Conservative Minority Poses a Danger to Abortion Rights

by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada ( – (last updated June 23, 2006)

See our January 20 press release: 
Harper’s Reassurances About Abortion “Don’t Mean a Thing”

A Conservative government poses a real danger to women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion.

A Listing of Anti-Choice MPs

The following data reflect the post-election situation.

Anti-choice MPs are deemed to be publicly anti-choice if they have an anti-choice voting record, or have publicly spoken at or attended events organized by anti-choice groups, or have publicly stated they are “pro-life,” or would support abortion only in limited circumstances.

 Before ElectionAfter Election
Total Anti-Choice MPs93 of 306 MPs (30%)100 of 308 MPs (32%)
Conservative Party72 of 98 MPs (73%)79 of 124 MPs (64%)
Liberal Party20 of 133 MPs (15%)21 of 103 MPs (20%)
Other1 Independent
Pro-Choice* 140 of 308 MPs (45%)**
Refused to say*** 49 of 308 MPs (16%)
Unknown stance 19 of 308 MPs (6%)

* This estimate includes Conservative and Liberal MPs with a public pro-choice position, as well as all Bloc Quebecois and NDP MP’s on the assumption they are pro-choice. There are only about 8 pro-choice Conservatives, and about 64 pro-choice Liberals. 

**This means that anti-choice MPs will have great difficulty passing an obvious anti-abortion bill in Parliament. But many other actions can be taken to restrict abortion rights and access, as discussed below.

*** See story below, Conservative Party Muzzles Its Candidates

Of Stephen Harper’s new cabinet, 12 are anti-choice, 10 are pro-choice, and 5 have an unknown stance, according to ACPD.

Many of the anti-choice MPs are members of a “Pro-life Caucus” at Parliament – the existence of which was confirmed on May 11 by a couple of its leading members, MPs Maurice Vellacott and Paul Steckle.

Conservative Party of Canada — Anti-choice MPs

Jim AbbottPeter GoldringGordon O’Connor
Diane AblonczyGary GoodyearBrian Pallister  
Harold AlbrechtNina GrewalJames Rajotte
Mike AllenArt Hanger  Pierre Poilievre  
Dean AllisonRichard HarrisScott Reid  
Rob AndersLoyola HearnLee Richardson  
David L. AndersonRuss HiebertGerry Ritz  
Leon BenoitJay HillAndrew Scheer  
Garry BreitkreuzBrian JeanBev Shipley 
Gordon BrownRandy KampCarol Skelton  
Rod BruinoogeJason KenneyJoy Smith  
Wajid Khan
Colin CarrieEd KomarnickiMonte Solberg  
Bill CaseyDaryl Kramp Kevin Sorenson  
Rick CassonGuy Lauzon Chuck Strahl  
John CumminsPierre Lemieux David Sweet
Patricia Davidson Tom Lukiwski  Greg Thompson  
Stockwell DayJames Lunney  Myron Thompson  
Dean Del MastroGary LunnVic Toews  
Norman DoyleTed Menzies  Bradley Trost  
Rick Dykstra Rob MerrifieldDavid Van Kesteren
Ken Epp Bob Mills  Maurice Vellacott 
Brian Fitzpatrick  James Moore  Mark Warawa
Jim Flaherty  Rob Moore Jeff Watson  
Royal Galipeau Rob Nicholson  John Williams  
Cheryl GallantDeepak Obhrai  Lynne Yelich  

Liberal Party — Anti-choice MPs

Raymond BoninJim Karygiannis Paul Steckle  
Joe Comuzzi  Gurbax MalhiPaul Szabo  
Wayne EasterLawrence MacAuley  Alan Tonks  
Mark Eyking  John MaloneyJoe Volpe  
John GodfreyJoe McGuire  Tom Wappel  
Albina Guarnieri  Dan McTeague  Borys Wrzesnewskyi  
Charles HubbardShawn MurphyPaul Zed  


Conservative Party Muzzles Its Candidates

LifeSiteNews, the daily online newsletter of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) Canada’s national anti-abortion group, reported on January 9 that many Conservative Party candidates are refusing to answer anti-choice group questionnaires. About 200 MPs and candidates from all parties have turned in completed questionnaires to CLC or responded in some other form to the questionnaire, but of that total, only 72 were from Conservative candidates. The survey has 9 questions related to abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and research on human embryos.

