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Abortion 'ambiguity' must end: Quebec

The Quebec legislature has taken aim at the Harper government over abortion and demanded a clear expression of support for a woman's right to choose.






With that, a debate that remained largely dormant in national politics for over two decades suddenly threatens to become a federal-provincial issue.

Politicians on both sides of the legislature unanimously adopted, by a margin of 109-0, a pro-choice motion Wednesday.

The motion demands that the federal government continue to respect free access to abortion, end its "ambiguity" on the issue and stop cutting funding to women's groups that favour abortion.

'The prime minister has consistently said throughout his political career, before we formed the government and even after, that our government will not initiate or support legislation that reopens the debate on abortion,' —Dimitri Soudas, PMO spokesman
But a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted the government would not be drawn into a debate over abortion.

"The prime minister has consistently said throughout his political career, before we formed the government and even after, that our government will not initiate or support legislation that reopens the debate on abortion," said Dimitri Soudas.

While the Harper government has repeatedly promised not to introduce abortion legislation, its refusal to fund abortions as part of a G8 maternal-health initiative is among several recent events that reopened a debate that has been largely absent from federal politics since the late 1980s.

Opponents say they fear a repeat of the strategy being used to kill the gun registry, where a backbench MP introduces a bill with widespread support from the government.

A Conservative MP, Ken Epp, did once table a bill that would have made it a separate offence for killing a fetus when a pregnant woman is slain, The Harper government, however, intervened to block it in 2008.

The issue returned to the forefront with an announcement that, as host of the G8 summit, the Harper government would put maternal health on the agenda but refuse to fund initiatives aimed at making abortions safer.

Leaders of the world's G8 and G20 countries are poised to gather next month in Ontario.

Federal government clear: PMO spokesman
The Quebec motion will be transmitted, provincial politicians say, to the House of Commons and the Senate. But a spokesperson for Commons Speaker Peter Milliken said the move would not automatically provoke a vote in Parliament.

Milliken's office said the provincial Speaker can transfer a copy of the motion to his federal counterpart, who can then send it to a minister responsible for the file if he considers the matter important enough.

Such a process would likely take several days.

Another scenario, however, would see a federal opposition party — perhaps the Bloc Québécois — take up the issue in Parliament.

The government says it still won't bite if that happens. Of the opposition parties, Soudas said, "they just won't take no for an answer, which demonstrates that they just want to politicize the issue."

Wednesday's motion reads as follows: "That [the Quebec] National Assembly reaffirms the right of women to free choice and to free and accessible abortion services, and asks the federal government and the prime minister of Canada to put an end to the current ambiguity on this issue, and that the National Assembly reaffirms that the fact of supporting women's right to an abortion should not in any case be used by the federal government to cut funding to a women's group."

Soudas said the government "very often receives these unanimous motions from the Quebec legislature."

"I can assure you we respect provincial jurisdiction and we're always happy to receive these unanimous motions from the Quebec national assembly. But as far as federal jurisdiction is concerned, we've been crystal clear on it. It's a motion that this government and this party has addressed years ago."

He also took issue with the contention that the government has cut funding to women's groups, and said funding to such groups was at a historical high.

Asked if that included funding to women's groups that favour abortion, Soudas said the issue was not a criterion for selection.

"The principle here is making sure that taxpayer dollars actually provide services for women's groups and women's funding."


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