Paul Tuns:

In the week of and following the National March for Life in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal MPs repeatedly raised the issue of abortion, vowing to fight to protect the current abortion status quo in which abortion takes the lives of approximately 100,000 preborn Canadian children annually, and accusing the Conservative Party of wanting to rollback so-called abortion rights.

On May 8, the day before the March, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, Marci Ien, rose in the House of Commons to say “a women’s right to choose will never be up for debate.”

Also on May 8, during a press scrum, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough—Rouge Park), said Pierre Poilievre could use the notwithstanding clause to make abortion illegal again.

During the same scrum, Health Minister Mark Holland, urged journalists to ask Poilievre to talk “about a woman’s sexuality and her sexual freedom and autonomy at a time when women around the world are facing attacks on their sexual freedom and autonomy.” He condemned Poilievre for tolerating the pro-life views of some his caucus members including those who would be taking part in the National March for Life the next day.

On May 9, the Liberal Party reposted its 2023 video with more than 20 members of their caucus, including government ministers, explaining why they are “proudly pro-choice” in soundbites. MPs explained they support abortion “Because choice is choice” (said Ien), “It’s 2023” (Chris Bittle, MP for St. Catharines), and “Because we won’t go back” (Seamus O’Regan, MP for St. John’s South—Mount Pearl).

In the House, Jennifer O’Connell (Pickering-Uxbridge) said Conservative MPs are “marching on the front lawn to roll back women’s rights” and asked her colleagues “who in this place will stand right now and fight with us,” to which there was a 30-second standing ovation from the Liberal, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois MPs.

Only two Conservative MPs addressed the March for Life, Arnold Viersen and Cathay Wagantall, both offering words of encouragement to the 2000-3000 pro-lifers assembled on Parliament Hill. Earlier that week, Viersen read a petition that noted “Nearly 100,000 abortions are performed annually in Canada” and that “Canada is only one of two, the other nation being North Korea, to have zero abortion laws,” before calling for “the Government of Canada to create/strengthen abortion regulation nationwide.” Their actions put the pro-abortion Liberals in high dudgeon.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu (Brampton South), NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and other pro-abortion MPs mingled with the crowd of two dozen pro-abortion counter-protesters to the March for Life.

Inside the House of Commons, Tourism Minister Soraya Martinez Ferrada, rose to speak about her abortion at the age of 18. She said she returned to Canada from Chile because she found herself “without rights, without choice” in the Latin American country. She gave up her dream of settling in Chile and “Canada saved me by allowing me to have a legal and safe abortion for a future that I had chosen.”

“How come we’re still talking about this?” Ferrada asked. “It’s crazy,” adding “Why are the Conservatives attacking the freedom for women to choose?” She said she was “ashamed” of the petition Viersen read earlier that week in the House and “ashamed of having these conversations in Parliament instead of being in solidarity to all these women that are scared.”

Several NDP and Bloc MPs crossed the floor to hug Ferrada or shake her hand.

The Toronto Star reported that “Ferrada’s statement was not a response to a question of any government minister, as question period is meant to be.”

At the same time, in the Standing Committee on Health, Sidhu put forward a motion affirming support for both abortion and contraception. Conservatives attempted to postpone the debate, with MP Laila Goodridge (For McMurray-Lac La Biche) saying the Liberals were trying to score political points and trying to talk about breast cancer screening instead. NDP MP Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby) took issue with Goodridge and began talking over the vice chair of the meeting, Conservative MP Stephen Ellis (Cumberland-Colchester). Ellis said he would adjourn the meeting if Julian persisted in interrupting, Julian refused to submit, and Ellis adjourned the meeting, stalling the pro-abortion motion in committee.

The week after the March for Life, Trudeau continued to promote abortion and criticize conservatives of all stripes, singling out the Blaine Higgs government in New Brunswick. Trudeau condemned the government’s refusal to fund the private Clinic 554 abortion and gender medicine mill in Fredricton.

