OTTAWA (CCN)—The abortion debate has ratcheted up in advance of the October federal election despite Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s promises he will not re-open it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is intent on keeping abortion alive as a two-fold strategy, said Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for Campaign Life Coalition.
“The first part is to rev up his Liberal base, at least the more left-wing, extreme portion of it,” said Fonseca. “The second part of the strategy is aimed not so much at the Conservative leader but at his socially conservative base.”
It’s a clever “voter suppression strategy” that has been used by the Liberals before, Fonseca said. “Attack the Conservatives as having a hidden agenda on abortion in hopes (the Conservatives) will run away from their values and alienate their base, so their base doesn’t show up on election day,” Fonseca said.
Should Scheer lose that support to Maxime Bernier, leader of the Peoples’ Party of Canada, or the Christian Heritage Party, the Liberals might be able to win, despite their drop in the polls after the SNC-Lavalin and Admiral Norman scandals.
“Pro-life voters always fall into the same traps,” said Alissa Golob, co-founder and director of It Starts Right Now, which is targeting 50 ridings currently held by pro-abortion MPs in the hope of electing pro-life politicians.
“Legislative success only happens when you have enough pro-life MPs to pass it,” she said. “We can’t expect pro-life MPs to go to bat for us unless we give them a bat. That bat is a majority of pro-life MPs in the House of Commons.”
Trudeau is “trying to distract from all the scandals to push an issue he believes to be a winning one in Canada,” Golob said, “when in reality a majority of Canadians are not onside with his extremism.”
Instead of focusing on various leaders’ talking points, pro-life voters should work to elect candidates by concentrating on “what is going on in their own backyard,” she said.
“As long as backbench MPs are able to put forward Private Member’s Bills and vote freely, we can pass pro-life legislation sooner than we think in Canada, if we are strategic and effective with our time,” Golob said.
News from the United States that several states have passed restrictive abortion laws under a pro-life president Trump has also heated up the debate.
Trudeau used a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence May 30 on the new North American Free Trade agreement to bring up the abortion issue, a move pundits said was aimed at embarrassing Pence and playing to Trudeau’s constituents.
“I highlighted to the vice-president that there was a significant amount of concern amongst Canadians on the new anti-choice laws being passed in American – a number of American states,” Trudeau told a news conference with Pence. “I highlighted that Canadians and indeed this government will always be a staunch defender of women’s rights and a woman’s right to choose.”
Fonseca thinks Trudeau’s strategy failed. “I think Pence hit it out of the park. He made the pro-life movement and pro-life Canadians look very reasonable.”
“I’m very proud to be part of a pro-life administration and our administration has taken steps to stand for the sanctity of life at home and abroad,” the American vice president told journalists.
“What we find troubling is the Democratic party in our country and leaders around the country supporting late-term abortion, even infanticide, but those are debates within the United States and I know that Canada will deal with those issues in a manner that the people of Canada determine most appropriate but for President Trump, for me, for our administration, we’ll always stand for the right to life.”
Yet the abortion extremism Pence spoke of has also been on display in Canada.
Pence’s remarks followed an incident in the House of Commons the previous day where Bloc MP Monique Pauzé tried to get unanimous consent for a motion that “the House of Commons reiterate that a woman's body belongs to her and her alone and recognize her freedom of choice on abortion for any reason.”
The Liberal side of the House of Commons erupted in a standing ovation and loud whoops of support, joined by New Democrats and others, while Conservative MPs remained quiet and seated, except for one.
Mike Schouten, director of advocacy for ARPA Canada and its weneedalaw.ca campaign, said he found it “profoundly disturbing to see our law makers jumping up and down with glee” over abortion.
“They are whooping and hollering because women are having late-term abortions or because they are pregnant with a girl,” Schouten said. “Most Canadians are revolted by things like late-term and sex-selection abortion.”
He noted more and more politicians are speaking out, including the dozen or so MPs who came to the National March for Life and the three Ontario politicians who spoke at the Toronto March the same day.
The abortion debate is even more polarized and heated in Quebec. Georges Buscemi, president of Quebec Campagne-Vie, notes Pauzé’s failed motion echoed a similar one that did get unanimous consent the previous day in Quebec’s National Assembly.
Buscemi said news of the changes to abortion laws in some American states coupled with news that 20 Quebec women had to go south of the border to get late-term abortions has tipped a majority of Quebeckers into supporting abortion for any reason, he said.
“This is all worrisome,” Buscemi said. Previously, Quebeckers have been revolted by the idea of late-term abortions, something the pro-life movement has been able to capitalize on. But “Trumpian polarization” seems to have changed that, he said.
Maxime Bernier has been under fire for calling late-term abortions a form of infanticide, Buscemi said, but he has stood his ground, even after a week of controversy. Though Bernier is pro-choice on abortion, his comments have pleased some pro-life voters angry at Scheer’s stance.
At the same time, Buscemi does not think Trudeau will be able to capitalize on the abortion issue alone in October.
“There’s a feeling of Trudeau being a one-trick pony, and abortion is his only social justice card,” he said.
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