It’s not wedge politics to acknowledge the Conservative party’s stance on abortion

Article originally published in The Star

In light of American news about the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, it’s important that Canadians do not get smug or complacent about abortion access here. The issues in Canada are very different, as the main barriers to abortion are funding and lack of access outside of urban centres, rather than criminality. Additionally, there are many institutional features in Canada that protect us from a lot of what has happened in the U.S.

However, that doesn’t mean that everything is going great here, or that there is no reason to remain vigilant.

For starters, the anti-choice movement in Canada is extremely well organized and openly boasts about wanting to influence the political process in order to roll back abortion rights in this country.

There is also a lot Canada can be doing to improve access to abortion services. While the bulk of abortion accessibility lies within the jurisdiction of the provinces, there are certainly steps the federal Liberals should be taking in order to improve access, such as making good on a campaign promise and enshrining abortion into the Canada Health Act.

It is also an undeniable fact that out of the two parties ever in contention to form government in this country, one of them actively courts the anti-choice vote. Yet for some reason to acknowledge this point leads to accusations of playing wedge politics — not just from Conservatives, but also many legacy political reporters and pundits alike.

Under Stephen Harper, the Conservatives refused to fund abortions in our foreign aid, and the official Conservative party policy still states that “abortion should be explicitly excluded from Canada’s maternal and child health program in countries where Canadian aid is delivered.” The Liberals reversed this when they formed government. It is not some “gotcha” game to ask Conservatives if they would reinstate the ban, as stated in their party’s policy.

Conservative party policy also problematically calls for the expansion of conscience rights for doctors and other health-care workers by getting rid of effective referrals, and “supports conscience rights for doctors, nurses and others to refuse to participate in, or refer their patients for abortion, assisted suicide, or euthanasia.” This was echoed in the last campaign platform for the Conservatives under former leader Erin O’Toole.

It is not wedge politics to point out the Conservative approach to conscience rights would make abortion access invariably worse. Nor is it being divisive to note that the Conservative view on expanding conscience rights goes directly against legal precedent in this country, including a 2019 decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal that found doctors still had a duty to refer their patients for medical assistance in dying, even if they had a religious or moral objection.

Over the past decade, the Conservatives have been the only major federal party to introduce private members’ bills or motions that seek to restrict abortion; just last year, a majority of the Conservative caucus voted in favour of curtailing abortion access. It is not nefarious partisan chicanery to point any of this out — those are just the facts.

The next leader of the Conservatives needs to figure out where they stand on abortion. One doesn’t have to agree with Leslyn Lewis’ views to acknowledge that she at least has the integrity to be truthful and direct. Conservatives want to be able to explicitly court the anti-choice vote, and they want to be able to do so without ever having to address this with the vast majority of Canadians who support a woman’s right to choose.

Canadians aren’t divided on the issue of abortion, but the Conservative party is. Until they figure out how not to be, it’s fair game to point it out.

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