CANADA

Skirting the issue

The abortion question dogs the candidates

MARY JANIGAN October 17 1988
CANADA

Skirting the issue

The abortion question dogs the candidates

MARY JANIGAN October 17 1988

Skirting the issue

CANADA

The abortion question dogs the candidates

The two demonstrators were waiting for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney when his campaign plane touched down at the Williams Lake, B.C., airport last week. From be-

hind a metal fence, under a late afternoon sky, housewives Angela Loewen and Catherine Mahal waved anti-abortion placards. "Repent," the signs urged. "Speak out against murder. Stopping baby killing must be the number 1

priority in Canada, Brian, not backburner business." The two women trailed Muironey to the Overlander Motor Inn, where they stood outside, buttonholing Con servative supporters. Loewen told Maclean's "If Muironey is a Christian, he will see that the Lord says, `Thou shalt not kill.' "That message did not get through to the Conservative entourage: the Prime Minister delicately skirted the two women and, like Liberal Leader John Turner, the issue. But the abortion controversy, unresolved and perhaps irreconcil able, will not go away-to the sor row of the three federal parties. Since the Supreme Court of Cana da ruled in January that the federal abortion law violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the coun try has been without abortion leg islation. The issue is politically eas ier for New Democratic Party Leader Edward Broadbent be cause his party has a long-standing policy: abortion should remain a matter between a woman and her doctor. In contrast, both Muironey and Turner-their parties divid ed-have dodged the question, clearly loath to attract unwelcome attention from anti-abortion and prochoice groups. Last August, Muironey said that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest and "certain personal situa tions." Senior Tories said last

week that Muironey may expand that position during televised leaders' debates. Meanwhile, Turner last week refused to reveal how he would counsel his own daughter on abortion, arguing that it was "such a person al question." But Maclean's has learned that the Liberal campaign is reconsidering the deci sion to abstain from the abortion debate in the wake of cross-Canada criticism of Turner's stand. The party prepared a secret policy on abortion last summer-and Turner may reveal

it, perhaps during the debates. As one senior Liberal strategist told Maclean `.c. "Maybe we should not be cowed by the reaction of a small interest group." The current abortion controversy began last January when the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-2 ruling, declared that the Criminal Code provi sion dealing with abortion violated a woman's right to "life, liberty and security of the per son." That law, passed in 1969, restricted abortions to accredited hospitals where the

majority of the members of the hospital's ther apeutic abortion committee certified that the pregnancy was a danger to the life or health of the mother. Three of the five Supreme Court judges added that they would accept some federal restrictions upon abortion in the later stages of pregnancy. In an attempt to handle the controversy, the federal government introduced a motion last summer: abortion would be a private matter between a woman and her doctor during the

early stages of pregnancy; during the later, two doctors would have to agree that the pregnan cy seriously endangered the mother. That motion failed to satisfy either the prochoice or the anti-abortion MPs: onJuly 28, they defeated it, along with five amendments ranging from prochoice to anti-abortion. Adding to the controversy, lawyers for for mer Manitoba cabinet minister Joseph Bor owski, a vehement anti-abortionist, urged the Supreme Court of Canada last week to over turn a 1987 Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision. In that case, Borowski had attempted to have the Criminal Code provisions on abor tion overturned because of his claim that a fetus has the right to life, liberty and security of the person. The Court of Appeal rejected that claim, and, last week, Borowski's lawyers ap pealed to the Supreme Court, asking the jus tices to define and protect the rights of the

fetus. But the seven justices re served their decision, with Chief Justice Brian Dickson announcing that his court may not have the legal authority to hear Borowski's appeal because there is no longer a law regulating abortion for it to consider. While the justices pondered those issues, the anti-abortion and prochoice groups flexed their polit ical muscles. The Campaign Life Coalition, which opposes therapeu tic abortion and claims a member ship of 200,000, asked its mem bers to support anti-abortion candidates. It also is campaigning against prominent prochoice sup porters in 10 tidings, including Ex ternal Affairs Minister Joe Clark. The Canadian Abortion Rights Ac tion League, which claims a much smaller membership of 17,000, in turn has asked members to sup port prochoice candidates. Mean while, a Gallup poll released on Sept. 29 indicated that 20 per cent of Canadians believe that abortion should be legal under all circum stances, 65 per cent support abor tion under certain circumstances and only 13 per cent oppose all abortions. Those political battles have oh scured the fact that politicians are afready restricted in their ability to create an abortion law. As Univer sity of Toronto law professor Ber nard Dickens told Maclean's

"Clearly, according to the Supreme Court, early abortion is all right; clearly, late abortion is not necessarily all right. So any proposed law would have to allow early abortion as a condi tion for prohibiting late abortion." That legal distinction is little comfort for politicians trapped in a moral and religious war.

MARY JANIGAN

HILARY MACKENZIE

MARC CLARK

ROSS LAVER