As soon as the minister responsible for the status of women rose from her seat to support a motion that would have opened up a debate on the rights of the unborn, Rona Ambrose began hearing from women who opposed her gesture.
On Sept. 26, MPs were free to vote their conscience on M-312, a private member's motion that called for a House of Commons committee to study the Criminal Code and its definition of when a fetus becomes a legal person.
The bill's sponsor, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, denied critics' charges that his motion was a back-door attempt to re-open the abortion debate.
Despite the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper voted against the motion, some members of his cabinet, including Ambrose and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, voted for it.
The reaction to Ambrose's vote was immediate, with critics taking to Twitter to register their complaints.
Reacting to one of those complaints, Ambrose tweeted, "I have repeatedly raised concerns about discrimination of girls by sex selection abortion: no law needed, but we need awareness!"
That explanation wasn't good enough for many of the people who wrote or emailed her department during the days following her vote. CBC News Network's Power & Politics obtained that correspondence through access to information, and most of it was negative, with dozens of letters and emails demanding she resign.
"Your statement to the effect that you voted in favor of Motion 312 due to your interest in opposing sex selection is a poor justification," wrote one individual, whose name was omitted due a section in the access law that allows departments to exempt names for privacy concerns.
"It is also clear that Mr. Woodworth seeks to limit the discussion, to the greatest extent possible, to men who agree with him," the correspondence continued. "Minister Ambrose, as both a woman and an elected Member of Parliament, you are entitled to your own opinion on abortion and its related issues. However, as Minister of the Status of Women you have a responsibility to ensure that women's voices are heard on issues that affect their reproductive rights and physical autonomy."
Another person wrote:
"I was extremely disappointed to hear that you voted in favour of M312. As a physician, I feel strongly that a society where access to medically supervised abortions [that are] legal and free of barriers [are] integral to womens' health."
However, not all the correspondence was negative. About a third of the 149 pieces of correspondence congratulated Ambrose for taking a stand.
"I was extremely pleased to see that you voted in favour of reopening the abortion debate," one person wrote. "It's sickening that our country does not protect viable fetuses from abortion … Thank you for standing up for all women."
Minister's role seen as one reason for reaction
Ambrose received a lot of negative reaction because she is the minister responsible for the status of women, said Christabelle Sethna, who teaches women's studies at the University of Ottawa.
"And it's also because there are many, many women in this country who know how difficult the battle for abortion access has been. And women do not want it turned back."
Sethna says it's no surprise that Ambrose's justification for voting for the motion didn't satisfy many of the people who disagreed with her decision.
"While certainly it's true that many people are justifiably concerned about sex-selection abortion, there is the competing concern that infringing upon abortion rights, or access to abortion services, can be done in a stealthy way," she told Power & Politics.
"So, in effect, sex-selection abortion is a red herring that can be then used to clamp down on abortion rights or access."
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