A few days later, CLC reported that Conservative candidates have told them they are actually forbidden to answer the group’s questionnaire.

  • Several candidates sent in an unsigned memo from party headquarters saying that answering questionnaires was not allowed. One Conservative candidate sent them a copy of a directive or memo apparently from Conservative Party headquarters stating that “Candidates are asked not to sign written ‘pledges’ of any kind during the election period.”
  • Conservative candidate Blaine Calkins (Alberta, Wetaskiwin) said “Conservative Party policy is that we do not respond to surveys or questionnaires of any kind.”
  • Fredericton Conservative candidate Pat Lynch on Dec 23 refused to answer questions on the issue from Moncton Times & Transcript reporter. “I was told by my campaign manger that he had spoken with you and explained we wouldn’t be discussing abortion at this time,” said Lynch. “It is a very complex issue and I am not prepared to comment on that.”
  • reported that fringe lobby groups are playing along, citing that Hermina Dykxhoorn, president of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families, told them she’s “willing to not talk about those issues during the election if it means electing a Conservative government.” (‘those issues’ refers to gay marriage and abortion). And Link Byfield, chairman of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, said “They have to talk this way to get elected. I think a lot of conservatives honestly agree with that.”
  • MPs like Cheryl Gallant and Rob Merrifield have been curiously “unavailable for comment” throughout the campaign. Gallant has been so silent during the campaign that she is being criticized by the press. One political analyst said the Tories appear to have a strategy to draw as little attention as possible to candidates whose past remarks have been fodder for negative stories.
  • Belinda Stronach, the Liberal Human Resources and Skills Development Minister, said that the Conservative plan to have a backbencher introduce a private member’s bill on abortion is typical of the way Stephen Harper’s Conservatives reach deals with social conservative allies behind closed doors. “There is a ‘culture of conspiracy’ in Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party in making secret deals with the single-issue social conservative interest groups; prominent social conservatives themselves confirmed not long ago that they will stay quiet to allow the Conservative Party to be elected, and then collect their agenda. It is no accident that comments like those made by Mr. Toews and Mr. Thomas are made and tolerated.” (Rondo Thomas, now a Conservative Candidate in Ajax-Pickering, declared war in Feb 2005 on those who disagreed with his social conservative views. See Vic Toew’s comments below.) 
  • Paul Martin drew national attention to Harper’s muzzle policy on Jan 20. He said that Conservative candidates Cheryl Gallant, Rob Anders, Rob Merrifield and Harold Albrecht have a hidden social agenda, and warned they are still part of the Conservative Party even though they haven’t been heard from. The Liberals say those candidates have been kept out of sight so they can’t make remarks about abortion and same-sex marriage. “What’s going to happen after the election?” said Martin. “Are these social conservatives going to stay in hiding … (or) are they going to come out and start expressing their views, advancing their causes?” Martin also quoted a number of recent and past comments from Conservative candidates showing they were determined to outlaw abortion. “Any Parliament with Stephen Harper as prime minister is a Parliament which will put a woman’s right to choose in jeopardy,” he said. He predicted that banning abortion and same-sex marriage will be tops on a Conservative government’s priority, and noted that Harper’s party is much closer to a “dolled-up variation” of the defunct right-wing Reform and Canadian Alliance parties rather than the decades-old Progressive Conservative party.

Party officials denied the charge that they were muzzling candidates, but new information shows the directives did indeed came from Party headquarters. LifeSiteNews said they acquired a copy of a signed email from Conservative Party headquarters specifically telling a Conservative candidate not to answer the questionnaire. The email is signed by Jerra Byrne, the Conservative Party’s Political Operations Officer for Western and Northern Canada.


