After Canada's Minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose voted in favour of a motion that would have re-opened the debate on abortion, citizens were left wondering what that decision means for her role.
Rona Ambrose, who also acts as the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, was one of 10 cabinet ministers who voted in favour of Motion 312, which proposed forming a parliamentary committee to determine when life begins.
There was an immediate outcry on social media, with one group calling for her resignation and asking whether she represents the interests of Canadian women. Others showed their support for her decision, or at least her freedom to make that choice.
As journalist Andrew Coyne tweeted:
"It's UTTER bollocks to claim that as Status of Women minister she's obliged to be pro-choice. Women are as divided on this issue as men."
Ambrose's own response pointed to a specific reason for her vote in a reply on Twitter:
"I have repeatedly raised concerns about discrimination of girls by sex selection abortion: no law needed, but we need awareness!"
But what, if any, obligation does the minister for the status of women have to support a choice which has been at the centre of the debate for women's rights for decades?
According to the Government of Canada's website, "Status of Women Canada is a federal government organization that promotes equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada." An official role since 1971, the office was originally created in response to a Royal Commission that looked to focus on issues specific to women.
As scholar Naomi Black wrote in "The Canadian Women’s Movement: The Second Wave": "The activities of the Royal Commission in [1967-1970] resulted in a significant increase in public awareness of women’s situation. The same period produced women’s liberation and radical feminism in Canada. These latter groups, which drew substantial public attention, can take much of the credit for directing attention to such crucial women’s issues as equal pay, abortion, and violence against women.”
Ambrose's role, which she has held since 2010, has consisted primarily of touting women in leadership roles, honouring commemorative dates for women, speaking out on violence against women and girls and advocating for women's health.
A 2006 report from the World Health Organization called unsafe abortions "a preventable pandemic," resulting in poorer health for females, and noting that the issue is a much greater problem for women in developing nations where abortion is illegal or difficult to access.
But while the outline of the office of the Status of Women says part of its mission is to "provide expert advice on how to take gender equality into account in developing the best policies and programs for all Canadians," there is no mention of the specific issue of abortion or its impact on women's rights. Perhaps this will be drafted into the next version.
Here's a look at the official position of Canada's federal parties, and how the controversial debate has reared its head in recent years. With files from CBC
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said that he has no interest in addressing the issue head-on."As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate," Mr. Harper said in April 2011. "The government will not bring forward any such legislation, and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister." (CP)
NDP leader Tom Mulcair has stated that his caucus is unanimous in its opposition to the private member's motion calling on Parliament to look at whether a fetus is a human being, but he plans to force his MPs to vote along party lines."We're resolutely in favour of women's right to choose," Mulcair declared. (CP)
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae has stressed that the abortion issue is matter of individual conscience. Rae expressed his personal opposition to reopening the debate, but said Liberal MPs will be allowed to vote "their conscience" rather than force them to toe the party line."Our position on reproductive choice, my position on reproductive choice is very, very clear. It has been for decades. The position is it's a person's right to choose." (CP)
Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost tells Saskatchewan's ProLife Association in April 2011 that the federal government has decided to cut funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a decision he says was influenced by anti-abortion supporters."I cannot tell you specifically how we used it, but those petitions were very, very useful and they were part of what we used to defund Planned Parenthood because it has been an absolute disgrace that that organization and several others like it have been receiving one penny of Canadian taxpayers' dollars," Trost said.Maurice Vellacott, a Conservative MP from Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, also calls for Planned Parenthood to be defunded.Vellacott says the controversy over the funding "exposed the lies and destructiveness of IPPF's agenda.""It exposes what this abortion giant is surreptitiously trying to achieve worldwide."International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda approves funding. (CP)
Conservative Winnipeg MP Rod Bruinooge proposes "Roxanne's Law" in 2010, a bill that would penalize anyone who "coerced" a woman into ending her pregnancy against her will."It's not just as simple as feeling pressured to get an abortion; there is a lot of discussion of sex-selection abortion these days, as well," Bruinooge told the Winnipeg Free Press. "It's part of the overall topic of intimidation that goes towards a pregnant woman."Bruinooge insisted the bill wasn't meant to force Parliament to wade into the debate banned by Harper, stating that nothing in his bill made it illegal to abort a fetus.But the Liberals and New Democrats saw it as a backdoor entry into the touchy topic."How is an abortion bill not an abortion bill?" said then-Liberal MP Anita Neville. "This certainly introduces discussion into the House of Commons and it is a rather sneaky way of doing it."Then-NDP leader Jack Layton echoed her concerns. "You have got to wonder what is really going on here."The bill was defeated in December of 2010, with 178 votes for and 97 against it. Harper and many Conservatives voted against it and 10 Liberals supported it. The NDP was unanimously against it. (Handout)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda discloses for the first time in April 2011 that Canada will not fund abortions in its G8 child and maternal health-care initiative for developing countries.Keith Martin, then-Liberal MP who had defected from the Tories years earlier, expressed outrage. "People here are perplexed and wondering why Canada is rolling back the clock and depriving women in developing countries from having the same rights to basic health care and access to abortion as women in Canada," he said.Then-NDP leader Jack Layton accused the Tories of putting Canada on side with former U.S. president George Bush, who reduced support for abortion-related aid."It's picking up the banner that George Bush used to carry, and I think that that's not something that would be supported by the majority of Canadians, that's for sure," Layton said.On June 25, Canada pledged $1.1 billion to a global initiative on maternal and child health for developing countries - a disproportionately high amount compared to other G8 countries. Canada did not allow for its share to be used in the funding of abortions. (CP)