04/21/2014 01:24 EDT | Updated 06/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Frank Coleman, Next Newfoundland Premier, Pressured By Anti-Abortion Group


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The man poised to become the next premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is facing pressure from a pro-life group to follow the lead of Prince Edward Island in restricting abortion access in the province.

Frank Coleman's views on abortion sparked controversy after he said Friday that he attends a rally each year in Corner Brook, N.L., opposing abortion.

His position on the matter has sparked uproar on social media from some who have condemned him for his participation in the annual right-to-life walks.

On Monday, a pro-life group issued a news release pressuring Coleman to convert his personal beliefs into public policies that will reduce access to abortions in the province.

Coleman said in an interview Monday he won't deny his beliefs, but he does not intend to force his personal views on others.

"It was not my intention to dictate or persuade any change in the current legal, lawful public funding models or policies," he said.

Coleman said he would still like to attend the pro-life walk once he becomes premier, but he said he won't do so if it would detract from the walk's current peaceful atmosphere.

He said he has attended the walk in Corner Brook for the past 20 years.

"Just because I aspire to a political life doesn't mean I have to be devoid of my own beliefs," he said.

Pro-Life NL said Monday it finds Coleman's comments about not imposing his pro-life views puzzling.

Patrick Hanlon, a spokesman for the group, said he hopes Coleman's conscience will guide him in using the influence he will wield as premier.

"We expect a lot from Frank Coleman," Hanlon said. "A good conscience doesn't allow one to believe something privately but to publicly say something else."

Hanlon said ideally, he would like to see Newfoundland and Labrador follow the lead of P.E.I., the only province that does not provide any abortion services. Women who live in that province require a doctor's referral and the request is reviewed by a medicare medical consultant before they can have publicly funded abortions.

"We know that it's going to be a challenge to get to the ideal, but in the meantime, there are certain things that politicians can do," Hanlon said.

A spokeswoman for Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she is supportive of a woman's right to control her own body and leads a party that is officially pro-choice.

But Jean Graham said Michael is not entirely comfortable "with the rush to condemn Mr. Coleman based on his religious beliefs."

"Were those beliefs ever to manifest themselves in government action, or Progressive Conservative policy or platform, she would be the first to condemn him, mind you," Graham said in an email.

"But until there is some sign of him actually attempting to reverse the gains we have made in the past 30 years in this province, he should be allowed to hold his views."

Coleman, whose family business includes a chain of grocery stores, became the sole Progressive Conservative leadership contender last Thursday after his only competitor dropped out of the race.

Premier Tom Marshall replaced Kathy Dunderdale in January when she stepped down from the position, but he has done so only on an interim basis until a leadership convention scheduled for July.

Stephen Tomblin, a professor of political science at Memorial University, said in an interview that the public interest in Coleman's pro-life views stems from a vacuum of information about the future premier's beliefs and policy positions.

"In public life you're supposed to have positions, ideas and an agenda," he said. "The lack of a debate has resulted in people looking for other kinds of things to talk about."

(The Canadian Press, VOCM)

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