Women’s groups in Canada accuse Tories of anti-abortion agenda
The Conservative government is eroding women’s reproductive health and right to abortion “by stealth,” a group of advocates representing labour and women’s rights charged this morning.
“There is a clear anti-abortion hidden agenda at work that puts women’s health at risk,” said Carolyn Egan, of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
At a news conference, the groups representing the Canadian Labour Congress, the Quebec Federation for Family Planning, and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, called on all individual candidates and party leaders to clearly state their views, and their political intentions, challenging them to oppose any moves to extend “personhood” or legal rights to fetuses.
They did not limit their criticism to the Conservatives, but reserved especially harsh comments for the government after its announcement, in August, that it would bring forward a bill this fall to allow harsher penalties for offenders who cause injury or death to a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.
They also pointed to the Conservative government’s failure to force New Brunswick to publicly pay for abortion procedures in a Fredericton clinic. The previous Liberal government also refused to sanction the N.B. government under the Canada Health Act.
In addition, the women cited two other private member’s bills to ban abortion after 20 weeks, and to absolve “pro-life” health practitioners who refuse to refer women to legal abortion procedures, which Egan said is a “serious violation of medical ethics” that puts women’s health at risk.
“We represent the pro-choice majority in this country that fought and won women’s right to abortion and we will not stand idly by while these rights are eroded,” said Egan.
Barbara Byers, of the Canadian Labour Congress, said she believed Prime Minister Stephen Harper, known for his tight control of his caucus, realized the implications of the private member’s bill that claimed its objective was to express society’s abhorrence of crimes against pregnant women, not to re-criminalize abortion.
“Don’t tell me and don’t try and convince me that he didn’t realize this was going to be chipping away at women’s reproductive rights and it was a backdoor way to get what he wants anyhow,” said Byers.
Byers said she believed a Conservative majority would chip away at the status quo which – since 1988 when Parliament failed to re-legislate against abortion after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down an old law – allows publicly funded abortions.
“My sense is it’s going to be done by stealth,” she said, pointing to the U.S. where various measures such as those that curb late-term abortions are restricting the right to abortion.
In August, the Conservative government said it would rewrite a private member’s bill that had passed second reading with the support of several Liberal MPs, in order to address the question of whether it would recriminalize abortion in any way.
At the time, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government’s re-written version – not tabled – would replace C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, and would make the injury or death of a fetus an aggravating circumstance for judges to consider during sentencing. He said the government’s bill “leaves no room for the introduction of fetal rights.”
Egan said it would re-open the debate over abortion “under the guise of stopping violence against women.”
The groups have sent a 9-page questionnaire to all parties demanding to know where they stand on different questions of abortion rights and violence against women.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion described himself today as in favour of a “the right of women to choose” abortion. “As prime minister, I will protect this right,” he told reporters, and called on Harper to clarify his position.
“Where is Mr. Harper? He needs to make his view clear because Canadians have the right to know.”
Dion stumbled when he identified himself as “pro-life.” An aide later clarified that he meant to say “pro-choice.”
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