Youth are becoming more prominent in the pro-life movement and are preparing to wield their power in political circles. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Pro-lifers take aim at Tories

  • April 10, 2013

OTTAWA - Many social conservatives, especially the new leaders in the pro-life movement, are openly considering punishing the Conservatives for quashing MP Mark Warawa’s Motion-408 that would have condemned gendercide.

Pressure from the Harper government to deem Warawa’s motion non-votable has provoked dismay and anger in many socially conservative quarters.

“What Harper is showing is that he doesn’t care about social conservatives,” said Stephanie Gray, co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform (CCBI).

“It would be naïve of us to continue to vote for him. He is not helping us. He is actually harming us... It’s time for us to show our power.”

CCBI represents one arm of the more militant and youthful side of the pro-life movement that uses graphic images and comparisons to genocide to “make abortion unthinkable” as its mission.

Her colleague Jonathon Van Maren has been warning in recent CCBI blog posts that “Harper has tragically underestimated the size, youth, tenacity and dedication of the newly emerging pro-life movement.” This is “not your grandmother’s pro-life movement,” he said.

Mike Schouten, founder of, a pro-life web site that aims at persuading the vast number of Canadians who find themselves in the middle on the abortion issue to work towards a law that saves the lives of some unborn babies, is taking an incremental approach. He said he recognizes there are “a lot of pro-lifers and social conservatives who feel this is the end of their time with the Conservative Party.”

Social conservatives make up about a quarter of the 39 per cent of the popular vote that brought Harper into a majority government, he said.

“If they don’t come out to vote, Harper’s going to be in trouble,” he said. “He has been able to take pro-lifers for granted. I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be able to do that.”

Campaign Life Coalition president and veteran pro-life leader Jim Hughes said the problems the pro-life movement have with the Tories are nothing new. The attempts to edge pro-life voters and candidates out of the debate are coming to “the point where the democratic rights of all of us are being eroded.”

But Hughes said he has known Harper was not pro-life since his days as a Reform Party MP and Campaign Life has not operated under any illusions of a pro-life “hidden agenda” from the Tories, despite the fact it has a sizable pro-life caucus.

But other parties, except for those on the fringe, might no longer be an option. Hughes said not too long ago there was a group of about 40 staunch pro-life Liberals in the House of Commons. The party traditionally allowed free votes on conscience issues. But Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau has signalled he will not allow MPs to vote against a woman’s “right” to an abortion.

“It’s disappointing when the federal Liberal Party attracts Catholics across the country but has few MPs who you could say are pro-life,” Hughes said. As for the NDP, a practice of strict caucus discipline has seen members who vote against the party line kicked out of caucus.

“I’m not sure pro-life supporters have much to hope for under the current scenarios,” said former Liberal MP Dan McTeague, a Catholic who voted consistently pro-life in his 17 years in the House.

“Pro-lifers are going to have to think hard about who to vote for now that Conservatives and their candidates cannot be considered or willing to represent their core beliefs. None, it would appear, would dare put their seat on the line notwithstanding their convictions.”

Social scientists have said the Liberals lost their majority government when they lost Catholic and ethnic voters who migrated to the Tories over issues such as abortion and the redefinition of marriage.

“How much worse would it be under the Liberals?” said Gray.

“It can’t really get worse than it is under Harper.”

But CCBI’s main strategy is aimed not at party politics but public opinion.

“We do feel hopeful, particularly with young people, high school and university students,” she said. “We see them changing their minds.”

Van Maren points out the aging feminist movement that promotes abortion is dying out, but the pro-life movement is “young, growing rapidly and dedicated to long-term strategies that are already shifting public opinion.”

Schouten said that while Motion-408 provided a rallying point for debate, and helped to “build a groundswell more quickly,” its fate “does not change what we’re doing.”

“We’re still going to continue advocating, educating about the status quo (no laws restricting abortion at any stage of fetal development) and why it should be changed,” he said.

Motion-408 may never come to debate in the House of Commons, but debate over gendercide has energized the pro-life movement. The theme of this year’s National March for Life May 9 on Parliament Hill is “End Female Gendercide.” More than 20,000 people, most of them 35 and under, are expected to attend.

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