Reform’s Jim Pankiw tables bill to keep politicians from hiding behind the Canada Health Act

On June 2, Reform MP Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon-Humboldt) introduced a private member’s bill in Parliament that could lead to the end of government – or taxpayer – funding of abortion. Bill C-515 calls for a referendum on whether or not the Canada Health Act should be amended to explicitly state that “medically unnecessary” abortions must not be funded from government coffers.

The specific referendum question is included in the bill and reads: “Do you agree that Section 13 of the Canada Health Act should be amended to provide that full cash contributions shall be paid only to provinces that do not provide funding or hospital facilities or services for medically unnecessary abortions?”

The penalty for provinces which continue to fund abortions would be the withholding of a portion of federal transfer payments.

Most people aiming to defund abortion work at the provincial level, because health care is a matter of provincial jurisdiction and the provinces have the authority to decide what is “medically necessary” – and which services, therefore, must be publicly funded under the Canada Health Act.

Three years ago, Yorkton-Melville (Sask.) Reform MP Garry Breitkreuz’s motion (M-91) to defund abortion was debated in the House of Commons. The federal government, through Gordon Kirkby, then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of Canada, argued against the bill, explicitly treating abortion as a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

But provincial leaders such as Ontario’s Mike Harris and Alberta’s Ralph Klein apparently want to continue paying for abortions, since they keep passing the buck back to the federal government, arguing that they have no choice because of federal Canada Health Act requirements.

In order to clear up the controversy and to prevent politicians from hiding behind alleged ambiguities about provincial-federal jurisdiction matters, some pro-life MPs want to see the federal government make a clear statement on this matter. Mr. Breitkreuz tried to do so in 1996; now Mr. Pankiw is addressing the issue.

Jim Pankiw has always identified himself as pro-life, but has not taken a leading role on the issue in Parliament, so the introduction of his bill came as a surprise to many people, though a very pleasant one. Denise Hounjet-Roth, provincial leader of Campaign Life Coalition in Mr. Pankiw’s province of Saskatchewan, said that the Reform MP has become very active on moral issues this spring. He attended the March for Life luncheon in Ottawa on May 13, participated in Saskatchewan’s March for Life activities, “then he was on the radio defending the family against same-sex couples.”

“I’m very proud of him,” said Mrs. Hounjet-Roth. “I hope this is the beginning of much more activity to come.” She said that CLC has provided a great deal of information to Mr. Pankiw, so she is glad to see the work bearing fruit.