Justin Trudeau and abortion

The Liberal leader takes a position on votes in the House

The Liberal leader’s statement yesterday that Liberal candidates will be expected to support the party’s pro-choice position in any vote in the House of Commons seems like a logical extension of his statement a year ago that MPs would be expected to support a pro-choice position.

A Liberal source clarifies for me that individuals who consider themselves pro-life can still run for the party, so long as they are committed, if elected, to vote against anything that might restrict abortion.

As I wrote a year ago, we might now have a situation in which all three party leaders basically agree on this issue—or at least in which all three party leaders have degrees of the same position. The NDP is steadfast in its pro-choice position and apparently won’t allow anyone with an anti-abortion position to run under the party banner. And the Prime Minister has promised that his government will not support reopening the abortion debate.

Conservative backbenchers might conceivably try to engage the issue, but the last attempt to put a motion before the House on the matter was blocked.

The issue of grandfathering anti-abortion/pro-life MPs into Mr. Trudeau’s new paradigm complicates matters for him slightly, but perhaps not by much. When Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 reached the floor of the House in May 2012, only four Liberals supported it, and only three of those MPs remain in the House. Liberal MP Sean Casey is pro-life, but he voted against Motion 312 in deference to his constituents.

At the time of Mr. Woodworth’s motion, Jeff Jedras called for the Liberal caucus to be whipped and presumably his argument could be applied now as well.

So despite all the bluster from the party about how Harper is out to strip women of their rights and how we think that’s fundamentally wrong, we’re going to allow Liberal MPs to vote to do just that. So how can we take any of this activity from the party seriously?

If this issue is as fundamentally important as Liberal messaging makes it out to be (and I believe it is), why is the party not whipping this vote? If Harper not killing a private members bill is evidence he supports it, what does it say when the Liberal leadership lets its members vote for it? How are we any different?

This issue is triply fraught as both a matter of personal belief, a matter of individual rights and a matter of parliamentary democracy and you could have a long discussion about how to balance those three interests. In theory, free votes are a compelling idea. In theory, a party having a set of principles it is committed to is a useful idea. In practice, votes of conscience have often been considered free votes. All you have to do is figure out how to balance those three things.

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