Liberals abortion proposal sunk from within party ranks by pro-life MPs

  • March 25, 2010
{mosimage}OTTAWA - A Liberal motion to force the federal government to include abortion and contraception in its maternal health initiative was  defeated March 23.

Perceived by the Tories and Parliament Hill journalists as an attempt to drive a wedge between pro-life and pro-choice members of the Conservative Party, the motion backfired, even with the support of the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois, losing by a 144 to 138 vote.

Three pro-life Liberal MPs — Paul Szabo, Dan McTeague and John McKay — voted against it. As they stood, pro-life MPs from across the aisle applauded. In addition, more than a dozen Liberals failed to show up or abstained from the vote.

Moved by Liberal MP Bob Rae, the three-paragraph motion never mentioned abortion. Instead it used euphemisms, such as insisting on “a full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options, including contraception.”                                        

But Szabo said he had no doubt the motion concerned abortion, nor did the hundreds of people from his Mississauga South riding who e-mailed him, urging him to vote against it.

“I am a pro-life member of Parliament,” Szabo said after the vote. “This is a moral issue for me and I exercised the vote based on my conscience.”

Rae’s motion followed several days of Opposition hammering of the Conservatives over the issue of contraception, after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told a parliamentary committee the G8 initiative to help mothers and children would not include family planning.

The Liberals sensed vulnerability as the Tories awkwardly backtracked and insisted contraception would be part of the package.

“This motion is a transparent attempt to reopen the abortion debate that we have clearly said we have no intention of getting into,” said International Development Minister Bev Oda.

After the motion’s defeat, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff continued to attack the Tories for improvising and said they should take a clear position. 

Campaign Life Coalition national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said the Liberals were determined to make abortion and birth control part of the package.

“They took something that was good and noble and made it into something dark and deadly.”

For her, a vote for the Liberal motion was a vote for abortion. 

“We’re looking for men and women with backbones who can stand for the really important issue of life,” Douglas said.

While Rae and Ignatieff avoided the word abortion, Liberal MP Keith Martin, a doctor, told the House abortion is part of a full array of family planning options.

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