Conservative Party’s “Official” Abortion Position Does Not Mean Abortion Rights Are Safe 

In March 2005, the Conservative Party adopted a resolution at their convention (by a vote of 55% to 45) that “a Conservative government will not initiate or support any legislation to regulate abortion.” 

On January 11, Harper insisted he would not reopen the abortion debate. “A Conservative government will not be bringing forward, will not be supporting, and will not be debating the abortion laws in this country. I’ve been clear on that and, frankly, I think that’s put the matter to rest.” Harper dismissed Paul Martin’s January 11 speech accusing the Tories of having a secret agenda to trample minority rights including a right to an abortion. 

On Jan 17, in response to Dr. Henry Morgentaler saying publicly he didn’t trust Harper’s promise to not re-introduce the abortion issue, Harper maintained that: “The Conservative government won’t be initiating or supporting abortion legislation, and I’ll use whatever influence I have in Parliament to be sure that such a matter doesn’t come to a vote.” … “I will use whatever influence I have to keep that off of the agenda, and I don’t see any likelihood of that in the next Parliament.” 

Harper was challenged again by Global’s Kevin Newman on Jan 18, who asked him: “On the issue of abortion, will you pledge that there will be no legislation covering abortion? There will never be a free vote in Parliament on that issue?”  Harper replied: “Never is a long time. What I’m saying is I have no desire to see that issue debated in the near future. We’re saying very clear in our platform we’re not going to support or initiate abortion legislation, and frankly, I don’t want this parliament to have an abortion debate.” When asked about his personal views on abortion, Harper said: “I’ve always said my own views on the abortion issues are complex. I don’t fall in any of the neat polar extremes on this issue. But… No, I don’t need to [explain them] because I’m not proceeding with an abortion agenda.”

Harper’s stated positions simply do not mean that abortion rights will be safe under his government. Harper has only said his government wouldn’t support legislation to restrict abortion, but that claim is dubious on its face. More importantly, there are countless other ways in which a Conservative government could restrict abortion, and Harper hasn’t disavowed any of these alternatives. Here’s some indicators that add up to a real threat that the Conservatives would act to restrict abortion rights, despite Harper’s reassurances:

