Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 5, 2022
Canadian Conservatives reluctant to comment on report that U.S. Supreme Court will overturn abortion law
Conservative MPs and candidates for the party’s leadership were reluctant to talk Tuesday about a leaked report that suggests the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn decades-old case law on abortion.
A decision by the U.S. top court to upend abortion services would have little practical effect on Canadians; some women pursuing late-term abortions go south of the border for care because of limited access here at home. But the political ramifications could be enormous.
Late Monday, Politico published a copy of an initial draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, a Republican appointee, that suggests a majority of justices are prepared to overrule Roe v. Wade — the landmark decision that allowed legal abortions in the U.S. — and return the issue to state legislatures.
The opinion claims the 1973 Roe decision was constitutionally dubious and “egregiously wrong from the start” because its reasoning was “exceptionally weak.”
Alito said that decades-old decision, which essentially found that the right to privacy extended to reproductive choices like an abortion, has had “damaging consequences” by dividing a nation into anti-abortion and pro-choice factions and robbing state officials of the power to regulate the practice.
As in the U.S., the issue of abortion has been the subject of much political debate in Canada — perhaps nowhere more so than within the Conservative Party.
Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney failed to pass legislation on abortion after the Supreme Court’s 1988 R. v. Morgentaler decision invalidated past Canadian law on the practice. As it stands, there is no federal law governing abortion.
In this context, the Conservative Party’s previous leaders, including former prime minister Stephen Harper and MPs Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, have been dogged by questions from the press and the public about their position on legislating abortion access — and successive Liberal and NDP leaders have made Conservative ambiguity on the topic an election issue.
In an email sent to caucus members Tuesday, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen told MPs and senators that “Conservatives will not be commenting on draft rulings leaked from the Supreme Court of the United States.”
In a subsequent statement to CBC News, Bergen said the party’s position on abortion “remains what it has been since the Harper government.”
“Access to abortion was not restricted under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party will not introduce legislation or reopen the abortion debate,” she said.
Bergen is an anti-abortion MP and social conservative groups have said she has “a perfect voting record in the House of Commons on life and family issues.”
Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen said he was reluctant to comment on a leaked document but added he’s proudly anti-abortion.
“Human rights begin with human beings and human beings begin at conception,” he said. “I hope to stand up for pre-born humans in Canada.”
Asked if he thinks a judgment against Roe could prompt a re-opening of the abortion debate in Canada, Viersen said that the “debate’s never been closed.”
Anti-abortion activists from the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) and other groups are jockeying to move the issue to the forefront of debate during the current Conservative leadership race.
One leadership candidate — MP Leslyn Lewis — is avowedly anti-abortion, while another — MP Pierre Poilievre — has a mixed record on the issue.
A spokesperson for Lewis said the candidate would “not be commenting on the leaked U.S. Supreme Court documents as it is not a final decision.”(CBC)