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Campaign Life Coalition President Jim Hughes is pictured in a 2015 photo speaking at the March for Life rally in Ottawa, Ontario. CNS photo/Anna Dzieciol, National March for Life, Ottawa

Trudeau is wrong… abortion is not a right

  • November 20, 2017
In late September I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which I expressed dismay at what I called some “very serious” fallacies he continues to spread regarding abortion. 

I received a reply in October from a member of his staff to acknowledge receipt of the letter and to state that my concerns would be passed along to Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould. The reply ignored the specific matters I sought to bring to the attention of the prime minister. Whether or not he actually saw my letter, I do not know.

I can’t say I’m surprised by any of this. The prime minister has made it clear many times that his mind is made up on the matter of abortion and that the facts have little bearing on how he and the Liberal Party now intend to frame the argument.

But it is important for Canadians to know that the prime minister is fundamentally mistaken when he states that abortion is a protected right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or that it is a human right under United Nations conventions. He is wrong on both counts, regardless of how many times he repeats the fallacy.

In the early 1980s, Campaign Life Coalition worked very hard to have the right to life enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The prime minister at the time, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, assured us that the Charter would have no impact on the abortion question, and therefore there was no need to mention abortion in the Charter. In other words, we had nothing to worry about.

In a letter dated July 6, 1981, the senior Trudeau told Archbishop Joseph MacNeil of Edmonton, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, that an amendment to the Charter was unnecessary. “The arguments advanced to show that the Charter will create an entitlement to abortion on demand have been clearly refuted in the opinion given by the Department of Justice. In my view, the need of an amendment has not been clearly demonstrated,” Trudeau wrote.

A month earlier, the prime minister stated: “Because the public is evenly divided on the subject of abortion it was the government’s ‘considered view’ that a position favouring one side should not be enshrined in the Charter. The Government feels the issue is not one which should be defended by the Constitution.”

In my letter to Justin Trudeau, I pointed out that, over the years, his father’s words have proven to be true. Abortion has never been declared a Charter right by the Supreme Court of Canada. In fact, the Court has specifically held that there is a legitimate right for Parliament to legislate on the issue, should it so choose.

What has happened, however, is that Trudeau has consistently mischaracterized the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in the Morgentaler case. While the Court struck down a provision in the Criminal Code that outlawed abortion, it did not rule that abortion was a Constitutional right, as Trudeau seems to believe. In fact, the Court expressly recognized Parliament’s right to pass laws to restrict abortion. One justice called this a “perfectly valid legislative objective.”

Additionally,  the United Nations has never reached a consensus on the  issue of abortion as a human right. Where abortion is alluded to in agreed conclusions (non-binding normative documents which are adopted at various UN commissions), it is cast in a negative light. For example, the UN’s position is that abortion should be discouraged by nations, it should not be promoted as a method of birth control and it should be exclusively addressed in national legislation. Although several UN agencies may support unrestricted abortion, the majority of the 193 member states that make up the UN do not share the view that abortion is a human right.

It has been made quite clear by the authors of the Charter, by court rulings and by the United Nations that abortion is not a human right. It is unbecoming for the prime minister of Canada to deliberately utter this falsehood and to keep repeating it.

In my letter to Justin Trudeau, I requested that he refrain from either stating or implying that abortion is a Charter right or a human right, or that it is synonymous with women’s rights.

Clearly it is not, and it is disrespectful to Canadians for the prime minister to say otherwise.

(Hughes is National President of Campaign Life Coalition.)

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