  • During the 2004 election campaign, Harper specifically said that abortion legislation would not be tabled in his government’s first term. Indeed, in his most recent statement, he said he doesn’t want “this parliament” to have an abortion debate, or have it in the “near future.”
  • Harper’s statements and choice of language send a reassuring plea to his right-wing anti-abortion supporters to be patient—their chance will come. And Campaign Life Coalition is already chomping at the bit. The group’s president Mary Ellen Douglas told the Globe & Mail that her organization will push “pro-life” MPs to work together across party lines to outlaw abortion in the next Parliament, starting with incremental measures such as ending public funding for abortions and banning abortion pills. “We won’t rest until there actually is a law to protect the unborn.” 
  • Conservative Party president Don Plett has said that a backbencher MP would introduce anti-abortion legislation if the Conservatives win the next government.
  • Harper will allow his MP’s to introduce private members bills on abortion, and he will support a free vote on the issue. This amounts to promoting possible abortion restrictions, because regardless of what he says, Harper cannot control free votes and any legislation that results if they pass. Although private members’ bills are extremely difficult to pass, a few certainly can be passed with enough support. Significantly, a new Conservative government could easily mean a majority of MPs in Parliament will be anti-choice, giving a free vote on abortion a real chance of passing. The only way Harper can stop this process is to force all his MPs to vote along party lines (against anti-abortion bills), which he cannot do according to page 44 of the party’s platform: “Make all votes in Parliament, except the budget and main estimates, free votes for ordinary Members of Parliament.”
  • A Conservative government does not have to pass legislation to restrict abortion. It can appoint anti-choice judges, anti-choice Ministers and anti-choice senior bureaucrats. It can implement anti-choice policies on sexual and reproductive health. It can stop funding abortion, refuse to ensure that provinces provide abortion services, refuse to approve medical abortion, and refuse to approve new contraceptives.
  • On the same-sex marriage issue, Harper promised not to use the “notwithstanding clause” during a free vote on “that issue” meaning he might use it in other ways, such as on the abortion issue.
  • The Toronto Star asked candidates the following question: “When Parliament passes a law, but the courts say it is unconstitutional on the grounds that it conflicts with the Charter of Rights, who should have the final say, Parliament or the courts?” 86% of Conservative candidates said Parliament. The majority of candidates from other parties correctly said it is the job of the courts to interpret the Charter to make sure that laws don’t infringe on our constitutional rights. Because if Parliament has the final say on laws, that means the personal views of MP’s reign supreme, our Charter means nothing, and the courts are toothless.
  • Confirming the Conservative stance against an independent judiciary, Harper said on Jan 19 that Canada’s court system is influenced by Liberal-appointed justices who pursue a social activist agenda. He said that when choosing judicial appointees: “What we will be looking for is what I call the judicial temperament. And that is the ability to competently and shrewdly and wisely apply the laws that are passed by the Parliament of Canada.” Justice Minister Irwin Cotler called Harper’s comments “disrespectful of the rule of law, of the independence of the judiciary, and the administration of justice.” Harper also believes that the Senate should defer to Parliament, instead of its duty to act as a check on Parliament. It should play “a useful technical role” he said, but should not “try and interfere with the democratic will of the elected House.”
  • Social conservatives in the U.S. are said to be “thrilled” at the prospect of a Conservative Canadian government under Harper,  and many expect Canada to change into a more American-style social conservative regime. Canada’s election has caused a noticeable stir in the U.S., with major conservative media such as the Washington Post and Fox News following the race.
  • A Jan 19 email has been widely posted among U.S. conservative groups, warning them not to talk to Canadian journalists before Monday’s election for fear of scaring off voters and hurting Stephen Harper’s chances. The email, from right-wing commentator Paul Weyrich, says he received a call from a prominent Tory (conservative Calgary lawyer Gerald Chipeur). The e-mail reads: “He said the Canadian media, which is trying to save the current Liberal government, has a strategy of calling conservatives in the U.S.A. in the hopes that someone will inadvertently say something that can be hung around the Conservatives. … Canadian voters have been led to believe that American conservatives are scary and if the Conservative party can be linked with us, they perhaps can diminish a Conservative victory. Chipeur asks that if Canadian media calls, please do not be interviewed until Monday evening at which point hopefully there will be reason to celebrate.”
  • Dr. Henry Morgentaler, Canada’s abortion rights pioneer, chimed in at a Toronto press conference on Jan 20, urging voters not to vote Conservative. “Never in the last 18 years have I been so worried about the possibility of offering good medical services to women in this country.” he said, referring to the 1988 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in Canada. He said the Conservative Party is “chock full” of members with anti-abortion views who carry a hidden agenda. “Even though Mr. Harper has promised that he will not introduce legislation in the first term of office, there are ways of doing things, of restricting access to abortions,” Dr. Morgentaler said, suggesting that a private member’s bill may be introduced if the Tories form the government. At the same press conference, Carolyn Egan of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada said that 73% of Conservative incumbents have expressed anti-abortion sentiments, while 24% would not reveal where they stand on the issue. She also noted that a number of Liberal Party members have taken an anti-abortion stand. “Any Conservative backbencher could put forth an anti-abortion legislation and clearly would have broad support from his colleagues,” she said, urging Canadians not to be swayed by a potential dissatisfaction with the Liberals. “Anyone who is disaffected from the Liberal government then should vote for the NDP.” A new Liberal attack ad seen on TV over the final weekend of the campaign highlights the fact that over 70% of Harper’s conservatives are against a “woman’s right to choose.”
  • Columnist Barbara Yaffe notes that Harper has not changed his philosophy, it’s mostly voters’ perceptions of Harper that have changed, due to his efforts to humanize himself and reach out more. But she said: “Harper hasn’t changed his philosophy, rooted in years of reading, study and policy debate.” She explains that “Harper is an adherent of a set of beliefs that even has a name associated with it—the Calgary School. His advisers, nearly all white and male, adhere to the brand of hard-line, U.S.-style conservatism associated with this school. … He still accommodates within his caucus old-style Reformers, like Myron Thompson, Cheryl Gallant and Stockwell Day. In this election, Conservatives have run the lowest percentage of female candidates of any mainstream party.” 


