Parliament’s rejection of the government’s abortion on demand motion of July 28 pleased both sides of the controversial issue. But despite claims of the pro-abortion lobby that the defeat was a victory for them, the facts revealed to Canadians nationwide and the pro-life forces had much greater strength than the media had given the public to believe.
The only pro-life amendment put to a vote (introduced by Gus Mitges was a defeated 105 against 118. But that the vote came that close surprised many, including pro-lifers. Said one clergyman who had not followed the developments closely: “I had no idea that pro-life was that strong.”
Neither did the rest of the country. Nor was it a pro-life motion full of escape clauses for the abortionists. “The pro-life amendment in question was a strong one, refusing to permit abortion for “health reasons,” and allowing medical intervention only when doctors had ruled that the situation was life-threatening.
This amendment garnered 105 votes in support despite the NDP prohibition to party members to vote in favour of the amendment. None did, twenty-five voted against. It collected that many votes despite the fact that all 23 women voted against it, completely unrepresentative of women’s opinion across the country.
The Toronto Sun had called the vote on abortion slated for July 28, an “exercise in futility.” The Toronto Star headed in July 27 front page article “Debate on abortion labeled hypocrisy.” But someone with better insight added in smaller type “Historic vote tomorrow.”
On the morning of Thursday, July 28, precisely six months after the Supreme Court judgment of January 28, 1988, the speaker of the House of Commons ruled half a dozen pro-life amendments out of order. It included the amendment to the government’s main motion proposed by Campaign Life Coalition and Alliance for Life, and introduced by John Oostrom (PC Willowdale). This amendment would have transformed the government’s motion into a pro-life one.
The Speaker did allow four pro-abortion motions which in essence did not differ from the government’s motion, dubbed by the press as “moderate” or “middle way” between the two extremes of pro and anti-abortion, the government motion was in reality also a call for abortion on demand. It was, however, disguised with “restrictions” in the later stages of pregnancy.
Therefore, the separate vote on the four abortion on demand amendments proved very useful. They revealed the true weakness of the pro-abortion faction:
– An amendment by Tory MP Mary Collins (Capilano), which would have made an early abortion a matter between a woman and her doctor, and later in the pregnancy, and requiring only one doctor’s opinion that continuation of the pregnancy would endanger her mental and physical health. Defeated 191-29;
– An amendment by Tory MP Kenneth James (Sarnia-Lambton), which would have permitted abortion on demand for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and would have slightly tightened restrictions on later abortion, was defeated 202-17;
– An amendment by Tory MP Barbara Sparrow (Calgary, South), which would have defined the early stages of pregnancy as the first 18 weeks, was defeated on a voice vote;
– An amendment by Tory MP John Bosley (Don Valley West), which would have simply required that abortions be conducted by qualified medical personnel and left the decision to a woman and her doctor, was defeated 198-20.
The final vote on the government motion itself was much less important. It was defeated 174 to 76. Liberals and NDPers voted against ‘en bloc,’ not because of matters of conscience but out of partisan party politics. They wanted to embarrass the government.
A number of PC feminists, such as Barbara McDougall and Mary Collins, voted the motion down out of spite. But others also voted in favour of the motion out of party loyalty. At least eight PCers including Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, voted in favour of the pro-abortion motion although earlier they had voted for the pro-life amendment.
In the days following the vote, editorial writers and pro-abortion “experts” such as law professor Bernard Dickens, were very annoyed. They uttered solemn warnings that the clock must not be turned back, that the Supreme Court will not allow it and that the country had decided that women must have the right to kill their unborn babies.
But pro-lifers knew better. For the first time in many years the pro-abortion bubble had been pricked and exploded. A Campaign Life Coalition press release hailed the votes on the various resolutions as “an important step forward in the drive for full protection for unborn children.” Said the Vice-president of Campaign Life Coalition Canada, Margaret Purcell, “We applaud the courage of the many PC, MPs who voted against their own government’s resolution.”
A pleased pro-life political strategist with Campaign Life Coalition indicated that for the first time the group now had a publicly confirmed record of where 223 or more MPs stand on the country’s most crucial issue, abortion. That information, he said, together with what was known about MPs and candidates already, will help tremendously in guiding pro-lifers how to vote in the next election. “Hard nosed pro-abortionists should be defeated,” he stated, “true (but not phony) pro-life candidates in all parties must be supported, and where there are no pro-life candidates, the Christian Heritage Party or independent pro-life candidates should fill the gap.”