A New Vote on Abortion?

Between the government’s withdrawal of funding for NGOs that provide maternal health programs overseas, and a proclaimed emphasis on maternal health at the upcoming G8, some in Canada are wondering if we’re heading to a new vote on abortion.

Liberal MP Paul Szabo of Mississauga South said,

Is (a vote) inevitable? I would say yes.

If such a vote was held today, what would the outcome be?

Szabo is a member of the secret Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, whose membership remains unknown. Although it’s often presumed that the group is dominated by Conservatives, a closer look shows that these positions do cross partisan lines.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has complied a list of our 308 MPs and where they stand on the abortion issue, and the picture is still unclear. Although the number of pro-life MPs rose slightly due to Conservative MPs after the 2008 election, the real increase is in the number of MPs whose stance on the issue is unknown, rising from 56 MPs before 2008 to 64 MPs after.

MPs Before 2008 Election After 2008 Election
Total Anti-choice MPs 123 (40%) 120 (39%)
– Conservative Party 95 of 127 (75%) 99 of 143 (69%)
– Liberal Party 26 of 95 (27%) 19 of 77 (25%)
– Independent 2 2
Total Pro-Choice MPs 125* (41%) 124* (40%)
Total MPs with unknown stance 56 (18%) 64 (21%)
Total MPs 304 308

The criteria for determining an MPs stance are more interesting. The first includes public statements on the issue, which is probably the least controversial.

The second is whether they opposed the Order of Canada for Dr. Morgentaler. Keep in mind that even the Chief Justice received a complaint over this touchy topic. An attempt to pass a bill after R. v. Morgentaler failed at Senate, leaving a legislative gap (but see s. 287 of the Criminal Code).

The third criteria was whether the MP voted in favour of Bill C-484 Unborn Victims of Crime Act on March 5, 2008. The Coalition does note that some pro-choice MPs did vote in favour of Bill C-484, which reveals the uncertainties in predicting a politician’s stance on such a divisive policy.

What we do know is that the majority of Conservative MPs do appear pro-life, and after the passing of p-207 at the 2008 Conservative Party of Canada convention, fetal rights is an official policy of the party. Although some Liberals seem intent to capitalize on the abortion issue, most would rather not have an election over it.

Regardless of whether it does go to an election, a vote on abortion could be one of the most divisive and controversial bills in Canada for some time, resurrecting what has been considered a settled issue in Canada for 25-years.


  1. In a statement today, the Prime Minister has disavowed any attempts to create a new abortion law, so it doesn’t look like any official Act on the subject will be introduced soon through that route. Private members bills like Bill C-510 introduced by Rod Bruinooge are still something to watch.