OTTAWA - Facing calls for her job and accused by the NDP of betraying the women she represents at the federal cabinet table, a defiant Rona Ambrose stood in the House of Commons to explain why she voted in support of a pro-life motion.
Asked why she was one of 10 Conservative cabinet ministers who supported backbench MP Stephen Woodworth's motion to strike a committee to examine the definition of a human being, Ambrose responded by extolling the Conservative government's record on funding projects for women and girls.
"It is interesting that this is the first question that I have received on the status of women file this year. In fact, I think this is the first question I have received since last year as well," Ambrose said during question period.
"Do you know why that is, Mr. Speaker? It is because this government has an incredible track record of standing up for Canadian women and girls. We have increased the funding to the status of women to its highest point in Canadian history."
The government has funded more than 500 projects to tackle violence against women and empower women and girls, she added.
Ambrose, the minister responsible for the status of women, stunned observers Wednesday when she rose to her feet in favour of Woodworth's motion — despite the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he has no plans to reopen the abortion debate in Canada.
Though the motion was defeated 203 to 91, a tweet from Ambrose following the vote suggested it was a way to raise awareness about discrimination against girls through "sex selection abortion."
"I have repeatedly raised concerns about discrimination of girls by sex selection abortion: no law needed, but we need awareness!" she wrote.
Ambrose's spokeswoman, Amber Irwin, said the minister was not available for an interview this week.
The minister has come under fire from critics both inside the House of Commons and beyond, including women's rights groups who are calling for her resignation.
New Democrat MP Libby Davies called Ambrose's vote "very shocking." Davies said the minister's decision showed she was not prepared to uphold the rights of women in Canada.
"This motion was clearly about undermining women's equality, reproductive rights. That's been very clear from Day 1 and I think that's how the vote was taken," Davies said.
"So I think she can rationalize it all she wants, but as the (minister for the) status of women, she clearly betrayed the women of this country by not standing up and ensuring that we don't let the clock be turned backwards. So I think it was disappointing, I was — I was really surprised when I saw her vote for the motion. I don't buy her argument at all."
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said he was "personally surprised" to see Ambrose stand in support of the motion.
"It's not an issue I've ever discussed with the minister. But I think everybody has to sort of understand that, you know, these are private member's motions and individuals will have different views and explanations for their vote," he said.
"But I think the vote does show just how deep the, if you like, the anti-choice movement is within the Conservative party."
The backbench MP who put forward the motion applauded Ambrose for standing up for her beliefs.
"I respect any member of Parliament who is prepared to take a stand on an issue, to take a clear stand on an issue as minister Ambrose did," Woodworth said.
While Woodworth's motion went down to defeat, another motion introduced Thursday aims to keep the abortion issue simmering.
British Columbia Conservative MP Mark Warawa has introduced a motion to "condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination."
Warawa says the practice of aborting females in favour of males is happening in Canada.
His motion quickly won the support of the pro-life group Campaign Life Coalition.