November 25, 2013

Cabinet documents from the Mulroney era in the run-up to the last attempt to pass a law restricting abortion reveal the deep tensions of the time, says The Canadian Press.

But recent news coverage of the demise of Bill C-43 - which went down to defeat in 1991 by a tie vote in the Senate - fails to show how hard the political arm of the pro-life movement lobbied to get it defeated, said Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) president Jim Hughes.

News reports have cast pro-lifers as supporting the bill.

Pro-life Liberal Senator Stanley Haidasz worked hard to ensure the defeat of Bill C-43 in the Senate, said Hughes. While pro-abortion forces cheered the defeat of the bill, so did many pro-life activists.

Pro-life groups differed on the bill, however. Some, such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the bill because it kept abortion in the Criminal Code and avoided a gestational approach.

"We all agreed that abortion was horrible and unacceptable," Hughes said. "It was a matter of tactics."

There were those who voted for the bill because they thought "some law is better than no law," said Hughes. "A bad law is not better than no law. This was a bad law."

Bill C-43 would have made abortion a criminal offence at any stage of pregnancy unless a doctor deemed that a woman's life or health was endangered.

The cabinet documents show there was division over whether to produce a gestational bill that would have prohibited abortion at later stages of pregnancy. Health Minister Jake Epp, a devout Mennonite, argued life begins at conception, according to the news reports.

Bill C-43 was deemed a compromise that avoided the pitfalls of a gestational approach and met concerns that a bill with too many restrictions risked being struck down by the Supreme Court.

But Hughes said the bill's concern for the mother's life and health included such things as her "aspiration for the future" and economic considerations.


Abortionist Henry Morgentaler told Hughes the law would not stop a single abortion. "I said, 'I know,'" he said.

"C-43 was basically abortion-on-demand," he said.

Hughes said the law was designed to protect doctors. The justice minister assured doctors none would be prosecuted.

Some in the pro-life movement today want to have a law against abortion, even a gestational law since polls show most Canadians do not support late-term abortions.

But Hughes rejects that approach because it gives the illusion something has been done and then "people sit back on their tail feathers and do nothing because we have a law restricting abortion."

The key, Hughes said, is finding strong pro-life candidates to run in elections and to take a long-term view.