The National March for Life is one vehicle pro-life groups are hoping sends a message to politicians. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Pro-lifers vow to keep voice alive

  • September 18, 2019

The leaders of Canada’s major political parties may have closed the door on the abortion debate, but pro-lifers across the country say it’s the people in the back benches of Parliament who will ultimately have the final say.

“The government is the 30 or so cabinet ministers and not the backbench MPs, so it doesn’t really affect the pro-life movement,” said Alyssa Golob, co-founder of RightNow, which works to nominate and elect pro-life politicians in Canada. “The goal has always been for a pro-life backbench and bills to be put forward and for us to elect enough pro-life MPs to vote for their passage.”

And that’s why pro-lifers will continue to make their voice heard in an election even though chances are slim that abortion will be banned or even regulated.

The abortion issue has drawn renewed attention as the Liberals, in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 11 official launch of the Oct. 21 federal election, said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is seeking to, among other things, introduce abortion legislation. 

Two days after the federal campaign began, Liberal Carolyn Bennett questioned in a Tweet, “Is the abortion debate really closed @AndrewScheer?” and posted a video of York Centre Conservative candidate Rachel Willson being interviewed and proclaiming her support for the pro-life cause at the 2017 National March for Life. It’s a strategy the Liberals have used in the past — with some success — in attempts to tar the Reform Party under Preston Manning, as well as the Conservatives under former prime minister Stephen Harper, as social conservatives looking to take Canada back to the past. 

Canada has been without an abortion law since 1988 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a section of the law, passed in 1969 legalizing abortion with conditions, was unconstitutional. Since then no government has enacted a new law, though the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney tried to introduce laws in the late 1980s which did not pass.

For a debate that is supposed to have ended, Jeff Gunnarson is amazed at how often abortion can rise to the top in Canadian political circles. There always seems to be some scaremongering from abortion advocates around the issue, said Gunnarson.

“It seems they’ve got everything they want and they’re afraid of even losing a crumb of it,” said Gunnarson, president of Campaign Life Coalition. “They just go on the attack when they see someone trying to make a change to go the other way.”

With the Liberals and New Democrats not allowing any of its members to support pro-life legislation, and Scheer vowing that if he forms the next government abortion will not be on the table, it may seem like the pro-life movement is fighting a losing battle. But Golob doesn’t buy that. 

“We were up against the wall when there wasn’t an organization that was solely focused on nominating pro-life candidates. Now that there is we think we can win,” said Golob. 

Golob said in the government just dissolved there were about 80 MPs sympathetic to the pro-life cause. For this election, RightNow is targeting 53 swing ridings across the country that are currently held by pro-abortion MPs, many in Toronto and Vancouver area ridings. The goal is to get 170 pro-life MPs in total (out of 338 ridings) to hold the balance of power and bring abortion legislation to Canada.

“That’s ultimately what will have to happen in order for us to start passing legislation,” she said.

Though abortion has not gained traction in Parliament, Golob notes there have been dozens of pro-life bills or motions that have been brought before the House in recent years, though these have skirted around directly calling for an end to abortion. These include Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall’s 2016 Bill C-225 — Cassie and Molly’s Law — to protect the fetus in a crime committed against a pregnant women and Motion 312 introduced by Conservative backbencher Stephen Woolworth in 2013 to examine the definition of a human being. Both were defeated.

“The reason these pro-life bills and motions haven’t passed is because there weren’t enough people in the House of Commons to pass them. That’s ultimately what our focus is,” said Golob. 

All this said, there is no clearcut favourite among pro-lifers among the parties. While most pro-life MPs are connected to the Conservatives, Gunnarson said Campaign Life is still not happy with Scheer and his stance on not reopening the debate. 

Even if abortion won’t be reopened, Gunnarson said it’s good to have pro-life members in Parliament in the eventuality that a pro-life leader will emerge. They can also keep abortion at bay should proposals for more anti-life laws arise. That’s why Campaign Life asks its supporters to focus more on the local candidate and their view of life issues.

“There is something about electing a good pro-life or virtuous person to office,” he said. 

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