What the Conservatives Could Do in Power to Restrict Abortion

Action Canada for Population and Development (ACPD) has compiled a list of Actions an Anti-Choice Government Can Take to Limit Your Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services. It’s worth reproducing their list in full:

  • Allow public referendums on abortion that misrepresent the issue by asking misleading questions.
  • Impose a gag rule on family planning agencies that receive federal funding, censoring information on the abortion option or refuse to provide any funding to such agencies.
  • Permit anti-abortion organizers from the US to enter Canada to perpetrate their violence against abortion providers.
  • Change government health policy to state that abortion is not a medically necessary procedure which would allow provincial governments to opt out of funding abortion services in hospitals as well as clinics.
  • Allow provinces to act in violation of the Canada Health Act by opting out of paying for abortions under Reciprocal Billing Agreements.
  • Ignore the attrition of qualified abortion providers by not requiring that abortion be taught at publicly funded medical schools as basic medical training.
  • Use Health Canada to promote anti-choice propaganda about the safety of abortion. Fund the production and dissemination of anti-abortion material in schools e.g. “The Silent Scream”.
  • Restrict funding of population and international development programs that include family planning, sex education and/or abortion.
  • Provide government funding to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centres and support increased funding of abstinence-only sex education programs.
  • Refuse to sanction research or support medical trials on mifepristone or other non-surgical abortion procedures; discourage the testing or importation of advanced reproductive medical technologies.
  • Enact legislation that would permit health care institutions/individuals to use “conscience clauses” to opt out of providing reproductive health care, including abortion and sterilization.
  • Pass legislation that permits groups such as pharmacists to refuse to provide emergency contraception.
  • Appoint anti-choice MPs to cabinet positions like Health Minister or Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.
  • Appoint anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • Support legislation (Private Members Bills etc.) that would directly or indirectly restrict access to abortion. i.e. mandatory third party counseling, parental consent and waiting periods.
  • Change the Criminal Code and the Constitution to give the fetus, directly or indirectly, the legal status of person

A new coalition called “Think Twice” has compiled a list of the dangerous implications for Canadian social programs and equality rights in the face of a Conservative victory in the upcoming federal election. One of the items on the list is “new risks to Canadian women’s right to reproductive choice and access to abortion.” Think Twice is comprised of numerous citizens’ organizations, including child care, aboriginal, women’s rights, health care, human rights, arts, trade union, environmental, housing, disability, and minority advocacy groups.


MPs and Candidates Speak Out Against Abortion

In spite of the Conservative Party’s “muzzle” policy (see above story), 18 Conservative MP’s and 24 Conservative candidates replied “Yes” to this question on Campaign Life Coalition’s questionnaire: “If elected, will you support measures to introduce and pass a law to protect every unborn child from the time of conception (fertilization) onward?” Also replying “Yes” were 10 Liberal MPs and 2 Liberal candidates. The Globe & Mail noted that this amounts to a “written pledge to support a law banning abortion if elected, indicating that the highly divisive issue could be revived in the next Parliament.” 

Conservative MP Stockwell Day, Liberal MP Dan McTeague, and former Bloc Quebecois MP Ghislain Lebel, were the speakers on a panel at the National Pro-Life conference, “Life and Family: Source of Hope” held Nov 17-19, 2005 in Montreal. The panel topic was entitled: “Commitment and responsibility of politicians in the service of life and the family.” Former Liberal MP Liberal Pat O’Brien (now Independent) was also a special guest at the conference, which was sponsored by Campaign Life Coalition and LifeCanada.

