Recently, Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, announced the Party was excluding as candidates for election and as members, anyone who was not pro-choice on abortion. On hearing this edict, my first thought was, “His father would be appalled” – or, as one person wrote to me, “Pierre would turn in his grave”.
I hope, no matter what their position on abortion, most Canadians will also feel appalled by Trudeau’s action. The response which has been generated in the last few days since it appeared strongly indicates that they are. Such an edict by a leader of a political party on a matter of conscience relating to one of our most fundamental values, respect for human life, violates the basic principle that MPs are primarily their constituents’ representative in Parliament on such matters, not their leader’s. It thwarts Parliament’s role, in implementing democracy in practice, in deciding on our societal values. And “stacking” Parliament in this way on a conscience issue is antidemocratic. Moreover, who wants an MP wiling to contravene their own conscience for political survival?
The edict was not wise, even just politically, and does not reflect well on Trudeau’s good judgment. I’ve been receiving emails signed, “Card-carrying paid-up Liberal until yesterday”. What will the Party do about that? They might want to keep in mind the edict makes everyone, not just MP’s, who continues in the Liberal Party, and indeed those who vote for it, complicit in approving of completely unrestricted abortion. Many Canadians will reject such complicity.
As to the abortion issue, itself, the edict boggles the mind.
It adopts the now standard, pro-choice advocates’ justification for suppressing debate on abortion that “there is nothing to discuss”, and promotes the claim that there is a consensus in Canada on the current total vacuum in law governing abortion. Both are myths. There’s much to discuss and there’s no consensus, and Parliament is the primary forum in a democracy for discussion of matters of such import as abortion, especially when we disagree.
But we can start from agreement. The vast majority of us, whether we are pro-life or pro-choice, agree abortion is a tragedy and we want to have the fewest number possible. How to achieve that needs and merits discussion.
And what “green light process” of being pro-choice will Trudeau apply in weeding out unacceptable candidates and members of “his party”?
Ninety-two percent of Canadians surveyed, many of whom consider themselves pro-choice, agreed “sex selection abortion” should be banned – a real consensus. Are they persona non grata in the Liberal Party? Would Trudeau’s edict require Liberal MPs to vote against a law implementing that consensus?
And what about post-viability abortions, other than for serious medical reasons?
The pro-choice activists take an “us” – the absolutely-no-restrictions-on-abortion adherents – and “them” – everyone else – approach, whereas most Canadians are struggling with where they stand on a continuum from having no law at all, the current situation, to prohibiting all abortions. For countless Canadians, unlike Trudeau, abortion law is not a black and white issue and they fall somewhere on this continuum. Just over a quarter (28%) would legally protect human life only at birth, the current legal situation in Canada that Trudeau is demanding be maintained. Three in five believe that unborn children deserve some legal protection of their lives, at the latest at viability. Is that also hors de discussion? Do these people pass the “green light” test?
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, speaking with Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC’s The Current, argued, in support of Trudeau’s edict, that all Liberal candidates must be “pro-choice” (meaning accept that women have a right to legally unrestricted abortion throughout pregnancy), because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires this. That is wrong, but is endlessly repeated by pro-choice advocates. The Supreme Court of Canada made clear in the Morgentaler case the Charter does not prohibit legislating on abortion. It just requires that the legislation comply with the Charter.
One person emailed me, “Just as it is not acceptable in the Canadian context to say that abortion is wrong because God says so, we cannot accept that it is right no matter what because Justin Trudeau says so.” She added, “I personally found Mr. Trudeau’s declaration to be patronizing and incongruous with the Canadian tradition of dialogue and debate in the crafting of law and policy.”
Also egregious, although less so, is Prime Minister Harper’s refusal to open the abortion issue. As the same person wrote, “that the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada should declare those questions [about law on abortion] not worthy of discussion is very disconcerting.”
I was also asked why Canadians don’t speak out more forcefully about such issues as this edict. Many have been bullied by pro-choice advocates into thinking they have no right to “impose” what they believe is right or wrong on someone else.
The silent Canadians are also frightened they’ll be shamed and black-listed if they speak against so-called “progressive values” and labelled as socially conservative. Many of my law students, some of whom will be future politicians, have expressed this fear to me. Recently, I heard a Supreme Court of Canada judge refer to socially conservative values as “restrictive values”, which is not reassuring for social conservatives.
Margaret Somerville is the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada.