Defunding abortion could be debated at Alberta United Conservative meeting

UCP Leader Jason Kenney speaks to reporters on Sunday, April 15, 2018. Albert Delitala/ Global News

Whether to defund abortion could be debated this weekend at the founding policy convention of Alberta’s Opposition United Conservatives.

Party leader Jason Kenney says the issue may not make it to the floor given a crowded agenda for the weekend meeting, but debating controversial issues such as abortion is a byproduct of an open party, he said.

“When you open up the process to something this big, which attracts 1,300 resolutions and you consult 120,000 people, you’re going to get views on a range of issues and some of them will be a little contentious,” Kenney said Wednesday. “But my experience is that when you involve large numbers of people, they tend to support resolutions which reflect the mainstream. I think that’s what we’ll end up with.

“But I don’t want to prejudge all of this. We’ll let our members speak.”

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Policies passed at the convention will be subject to further debate and consultation before being officially adopted, Kenney added.

The proposal calls on to the party to “review what procedures are defined as ‘medically necessary’ and remove non-compliant procedures from provincial insurance coverage.”

It’s a proposal viewed by anti-abortion group the Wilberforce project, in a message to members, as an entry point to defunding abortion.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman criticized Kenney and his caucus for being open to discussing abortion at their convention, but walking out of the legislature chamber two weeks ago during debate on the government’s proposal to ban protesters outside abortion clinics.

“It’s pretty rich that they refuse to debate women’s health … in this chamber but they seem to have no issue doing that behind closed doors in their convention,” Hoffman said Wednesday.

“There’s definitely a lot of people (associated with the party) saying they want to see abortion services defunded — so many, in fact, that it’s on their list to be debated at this convention.”

READ MORE: Debate over abortion clinic safe zones in Alberta sees UCP members walk out

Kenney is a vocal opponent of abortion but has said he won’t legislate on the issue.

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The legislature is currently debating proposed legislation intended to prevent staff and patients from being harassed at abortion clinics.

The two main clinics, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary, already have injunctions to keep protesters away from front doors. But operators say that’s routinely violated by demonstrators.

READ MORE: Alberta introduces bill to create no-go zones around abortion clinics

The government’s bill proposes a 50-metre no-go zone around the clinic.

Kenney has said he will abstain from voting on the bill and expects much of his caucus to do the same because the proposed legislation is designed to divide people.

Two weeks ago, United Conservative members left the house during debate after one of their members said she had been heckled by government members when she said she would abstain from voting.

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