10/04/2011 11:59 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Ontario Election: Tory Government Would Put Abortion Rights At Risk, Advocates Warn


TORONTO - A number of pro-choice advocates spent the second-last day of Ontario's election campaign warning voters a Progressive Conservative government would endanger abortion rights despite the fact leader Tim Hudak says he won't reopen the debate.

The advocates said they were worried Hudak would quietly defund abortion while in office without ever bringing the issue to the provincial legislature.

Abortion, which is publicly funded in Ontario, has been a touchy subject for Hudak, who once signed a petition to defund the procedure and has walked away from reporters in the past when asked if he was pro-life.

Those actions were dragged into the spotlight at the Morgentaler abortion clinic Tuesday, with pro-choice advocates repeatedly saying Hudak couldn't be trusted on the issue.

"We are very concerned that an active, anti-abortion candidate could become premier of this province, which could have dire consequences for women's health and abortion access," said Carolyn Egan, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics.

"We don't want people to mistakenly vote for a party or a premier who would be against their principal views."

Meanwhile, Hudak tersely stated he has no intention of restricting access or changing funding to abortion if he were to form a government after Thursday's vote.

"The answer is no," he said at a campaign stop in Ottawa. "As premier, I'm not reopening this issue. I consider the matter settled."

The Tory leader has also previously said he'd follow Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lead on abortion and leave the issue alone, but pro-choice groups point out the Conservative government in Ottawa has excluded abortion funding from its G8 maternal health initiative.

Hudak following Harper's lead would mean step-by-step "anti-choice by stealth," they said.

"Harper said the same statement as Hudak and yet we're seeing abortion rights being eroded," said Egan. "Hudak has control over the health budget in this province, he has the capacity of actually defunding (abortion)."

The group at the Morgentaler clinic — which isn't endorsing any other party in the election — said it was particularly worried Hudak would simply delist abortion as a service offered by Ontario's health insurance plan without making it a subject of provincial conversation.

"He will never bring this to the legislature, we will never get to discuss this," said prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby, who added that Hudak pledged to defund abortion during his 2009 leadership bid for the Progressive Conservatives.

"He'll just quietly take it off the list, the money will not be available."

Abortion, which was legalized in Canada in 1988, made national headlines last week when a Tory MP publicly condemned the Harper government's decision to donate to the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Ottawa had announced the organization would get $6 million over three years as part of its international mother-and-child health initiative, but the funds would only be spent in countries that ban abortion.

That condition prompted Saskatoon MP Brad Trost to rail against his own party saying the funding decision was a slap in the face for social conservatives and reopened the abortion debate in Canada.

Trost's statements, Ottawa's funding decision, and an anti-abortion rally at the legislature planned for after the election drove Tuesday's pro-choice group to push the issue into the spotlight.

"In this last moment of the election we have to speak out strongly," said feminist and abortion advocate Judy Rebick.

"We don't want to fight this fight again, we won this fight, and the vast majority of Canadians agree with us. And so (Hudak) does not deserve to be premier of Ontario in any way, shape or form."

Rebick, who identified herself as a life-long New Democrat, also said she hoped the NDP wouldn't prop up a Hudak government in a minority situation.

The New Democrats have left the door open to collaborating with other parties in a minority, but made their stance on abortion clear on Tuesday.

"I've always been pro-choice," NDP leader Andrea Horwath said while campaigning in Sudbury. "I've always been pro-choice as an individual and our party has that position as well"

Not all provinces provide free access to abortion. In New Brunswick, where abortions are available for a fee, the province does not fund clinics providing the service.