Methinks, she doth protest too much

Legislative reforms in the United States in recent months have let us see just how quickly the needle can move backwards on the issue of abortion, and there is no doubt that the issue of women’s right to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy remains a highly divisive topic here, too. But is there an ongoing debate about it?

Anne Kingston, writing in Maclean’s magazine, says no:

“Who’s debating abortion? The courts? The Canadian Medical Association? No on both counts. And certainly not party leaders. They’re falling over one another to say they won’t reopen a debate that’s been closed legally and politically since 1989.”

Why, then, does it feel like abortion is still a front-burner issue, at least at election time?

Who stands where?

Justin Trudeau has been clear: abortion is legal, and members of the Liberal caucus, regardless of their personal views, must follow the party line on this issue. No dissenting votes allowed, should a vote ever arise.

However, he has not taken steps to ensure that women everywhere in Canada have access to abortion: his government continues to flow federal transfer payments to provinces where barriers to abortion remain in place.

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP would enforce the federal Health Act and withhold healthcare funding for such provinces.

Andrew Scheer has declared he would not re-open a debate about abortion. However, he also has said that he would allow members of his caucus to vote with their conscience on this issue. With 70 or more anti-choice candidates running under the Conservative Party banner, that could be a lot of consciences voting in the House of Commons. Scheer did not help himself on this topic by appearing, on day two of the campaign, with York Centre candidate Rachel Willson, a strongly pro-life candidate who says that ending abortion is her top priority.

And now to the Greens

The federal Green Party’s position has long been pro-choice. However, Elizabeth May has what can best be called an ambiguous personal take on abortion.

In 2006, when running for a seat in a London, Ontario, by-election and speaking to a group of nuns at Mount St. Joseph’s convent, she said:

“If one group of people say a woman has a right to choose, I get queasy because I’m against abortion. I don’t think a woman has a frivolous right to choose. . . . I  respect people who say, ‘I’m against abortion because there is a right to life and the fetus  is sacred. . . . .Nobody in their right minds is for abortions. I’ve talked women out of having abortions. I would never have an abortion myself, not in a million years. I can’t imagine the circumstances that would ever have induced me to it.”

“Frivolous right to choose?” I don’t know a lot of women (well, actually, I don’t know any) for whom deciding to terminate a pregnancy was a frivolous choice.

“Nobody in their right minds is for abortions?” There is just no comeback to such a ludicrous statement.

“I’ve talked women out of having abortions?” Talk about presumptuous and arrogant.

“I can’t imagine the circumstances that would ever have induced me to it?” I guess Elizabeth May has had a pretty privileged life and can’t imagine that other women may find themselves in very different situations.

But she says she is pro-choice

And, yet, back in 2006, when these comments were made public, May rushed to assure voters that she supported her party’s official position on abortion; a stance she has repeated in the intervening years.

In 2011, she told The Georgia Straight that her position on abortion had been “massively misreported,” and assured voters that there is “no wiggle room on maintaining the right of women in this country to safe and legal abortions.”

So what, then, of her recent declaration on CBC television’s Power and Politics that, despite her own pro-choice position, she would not stand in the way of Green Party MPs if they wished to reopen the issue or vote against the party’s official position? She claimed:

“Democracy will be healthier when constituents know that their MP works for them and not their party leader.”

Could we expect May to take the same position on free votes for Green MPs and a healthier democracy for the rest of us on other important issues; say, issues related to climate change? Are there no party positions to which Green candidates are expected to adhere?

May later retracted this comment and said that all candidates for the Green Party would be re-vetted for their position on choice, but two Green candidates who have publicly condemned abortion remain on the party ticket. Both Macarena Diab and Mark Vercouteren now claim that they don’t remember making anti-choice comments in the past and say they fully support a woman’s right to choose.

Seems they are taking lessons in obfuscation from their leader, when they should be offering women in this country clarity and certainty in their commitment that we, and only we, have the right to make decisions about our bodies, including decisions about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

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