Andrew Scheer reiterated Wednesday that a Conservative government would not revisit the abortion debate, but was less clear about how he’d handle Tory MPs who might seek to do just that through private member’s legislation.
Scheer’s party has faced criticism from the Liberals this month after a reported 12 Tory MPs attended an anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill weeks ago.
Speaking to reporters in Aylmer, Ont., Scheer was asked if he would allow his MPs to introduce private member’s bills dealing with abortion rights and, if so, let his caucus vote freely on the issue.
“As I’ve said many, many times before, the Conservative government will not reopen this debate. I’ve been very clear on this,” Scheer said.
Earlier: Scheer addresses social conservatism after Tory leadership win
The Tory leader then accused Liberals of seeking to “divide Canadians” to distract from their “record of failure” and scandals.
“They are literally trying to import a divisive issue from the United States to spread fear and engage in fear-mongering here to distract from their record,” he said, referencing the recent push by certain U.S. states to restrict or ban abortion.
“I’ve made it very clear, we will not reopen this debate.”
When asked if that was a different stance than the one he took during the Tory leadership race, Scheer responded he has always said “a Conservative government under my leadership will not reopen this issue.”
Private member’s bills and motions can be moved by members of Parliament who are not part of cabinet and do not serve as parliamentary secretaries. They are generally considered free votes in the House of Commons. Private member’s bills don’t often become law.
Trudeau calls on Tories to ‘defend women’s rights’
HuffPost Canada asked Scheer’s office to clarify if he would or would not permit Tory MPs to initiate private member’s bills related to abortion.
“As Mr. Scheer has said several times before, he will not reopen the debate on this issue,” Daniel Schow, the Tory leader’s press secretary, said in an email. “It’s quite frankly appalling how casually Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are willing to divide Canadians on this deeply divisive issue.”
Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver Wednesday that Canadians deserve to know if their government will stand up for a woman’s right to choose.
“The discussion on whether or not someone is going to allow a debate to reopen or not is a complete distraction,” the prime minister said. “The issue is, will Conservative politicians stand up and defend women’s rights. That is the one thing they won’t answer.”
2 Tory MPs sponsoring petitions on abortion
Two Conservative MPs — Ontario’s Harold Albrecht and Alberta’s Jim Eglinski — are currently sponsoring online petitions from private citizens dealing with reproductive rights. As with other e-petitions sponsored by MPs, 500 valid signatures over a period of 120 days will trigger an official government response.
The petition sponsored by Eglinski calls for the government of Canada to “initiate a respectful debate” in the House with the intent of forming an all-party committee to “draft a bill governing the conduct of abortion in Canada.”
The petition sponsored by Albrecht calls on the government to pass legislation to recognize abortion as a procedure that is not “medically necessary” — making it inelligible for public funding.
Eglinski’s office did not respond to interview requests. Albrecht repeated Scheer’s position in an emailed statement.
“The Leader of the Conservative Party has been clear: a Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer will not re-open the abortion debate,” Albrecht said in the statement. “Unlike Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party respects that MPs have different views on this and many other issues.”
Past Tory MPs have attempted to broach the abortion issue through private member’s business.
In 2012, then-Tory MP Stephen Woodworth introduced a motion calling for a committee to review the Criminal Code’s definition of a human being. Currently, the Criminal Code defines a human being as one who has “completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”
Woodworth’s motion, seen as an attempt to reopen the abortion debate, was defeated by a vote of 203 to 91. Then-prime minister Stephen Harper voted against the motion, but four Liberals supported it, including current MPs Kevin Lamoureux, John McKay, and current Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
Scheer, who was Speaker of the House of Commons at the time, did not vote on Woodworth’s motion.
But in 2010, Scheer voted in favour of another Tory MP’s private member’s bill that sought to “make it an offence for someone to coerce or attempt to coerce a female person to have an abortion.” The bill was easily defeated at first reading.
During the Tory leadership race, Scheer faced questions about his social conservative voting record on abortion and same-sex marriage. In an interview with the CBC’s “Power & Politics” in 2016, Scheer called abortion an issue that divides the Conservative party and caucus.
Asked if he supported a woman’s right to choose, Scheer said that his “personal views” on the topic have been consistent.
“I’m an authentic person. I am pro-life,” he said. “I’ve always expressed that and I’ve absolutely been consistent on that.” However, he suggested that no Conservative leader should initiate legislation on the issue when “the caucus is not united.”
This week, Liberal MP Pam Damoff included a clip of that interview in an online video that featured scenes from the anti-abortion rally in Ottawa.
“It’s shocking to see women’s rights being stripped away with anti-choice laws in places like Alabama,” Damoff wrote on Facebook. “We know that Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives want to roll back our rights and we must do everything we can to ensure this never happens here in Canada.”
With earlier files