Jackson Doughart
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Trudeau’s new party line has created an opportunity for Canada’s pro-life cause

The National Post, 09 May 2014

Justin Trudeau has announced that the Liberal Party is now officially “pro-choice.” “[I]t’s a debate that has been settled for the vast majority of Canadians and we don’t need to reopen that issue,” he said on Wednesday.

For opponents of abortion, one can sympathize with a negative instinctual reaction. Here is yet another feckless politician parroting the familiar line about abortion being “settled” for good, seemingly without awareness of just how open this argument remains. One might wonder: How far back will the pro-life cause be set if the Liberals attain power next year? Will a future Trudeau government further abrogate the right of abortion opponents to protest against the practice? And what of principled Liberals who will have to sacrifice a matter of conscience as the price of party membership?

These are fair concerns, but they are probably outweighed by the long-term advantages of this development. What the pro-life side has lacked since Bill C-43 died in the Senate in 1990 is a concrete political means to advance the argument: namely, a political party that will reliably vote to curb abortion. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have long had sitting members on both sides, meaning that it has been in the interest of both parties to not identify themselves exclusively as pro-abortion or anti-abortion. Many politicians are liable to downplay their own opinion, choosing to describe their position as a “private one” or to conceal it altogether.

The result was a strong protection of abortion’s existing legal vacuum. When legislation was tabled, as in Stephen Woodworth’s hyper-moderate private-member’s motion in 2012, the Liberals and Conservatives declared a free vote, meaning that no party discipline would be enforced. Despite their name’s implication, free votes are actually quite undemocratic, in that the parties are able to absolve themselves of any accountability to voters. At worst, a small number of MPs will lose their seats for voting the “wrong way” according to constituents. But the party itself will not suffer at a national level, making the issue safe for both of the main parties to officially ignore or deemphasize.

With Trudeau’s new policy, however, such a political means could well arrive, but only if the Conservatives will adopt a different line from the Liberals and New Democrats. In short, the Tories can only aid the movement by adopting an enforced, party-wide opposition to abortion. In the past, the Conservatives did not want to lose the potential vote of either pro-abortionists who otherwise shared their political position, or swing voters who might have been pushed to the Liberal camp on divisive social issues. This may still hold, of course, but it would ignore the quite sizable section of Canadian opinion favouring a more balanced approach to the issue, and hence an opportunity for electoral advance upon what might be called the “Abortion Sceptic” vote. After all, the Liberals have now alienated voters who do not support the existing arrangement, many of whom may have voted for them in the past for other reasons.

Not that a more “balanced approach” would come close to satisfying the average opponent of abortion. But such people should not make the ideal the foe of the practical: it is morally-incumbent upon any person aggrieved by the horror of abortion to support not only those measures that would eliminate it to the greatest possible extent, but also those measures which would decrease the amount of abortion practiced every day in Canada.

This means compromising with the present reality of public opinion. Support for outright legal prohibition, even with caveats for rape, incest, and cases of jeopardized health of the mother, remains low. But most Canadians do not favour a Wild West approach to the issue either, whereby hundreds of late-term abortions can take place, every year, without any interest from the law. To a seeming lack of public awareness, this is the very state of affairs that exists to the present day, and one which a more “Abortion Sceptic” Conservative party could help to mitigate.

So Trudeau’s new party line can create an opportunity for Canada’s pro-life cause. The Conservative Party should accordingly adjust its position and rhetoric on the issue, stating a clear priority to pass laws restricting late-term abortions and sex-selective abortions, and to assist provinces which rightly place limits on medically-unnecessary abortions-on-demand. Even if this does not bring about the kind of policies that the pro-life movement ultimately desires, it would create an influential and long-needed parliamentary bloc that is unfriendly to the status quo.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com