A resolution on abortion will be put to a free vote in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney confirmed on May 12.

“I think the only way the government can have a free vote is by resolution, like the vote on capital punishment,” said Tory MP for Brampton-Georgetown, John McDermid.  “That’s the only way they can do it and keep the commitment that was made during the (1984) campaign, to allow a free vote.”

Mulroney was reminded of his four-year-old promise earlier this year when a Canadian newspaper made public a letter he had sent to Campaign Life Coalition member, Cy Fleming.

In the February 1984 letter, the future Prime Minister pledged that “in a Parliamentary debate on whether sections of the Criminal Code dealing with abortion should be repealed, rest assured a Progressive Conservative government would allow a free vote to that Members of Parliament could vote according to their individual conscience.

Once all members have voted freely, according to his or her conscience, a piece of legislation will be drafted that would reflect the majority opinion of the Commons, Mulroney told high school students in Vancouver.

To reporters afterward, Mulroney said “This is not a confrontational issue, and it is not a partisan issue – it has very little to do with politics and very much to do with one’s conscience and one’s view of life.”

The Prime Minister’s remarks point up the government’s strategy.  If abortion is dealt with in a non-partisan manner, with all members free to vote according to their conscience, and the law ultimately passed the result of the consensus of the Commons, then the government cannot be blamed for the outcome.

Such a law “enables the government to claim a lack of responsibility for whatever law is eventually approved,” said campaign Life Coalition President Jim Hughes in Toronto.  “Should a pro-abortion law be approved, as appears most likely, the government can claim that individual MPs from all three parties – and not the government itself – are responsible for the law.”

House members will vote on three possible options, officials in Deputy Prime Minister, Don Mazankowski’s office said on May 10.

This parliamentary solution would allow members to choose banning all abortions, removing all legal restrictions on abortions or following a so-called middle ground of permitting abortions up to a certain stage of pregnancy.

Legislation presumably would then be based on the option chosen by the majority of members.

York East MP Alan Redway predicted that both the pro-life and the abortion-on-demand movements would fail.  In the tradition of parliamentary democracy, the government is aiming for a law which in its judgment will be the least offensive to the most number of people.  “We’ll like end up somewhere in the middle,” said Redway.

According to the Toronto Star, a pro-life politician who asked not be identified said that he and his like-minded colleagues welcomed the opportunity to vote according to their conscience.  That way, he said, once the pro-life resolution failed to pass, they could support the compromise and defend their actions by saying that it was the best law that would win all-party approval.

Said Campaign Life Coalition President, Jim Hughes, “the government’s strategy gives MPs from pro-life ridings the perfect opportunity to make themselves look good without bringing in effective legislations.”