03/31/2013 11:35 EDT | Updated 05/31/2013 05:12 EDT

On Abortion, Harper Is a Liberal's Best Friend

A protester opposed to abortion demonstrates outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, 18, 2012. The first abortion clinic on the island of Ireland has opened in Belfast, sparking protests by Christian conservatives from both the Catholic and Protestant sides of Northern Ireland’s divide. The Marie Stopes center plans to offer the abortion pill to women less than nine weeks pregnant _ but only if doctors determine they’re at risk of death or long-term health damage from their pregnancy. That’s the law in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where abortion is otherwise illegal. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

I think it's safe to say most of us have some amount of a problem with sex-selective abortion, and with people who think it's OK to abort a fetus just because it's developing a vagina instead of a penis. But I don't trust that's what Conservative MP Mark Warawa's motion to condemn sex-selective abortion in Parliament is really about.

I think there are Conservative MPs out there (and, yes, constituents, too) who want to reopen the abortion debate in Canada, and this is another attempt -- à la Stephen Woodworth in September last year -- to get a foot in the door.

Otherwise, what's the point here? What benefit might Canadians expect to gain from a debate in the Commons over whether or not to "condemn" (whatever that means) sex-selective abortions? And let's say Warawa had been permitted by Prime Minister Harper to bring forward his motion -- let's even say it passed a Commons vote, as it very well may have. Then what?

Either a) the abortion talk stops there, or b) the far-righties in the Conservative party, having succeeded finally in getting the government to talk about abortion, however obliquely, try to take another step toward fully re-opening the abortion debate and Harper has less of a foothold to stop them. Only the second scenario makes any sense.

The Prime Minister is going to come out of this looking bad within his own party because he bullied one of his backbench MPs in order to keep his word about not reopening the abortion debate, even though it's clear members of his caucus want to do just that.

Last week's mini-rebellion shows the battle lines are being drawn in the Conservative party, and that Harper's astonishing record of success since taking over as leader of the political right in 2004 is starting to matter less and less to others in the party.

This is for two reasons: One, Harper is in his 10th year as leader and those beneath him are getting antsy for their turn at the helm; two, there are those concerned the Conservative Prime Minister isn't conservative enough, that the party of the right wing in Canada should be more like the party of the American right, and one of the main differences between the two is their approaches to abortion. In the short term, Harper can probably retain his leadership and keep the abortion debate off the table without the Conservative party tearing apart at the seams. In the long run, he can't.

That's why Liberal and NDP support for Warawa under the guise of defending "MP rights" -- notably NDP House leader Nathan Cullen in Parliament on Thursday -- has been so disappointing: Neither party would have been likely to come out in favour of the sex-selective abortion motion, and, if Harper had allowed it, would have been quick to nail him for re-opening the abortion debate he said he'd never reopen. Politics is worst when it's played that way, when scoring political points gets in the way of ideology.

Harper has supported the left on two of its most high-profile planks: abortion and same-sex marriage. On the former, his shut-down of Warawa, and of Woodworth last year, show that whatever the right-wing religious plot lurking within the Conservative party is -- and I don't think now there's any doubt something is up -- Harper isn't part of it.

Same goes for gay marriage, which goes hand-in-hand with abortion on the right-left spectrum (except if you're a conservative and your son comes out as gay) -- the Prime Minister has also said he wouldn't reopen that issue, and he hasn't.

In the U.S., liberals appear to be finally turning the corner on same-sex marriage; in Canada, it's a given, and the number one reason it remains that way is, of all people, the leader of a conservative majority Parliament.

So what if Harper muzzled an MP? It's not as though sex-selective abortion is a matter of national import, and denouncing it, as Warawa would have it, would have had no practical implications in and of itself. The only value of his motion would have been to reintroduce the word "abortion" into the national conversation, and that's something Liberals and NDPers, I imagine, don't want. They should stop posturing and get behind the Prime Minister -- he's the best friend liberals have right now.

Twitter Reacts To New Abortion Motion