U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a rally at the annual U.S. March for Life in Washington Jan. 27. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Pro-lifers looking for spill-over effect from U.S.

By  Mickey Conlon, Catholic Register Special
  • February 10, 2017

As their U.S. brethren bask in finding an ally in the Trump administration, pro-lifers in Canada understand they still have much work to do in turning the tide in favour of life north of the border.

One of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first moves after assuming the presidency in late January was to cancel federal funding for non-governmental organizations to provide abortion services overseas. Prominent members of the new administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway, were front and centre at the U.S. March for Life in Washington on Jan. 27. Trump himself tweeted his support, saying, “The #MarchForLife is so important. To all of you marching — you have my full support!”

It’s encouraging to Canadian pro-lifers, but they understand the climate here remains decidedly against them in the corridors of power.

“(Trump’s) success, his election and Mike Pence’s presence at the U.S. March for Life have been very encouraging,” said Johanne Brownrigg, Ottawa lobbyist for the national pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition. “However, we know we are in a different culture, a different political climate, and that we still have our work cut out for us.”

That was obvious shortly after Trump signed his executive order banning funds for overseas abortions, as Canadian International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau spoke with her Dutch counterpart about a proposal by the Netherlands to extend funding for such services. Bibeau’s office said the Dutch initiative is being taken under consideration.

Brownrigg said the pro-life movement knows what it is up against in Canada.

“The fact that the pro-life movement in the States is getting more coverage, is buoyed by its successes, will spill over into Canada, there’s no doubt,” said Brownrigg. “We hope culturally that people will start to pay attention to the issue. In Canada, most people are just ambivalent about abortion and that is why we’ve had no successes like they’ve had in the States.”

Jeff Gunnarson, Campaign Life Coalition’s vice president, recognizes the uphill battle pro-lifers face with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in power. Trudeau has made it Liberal party policy that members must toe the pro-choice party line.

“As long as Trudeau’s at the helm and (Premier) Kathleen Wynne is at the helm in Ontario, none of what Trump does is going to change for the positive (in Canada),” said Gunnarson.

There has been little legislative success over the years, but there have been efforts. MP Mark Warawa’s Motion-408 attempted to have Parliament condemn the sex-selective abortion of girls, but was deemed unvotable in 2013. Other measures have attempted to criminalize harm done to a fetus in the womb, most recently Cathay Wagantall’s Bill C-225, but they have been defeated in the House of Commons. But Gunnarson said efforts must continue and the Trump administration’s support should provide confidence.

“We say to them, ‘Speak up, don’t hold back,’ ” said Gunnarson.

Campaign Life, while officially neutral on Canada’s political spectrum, is keeping close tabs on the federal Conservative leadership race. Two of the 14 registered candidates, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux, are considered social conservatives and have been outspoken opponents of abortion. Two others, Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer, have said they would not block a backbencher from bringing an abortion bill before the House should they be chosen leader. Under the former Conservative government, then prime minister Stephen Harper was determined not to reopen the abortion debate.

As for seeming to be aligned with the U.S. President, whose actions have been loudly and vehemently derided by millions at home and around the world, Gunnarson said they are keeping close tabs on what the mercurial Trump does.

“We don’t claim Trump as any kind of pro-life saviour, we’re keeping our cards close to our chest, so to speak,” he said. “But at the end of the day if you are achieving things that are keeping pre-born children from being killed… you’re making a direct, positive impact.

“As long as he does good, we’ll cheer him on.”

(Conlon is a freelance writer in Regina.)

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