Conservative backbencher for Saskatoon-Humboldt Brad Trost has indicated that the abortion debate in Canada has been reopened after Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared in May that the issue would remain closed.
Trost’s statement comes on the heels of an announcement made last week that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has approved an application to fund the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) $6M over three years.
In Trost’s estimation, CIDA’s decision to fund IPPF is tantamount to reopening the abortion debate due to the IPPF’s funding of abortion, in addition to providing counseling, contraceptives, and many other services. He claims that CIDA is responsible for the abortion debate being reopened, and that his is only a response.
Stephen Harper has long walked a fine line while in government between the remnants of his right-wing Reform Party and more centre-right Progressive Conservative party that merged in 2003 to become the current incarnation of the Conservative Party of Canada. When Harper finally had his majority government in 2011, many suspected that he would avoid a powerful lurch to the right in order to maintain balance and, he hoped, stay in power.
The abortion issue arose recently in 2010 when Canada hosted the G8/G20 meetings in Huntsville and Toronto, and Harper made maternal health his key issue. Harper made it clear, however, that his maternal health initiative in the developing world would not include funding for abortion. Content to leave the issue alone at home, he was determined that the government would not fund abortion access abroad.
On his website, Trost argues that “people have asked how funding IPPF squares with the repeated statement that Canada will not fund abortion internationally. The PMO attempts to square this circle by only permitting IPPF funding to go into countries that ban abortion.”
He goes on to say that,
considering that promoting abortion internationally is central to the identity of IPPF, this sort of political hairsplitting only seems to make sense in the Ottawa bubble. This is a position I totally reject.
Harper was put on the spot during a press conference on April 21 when asked about Trost’s earlier comments about restricting abortion access. He noted that as Prime Minister and as party leader he has been clear that as long as he remains in power the abortion debate will not be reopened. Harper added a promise that his government will not bring forward any such legislation to restrict or ban abortion access in Canada, and would defeat any legislation that came forward as a private member’s bill.
“Prime Minister Harper is always very fair,” Trost noted in an interview earlier today with CBC. “While he probably won’t be exactly thrilled with what I’m saying, they do understand there’s differences of opinion in the caucus on this issue,” he said.
Yet between an announcement in April that the IPPF had been defunded in part to anti-abortion activities in Western Canada, and his recent challenge of his party and party leader’s wishes, Trost is showing himself willing to break party rank on the issue. And a Prime Minister intent on controlling the party message at all costs will only have so much patience with an intransigent backbencher from Saskatchewan.
But Trost warns that “the battle over the IPPF continues. Pro-Life politicians have been taught a lesson. The government only responds to Pro-Life issues and concerns when we take an aggressive stance. We will apply this lesson.”
This article originally appeared in Digital Journal. Published 09/28/2011.