In a motion that was unanimously adopted by the Québec legislature, Quebec MNAs have unanimously called on the Harper government to affirm the right to free access of abortion and to stop cutting funding for pro-choice women’s groups. They also asked “the federal government and the prime minister of Canada to put an end to the current ambiguity on this issue.” The motion was passed on May 19 by a vote of 109 – 0 and will be transferred to the federal Senate and House of Commons.
After the vote, Québec Premier Jean Charest told the Globe and Mail: “Abortion is an inalienable right and the consensus expressed in the National Assembly reflects the consensus on this issue in Québec society.”
Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said this would not inspire a federal debate on abortion. “The prime minister has consistently said throughout his political career, before we formed the government and even after, that our government will not initiate or support legislation that reopens the debate on abortion,” Soudas told the Canadian Press.
The move was triggered by Harper’s decision to refuse funding abortion for developing world countries in his G8 maternal health initiative. Parti Québecois backbencher Carole Poirier, who introduced the motion, told the Globe and Mail that, in addition to this, Conservative abortion private member’s bills, cuts to funding for women’s groups, and a recent pro-life demonstration on Parliament Hill put abortion on the public radar. “What we’re seeing is the rise of the religious right in Canada,” Poirier told the paper. “We’re telling Mr. Harper, ‘Don’t try to reopen the debate. We’re keeping an eye on you’.”
The motion followed public outcry over the statements of the primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who condemned abortion as a moral crime, even in cases of rape.
According to the office of federal House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, the motion would not automatically lead to a Parliamentary vote. The provincial Speaker could send a copy of the motion to Milliken, who would then send it to the corresponding minister if deemed important enough. A federal opposition party such as the Bloc Québecois can also bring up the issue in Parliament.
Even then, the Harper government insisted it will refuse to be drawn in to the debate. Soudas told the Canadian Press that the government “very often receives these unanimous motions from the Québec legislature.” As for the opposition parties, “They just won’t take no for an answer, which demonstrates that they just want to politicize the issue.”