limit the practice.

His declaration comes a day after three of the major party leaders pressured Scheer in a French election debate to say publicly how he feels personally about abortion. Scheer ducked the question last night, saying only that the abortion debate in Canada is settled.

"My personal position has always been open and consistent. I am personally pro-life but I've also made the commitment that as leader of this party it is my responsibility to ensure that we do not re-open this debate, that we focus on issues that unite our party and unite Canadians," Scheer said Thursday at an announcement about tax credits for volunteer firefighters.

"And that's exactly what I'll do and that's why I'll vote against measures that attempt to re-open this debate."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he is personally pro-life, but reiterated that if elected he would not reopen the abortion debate. 0:30

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who led the charge against Scheer's abortion stance in the debate, said today Scheer's reassurances aren't enough.

"I'm going to fight for everyone, and I think women can see that. Andrew Scheer will not be there to defend their rights and that's very important. It's very important to understand the type of leadership that the various leaders have to offer," said Trudeau, campaigning today in Montreal.

When asked about a 2011 article that described Trudeau as a Catholic who "is personally very opposed to abortion, but still believes nobody can tell a woman what she should do with her body," a Liberal Party spokesperson said Justin Trudeau is unquestionably "pro-choice."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Scheer should have come clean with voters when he had the chance on the debate stage.

"The fact that he said it today but he didn't say it during the debate, when asked about it directly, shows a lack of courage," Singh said at a press conference in Toronto.

Scheer has a long history of social conservatism

Scheer has long identified as a social conservative. In 2005, he spoke out against same-sex marriage in a speech in the House of Commons.

While Scheer has so far refused to march in any of the country's pride parades, he said recently that the debate on same-sex marriage in Canada is settled.

Rosemary Barton asks Conservative leader Andrew Scheer about how his views on LGBTQ rights have evolved. 2:10

Scheer also has said he supports equality among homosexual and heterosexual blood donors — current rules demand that men who have sex with men remain celibate for three months before they can donate.

The Conservative leader also has said he'd support a legislative ban on conversion therapy, a discredited pseudoscientific practice that attempts to turn gay people straight.

When running for the party's leadership in 2017, Scheer told the anti-abortion group RightNow that he would allow "freedom of conscience" for backbenchers.

"I think that's one of the things that makes the Conservative Party stronger, that we allow for a diversity of views on these issues within our own caucus and we don't tell anyone that they have to park their conscience or their faith at the door," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

In that interview, Scheer also said he has always voted in favour of "pro-life" legislation.

"I can assure you that I support the right to individual MPs to speak out and bring, introduce matters that are important to them, but our party policy is clear on that and I think in order to maintain unity of our caucus it's important that the prime minister respects that," he said.

Scheer has said he would allow individual Conservative MPs to introduce legislation they want to pursue, while affirming that he, as leader, would vote against legislation that seeks to limit abortion access.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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