Charles Hubbard, Liberal MP for Miramichi NB, said in December that the public health system should only cover abortions when a pregnancy threatens a mother’s life or presents other major medical complications. He said tax dollars should not pay for “abortions on demand” and that “In real terms [Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s] clinics are contrary to acceptable medical practices under Medicare. It is abortion on demand and it is outside of the parameters permitted. The Morgentaler clinics represent another aspect of abortion. There is no counseling, nothing goes with it. Simply a person walks in and has an abortion.” Hubbard has also criticized Ottawa for putting pressure on the New Brunswick government to pay for abortions performed at the Fredericton Morgentaler clinic.

The Liberal party website describes how Conservative Justice Critic Vic Toews (now the new Conservative Justice Minister) told the National Pro-Life Conference on Sept. 8, 2004, in a speech entitled “Abuse of the Charter by the Supreme Court,” that the right to abortion is a result of “activist judges” abusing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to develop and implement their own social policy. He directly attacked the Charter, criticizing it as anti-democratic, and said the Conservative Party wants to open up the process for judicial appointment. Toews told the audience that the ability to pass legislation must be coupled with the ability to appoint judges more favourable to the social conservative viewpoint. “Do not look at the issue of abortion as an issue that stands alone. …this issue has a much broader significance in areas related to the policy of government concerning marriage, the family, and the response of government to social problems generally.” Also, in an appearance on right-wing Christian radio in June 2003, Toews said he would seek to use the Notwithstanding Clause to overturn Supreme Court decisions that promoted the Court’s “radical agenda.”


Private Member’s Bill Threatens to Recognize Fetal Personhood

Conservative Party president Don Plett has said that a backbencher MP would likely introduce anti-abortion legislation if the Conservatives win the next government. “When we form a government, we can rest assured that there will be a private member’s bill on this,” he wrote in a November e-mail to a Quebec party member. Past comments since the last election confirm this is the intent of some Conservative MPs:  Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin) told CBC TV on May 13, 2004: “I will continue to, as would other colleagues here, bring forth bills of a pro-life nature.” On June 18 2004, Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Ont.) told Canada Newswire that she would definitely push a private members bill on abortion. MP Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton-Melville, Sask.) has perfected the art of private member bills against abortion—between 1997 and Oct 2004, he introduced eight different bills trying to restrict abortion in various ways.

The private member’s bill that Plett confidently mentions is coming would presumably challenge abortion rights head-on, so it’s probably different than the one currently in the works from MP Maurice Vellacott since Nov 2005. Vellacott’s private member’s bill would allow double murder charges to proceed when a pregnant woman is slain. His bill was inspired by the slaying of pregnant Edmonton woman Liana White last summer. In November, another pregnant Edmonton woman, Olivia Talbot, was shot to death, and her family has launched a petition for the creation of a law to protect “unborn victims of violence.” If re-elected, Vellacott said he will pursue his bill.

Vellacott’s bill is modeled after U.S. laws in several states that grant personhood rights to fetuses when they are killed by a third party, except through legal abortion. In practice, these laws have been used in the U.S. to justify the arrest and punishment of pregnant women who have alcohol or drug problems. The laws recognize fetuses as separate persons, creating an adversarial legal relationship between a pregnant woman and her fetus, and elevating the “rights” of her fetus to a level equal to or even greater than her rights. Such laws imply that women do not deserve to be protected or valued in their own right — it is only through their fetuses that they are entitled to any protection. 


What You Can Do About This!

Find out who your MP is, and whether they’re on our anti-choice list. If not, email or call them and ask them to stand up and defend abortion rights whenever necessary. If they ARE on our anti-choice list, email or call them to let them know you strongly disagree with them using their elected status to impose their personal religious views on the public and their constituents. Demand that they represent the views of their pro-choice constituents’ in their political work.

Inform others by passing along the link to our list of anti-choice MPs to your friends, relatives, and co-workers. Ask them to check out their MP’s stance on abortion and take action.

Join, volunteer with, or donate to a local pro-choice group, abortion clinic, or family planning clinic.  

Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper supporting reproductive rights, especially in response to articles or other letters with an anti-abortion bias.

Participate in liberal and pro-choice blogs by posting comments informing people about abortion news and supporting reproductive rights.

Join ARCC-CDAC and one of our listservs to stay informed on reproductive rights issues and become active.

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