Echoing lines he and his government used the previous week, Trudeau said that following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States in 2022, abortion had been under attack around the globe, and that a Poilievre government would use the notwithstanding clause to ban abortion in Canada.

Poilievre spokesman Sebastian Skamski said a Conservative government “will only use the notwithstanding clause on matters of criminal justice” and that Trudeau is going “on a bizarre rant about the court decisions of a foreign country.” He reiterated the leader’s position that a Conservative government would not reopen the issue, a position Poilievre has insisted upon since he became leader in 2022.

Despite those assurances, on May 21, the Liberal Women’s Caucus issued an open letter to the Conservative leader and held a press conference demanding that he vow to protect legal abortion. The letter, signed by LWC chairman Leah Taylor Roy (Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill), said women who seek abortion “do not need lecturing from the Conservative Party” and condemned the Tories for taking their cues “from the American far-right.” After condemning Wagantall and Viersen’s pro-life views and the views of the majority of Conservative delegates who have voted for pro-life motions at party policy conventions, the letter concludes, “it is no longer acceptable for you to leave Canadians, especially Canadian women, wondering where you stand on this important issue (abortion) affecting women’s rights and freedoms.” She said the LWC “expect(s) you to defend our freedoms” and called upon Poilievre to “unequivocally state you will defend a woman’s right to choose.”

During the press conference, Taylor Roy said the LWC wants assurances the government will not introduce “anti-choice” legislation. When journalists noted that Poilievre has repeatedly said he will not reopen the issue, Taylor Roy said she is concerned about private members bills that would recognize “the fetus as a person.” Another journalist said it was a “cynical ploy” to use the abortion issue when the Liberals were down “30 points in the polls,” to which Taylor Roy said it was “not a scare tactic because we saw what happened in the United States,” referring to overturning Roe v. Wade. She said “things are moving backwards” in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.

During the press conference, an unidentified female journalist asked if the Liberals were so concerned about “abortion rights” why have they not legislated a right to abortion to make it more difficult to restrict abortion in the future. Ferrada approached the microphone: “You do not want to legislate women’s body. You do not legislate women’s body … You don’t want to legislate your ovaries, your uterus. That is not the way to protect women’s rights.”

In an interview with journalists, Health Minister Mark Holland reiterated that the Liberal government would not legislate a “right to abortion” saying he prefers to “find solutions” working with provinces to increase abortion access. He noted one way Ottawa was working with provinces was withholding health transfer funds from New Brunswick for not funding abortions at a private abortuary.

The Liberals have come under criticism for using the abortion issue, as was evidenced in the questions during the LWC press conference. Columnists have commented on the ploy, too. Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley said ramping up the abortion scaremongering “is simply a sign of their desperation as Liberal poll numbers fall further.” Globe and Mail columnist Campbell Clark noted that nearly a year before the anticipated federal election “we’ve skipped ahead to … the stupid stages of election campaigns” with its “hyperbolic abortion politicking.”

National Post columnist Chris Selley said Trudeau’s claim that “it’s not that Roe couldn’t happen in Canada,” as the Prime Minister said in New Brunswick criticizing the province’s premier, Blaine Higgs, was “unhinged” and “wacko.” As Campbell noted, “there is no federal law in Canada for a court to overturn.” Selley added that there is a culture war in the United States over abortion because both sides are “ready to fight” for their cause politically, which does not resemble the political landscape in Canada.

Pete Baklinski, communications director for Campaign Life Coalition, condemned the Liberals for their cynical abortion tactics. He tweeted: “The Liberals political ship is sinking fast. They’re trying to keep it afloat on the bodies of babies targeted for abortion. Let that sink in.  The Liberals are using the killing of preborn babies for political points. Sickening.”

Jeff Gunnarson, national president of CLC, told The Interim, “I wish the Liberal rhetoric were true and that conservatives everywhere were eager to ban abortion,” but he said “there simply are nowhere near the votes to roll back abortion, let alone recriminalize it.”