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Conservative MP Vellacott digs up old Pierre Trudeau quote to oppose Justin Trudeau’s political stance on abortion today

Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott has distributed a 1972 statement on abortion by Pierre Trudeau in an attempt to argue the late former prime minister would oppose the political position of his son, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau who is requiring all Liberal election candidates and re-elected MPs to support a woman’s right to choose in any future Commons vote on abortion law.

By TIM NAUMETZ

The Hill Times

PARLIAMENT HILL—Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott has distributed a 1972 statement on abortion by Pierre Trudeau in an attempt to argue the late former prime minister would oppose the political position of his son, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau who is requiring all Liberal election candidates and re-elected MPs to support a woman’s right to choose in any future Commons vote on abortion law.

Mr. Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, Sask.) distributed a copy of a newspaper clip highlighting the devoutly religious former prime minister’s view that a woman should have to explain why she wanted an abortion—even though Mr. Trudeau, as the Liberal government’s justice minister in 1968, had introduced sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that included legalization of abortion for the first time since it had been made a criminal offence as Canada’s first laws were being established in 1869.

The new law Mr. Trudeau introduced in 1968, passed by Parliament after he became prime minister and requiring that a woman would first have to receive approval for an abortion from a three-member abortion review committee in a hospital, was later struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada—as a contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Mr. Trudeau and his government had included in a new Constitution of Canada Act in 1982.

Mr. Vellacott, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) most vocal anti-abortion MPs and who announced last year he would not be running for re-election, circulated Mr. Trudeau’s 1972 quotation on Thursday, the day after Justin Trudeau had to clarify a position that will require all Liberal MPs, re-elected incumbents or new MPs after the next election, to follow Liberal party free-choice policy in any Commons vote on abortion.

Following an earlier statement that all election nomination candidates would have to agree to vote with party policy on the right to choose, at least one incumbent seeking re-election, Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan, P.E.I.), believed he was grandfathered from the new policy as a sitting MP.

“I think you will find this quote from Pierre Trudeau very interesting in light of his son’s adamant and unequivocal support for a woman’s right to abortion on demand,” Mr. Vellacott’s statement said, overstating the access to abortion procedures women may request, in those Canadian hospitals that have abortion clinics, or private clinics.

“Pierre Trudeau disagrees with son, Justin, on abortion,” says a headline in Mr. Vellacott’s missive, above a clipping of a 1972 Montreal Star article on Pierre Trudeau’s abortion views, and the law he introduced.

The quotation is from a Montreal Star column that quoted Mr. Trudeau’s comments, during the federal election campaign that year, to women in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who were protesting his new law’s requirement for prior permission from hospital abortion committees.

At the time, wealthier women or families were still travelling to the U.S. to obtain abortions, without having to go through committee screenings in hospitals.

“You would have to convince me that a person who asks for an abortion has no responsibility at all,” the Montreal Star article quotes Mr. Trudeau as saying. The report said he was responding to the protestors by stating his “private attitude.”

Mr. Vellacott’s statement included the newspaper clipping with that opening sentence from Mr. Trudeau, but Mr. Vellacott did not include the sentence in an extract of the remainder of Mr. Trudeau’s comment Mr. Vellacott included separately on the first page of his email.

“You know, at some point you are killing life in the fetus in self-defence, of what, of the mother’s health, or her happiness, or of her social rights or her privilege as a human being?” Mr. Trudeau went on to say.

“I think she should have to answer for it and explain. Now, whether it should be to three doctors, or one doctor, or to a priest or a bishop or to her mother-in-law is a question you might want to argue, you do have a right over your own body, it is your body. But the fetus is not your body; it’s someone else’s body, and if you kill it, you’ll have to explain,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Justin Trudeau, following Conservative attacks over his requirement that Liberal election candidates would have to be willing to follow party policy in House of Commons votes on abortion, released a letter explaining his position on freedom of choice, which also included a reference to Pierre Trudeau’s introduction, as a government minister, of a law legalizing abortion, despite his regular attendance at a Roman Catholic church.

A 2009 volume of a biography of Trudeau, written by former Liberal MP John English, a history professor, says Mr. Trudeau later had “profound reservations” about many of the social changes his landmark overhaul of criminal law had sparked, and shared them in confessions with his priest. But he believed the reforms “were essential,” including changes that legalized homosexual relations.

“In his view, they provided legal recognition of a diverse and modern society where individuals bore responsibility for their own decisions and the state stayed out of the bedrooms of the nation,” says the biography by Mr. English, also playing on a famous quote from Mr. Trudeau shortly after he introduced his criminal law reform bill.

Based on Mr. Trudeau’s memoirs, the biography says Mr. Trudeau “did not dissent” when abortion clinic physician Dr. Henry Morgentaler was eventually jailed for defying the requirements for hospital permission to conduct abortions, a conviction that led to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down Mr. Trudeau’s abortion law in 1988, on grounds it violated the Charter’s guarantee of the right to “life, liberty and security of the person.”

“As Trudeau saw it, the abortionist knew the law and made the decision to defy it; as a free individual, he was then obliged to accept the penalties the law imposed,” Mr. English writes in the biography of Mr. Trudeau.

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