10/11/2012 11:46 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST

Hudak says Progressive Conservatives won't reopen abortion debate

TORONTO - The Progressive Conservatives will not reopen the abortion debate if they form the next Ontario government, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said Thursday.

The Liberals and New Democrats raised concerns that the Conservatives wanted to "roll back the clock" on a woman's right to choose after three Tories sponsored an anti-abortion news conference in the legislature's media studio.

Hudak admitted to once signing an anti-abortion petition, and said Thursday he stands by his previous position, but insisted he does not plan to revisit the issue if he becomes premier after the next election.

"I’m on the record, I’m not running away from what I’ve said over the years, but I am saying what I’ve said for three years: we are not reopening this debate," Hudak told reporters. "I’m the leader, I set the agenda. This is not part of it."

However, Hudak refused to say if he considered himself pro-life.

"I’m not going to engage in that debate," he said.

"This issue divides households, it divides communities, it’s contentious, no doubt about it."

Hudak's political opponents said he still wasn't being clear on the abortion issue.

"Mr. Hudak, when presented with the opportunity today, did not seize it and clarify his position, and the position that he would have put forward on behalf of his party," said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"I just don't think it's one of those where you can dodge, duck, bob, weave and obfuscate. I think you've got to be absolutely clear."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said having three Conservatives sponsor an anti-abortion news conference, something that requires only one member of the legislature, was a clear sign they want to reopen the abortion debate.

"I was pretty disappointed to learn that the Conservatives once again want to try to roll back the clock in Ontario and take away women’s right to choose," said Horwath.

"That, for me, is shocking and inappropriate."

Hudak said all members of his caucus are entitled to have their own opinions, but McGuinty said the Opposition leader has a responsibility to be very clear on abortion.

"We're talking about the party leader's position, so I put it to Mr. Hudak he absolutely must state without equivocation where he stands today on this issue," said McGuinty.

"He's had two positions in the past. He says that everybody knows what his position is. The question I ask is, 'Well which one?'"

Some Progressive Conservatives are privately shaking their heads over Hudak's handling of the abortion issue, worried it will hurt the party in the next election, especially in urban areas where the Tories have been virtually shut out by voters.

Laurel Broten, the minister responsible for women's issues, accused Hudak of following Prime Minister Stephen Harper's example by denying he wants to reopen the abortion debate while letting his elected members push the agenda forward.

Campaign Life used the Tory-sponsored news conference to announce it will hold protests outside the offices of at least 41 MPP's Saturday to demand they end public funding of abortion under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.