Conservative leadership candidate Marilyn Gladu says she would allow caucus members to bring forward private members bills to restrict abortion.
But while she thinks those can lead to “healthy discussions,” she doesn’t think it would find support among the caucus.
“Party policy says we’re not going to reopen that debate and so you won’t see any government-type legislation coming,” she said in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
“But in a democratic state, I think we have to allow people to talk about anything. As Canadians, we shouldn’t be afraid. So if a member wants to bring a bill, I personally don’t believe it will be supported. Seventy-seven percent of Canadians want to have abortion services available and for them to have their rights and freedoms. Those have to be available. And I think if people want to bring something forward, we can discuss it but I just don’t think it will resonate.”
Gladu continued, saying that such a bill would have to be “private members business.”
“I believe in their democratic right. They’re duly elected to bring whatever they think they want but they have to be prepared to know that the party wouldn’t necessarily support that because it’s not our position.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced last month he will step down from the role following an election loss.
That campaign saw the Liberals — who won a minority government — frequently raise Scheer’s opposition to reproductive choice as well as past comments from controversial candidates of his who also voiced support for rolling back the right for women to make decisions about their own bodies.
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Scheer had repeatedly said he would not introduce legislation to restrict abortion access.
But his refusal to bar caucus members from doing the same raised concerns about the potential for backdoor avenues for those rights to be rolled back and along with his opposition to same-sex marriage, was cited as a key factor in the party’s failure to make stronger inroads with voters in Quebec and Ontario.
Party insiders, including some who worked on Scheer’s campaign, frequently raised the matter including in a column in the Globe and Mail newspaper as the party grappled with its loss.
While the official position of the party is that it will not reopen attempts to legislate abortion access, grassroots anti-abortion groups succeeded in getting 46 anti-abortion candidates elected as Conservative MPs.
That means one-third of the current Conservative caucus of 121 MPs has the backing of groups aggressively pushing to roll back abortion rights.
Gladu’s position is the same as those of Scheer and former prime minister Stephen Harper.
While Harper’s government did not introduce legislation to restrict abortion, there were several controversial attempts by backbench anti-abortion MPs in the party caucus to try to jump start attempts to roll access back.
Gladu said she has heard concerns from people unhappy about the fact that late-term abortions are legal (though highly rare and only available in three hospitals in the country).
Women seeking such abortions are often referred to the U.S. because they are unable to access the procedure in Canada, as Global News has documented.
She also cited concerns raised by some about sex-selective abortion, which no clinical evidence has suggested is a widespread occurrence.
A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal nearly 10 years ago did suggest that the practice could be taking place in some south Asian communities in Canada because it found the third child born to women living here but born in India was more likely to be a boy than a girl.
But Gladu said she believes most Canadians do not want to see reproductive rights rolled back and that any attempt to do so by caucus members if she was leader would “probably” fail.
“I really think that if you look at where Canadians are on this issue right now, any bill that came forward would probably not succeed in walking back rights,” she said. “So overall, I would say let’s have a healthy discussion as Canadians. We can do that. And I don’t think it’s going to change the current situation.”