The news today is about yet another graphic flyer being distributed by the anti-choice #No2Trudeau campaign, run by group of Canadians (mostly) who are concerned with this country's rather lax abortion laws, some of the least restrictive in the world. This flyer in particular has been focused on attacking federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his correctly perceived support for abortion access in this country. Big surprise, right?
In a way, it kind of is. The current campaign, being run jointly by the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) and the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCRB, and I suspect they make up the bulk of volunteers and funding for this project) is specifically targeted against Trudeau, something that strikes people as a bit, well, odd. All parties with representation in the House of Commons have come to something of a consensus on the issue favouring the pro-choice side, and none of them, Conservatives included, have an intent on changing the abortion laws in this country.
Notice I didn't say "members" of the House of Commons, but parties. There are many MPs who are pro-life and very open about it, though only a handful are actually active on the subject. This includes Conservatives as well as Liberals and (now) independents, but their respective parties actively discourage or forbid members from pursuing the subject - this doesn't stop everyone, of course, but it keeps the peace much better than, say, in the United States where abortion access issues makes headlines daily.
Status of Abortion Access in Canada
Now, this is a hot topic amongst politicos so I don't expect most readers of my wee little blog to be ignorant of the general stances of pro-choice and anti-choice groups. I won't go into an in-depth analysis of the history of abortion access in this country, but I can point you to an interesting resource online which, if you have the time to read it, is engrossing, though now out of date - not that anything has changed in the laws, mind you. The key thing you need to know is this: there are no restrictions on abortion in Canada. None. You can have an abortion right up until the child is birthed, though in reality the vast majority of doctors will not perform an abortion after 20 weeks.
Those that are anti-choice like the CLC are in the minority in this country, and they know it. The most recent polling done shows that 60% of Canadians want no restrictions on abortions, while a further 30% say they support some restrictions but won't make it illegal. That means 9-in-10 Canadians, when prompted, favour abortion access in some manner - that is as close to a national consensus on an issue as we're going to get.
This being said, I suspect if prompted with particular questions (i.e., would you support laws making illegal abortions after 20 weeks, or half-way through a pregnancy) these numbers would actually change, maybe even dramatically. I don't believe most Canadians are aware of the lack of laws on abortion, and probably think we have something similar to what the Americans have, rather than just a fuzzy consensus among the majority of providers.
This issue of ignorance is a wedge that anti-choice groups use to try and get some traction, and the modern bills and motions that have come up in Parliament have never actually tried to make all abortion access legal. Instead, they try to introduce some restrictions on access that already fit what is currently the standard (as with Liberal Paul Steckle's 2006 bill), or actually attempt to define what, in law, is currently undefined (as with Conservative Stephen Woodworth's 2012 motion). Both were resoundly defeated, as has all anti-choice legislation brought forward since the Mulroney era.
Abortion as a wedge issue is not limited to anti-choice individuals or groups either, a prime example being former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's fumbled 2011 motion, or the recent attempts by the NDP to pressure Trudeau over provincial Liberal stances. While the issue might be a dead horse, people sure have fun beating it.
So above history aside, what is exactly going on right now?
The current anti-choice campaign is summed up in a hashtag: #No2Trudeau, which seems extremely political and, well, it is. This is their attempt to hone in on the Liberal Leader, especially following his declaration that all future Liberal MPs would have to fall in line with the party's pro-choice stance. Given that all parties are essentially pro-choice, it seems kind of odd to single out Trudeau, doesn't it?
In fairness to the CLC and CCBR, they have gone after Harper, some Conservative MPs and one or two NDP MPs in the past, though maybe not as quite "all in" as they have with Trudeau. Their tactics are basically drop-and-shock ones, where their volunteers fan out to various addresses with uncovered leaflets in hand depicting various nasty things they claim are the result of abortions. Their volunteers do not stop to talk to people, they seem to rarely respond when contacted, and they've been condemned by just about everyone. They also seem to be attempting to put a "young" spin on their campaign, with speaking tours by the CLC's Youth co-ordinator Alissa Golob and the CCBR's Jonathan van Maren (this will not be the last Dutch surname you see involved with the anti-choice movement), and the CCBR's overall staff seems very young when compared to the CLC's (side note: I think the CLC's PEI President, Aquinas Ryan, is the same Aquinas Ryan who was PEI NDP leader in the '70s).
The nagging question, of course, is why Trudeau? Some commentators have plainly said that this campaign is more or less astro-turfed by the Conservatives, and there is a great piece over on Damnit Janet that describes the launch of the event, and boy does it ever sound political (probably a bit too political for a non-profit). Frankly, I would not be surprised if a Conservative intern at some point made a phone call or had a few online or in person chats with the heads of the CLC and CCBR - again, I'm not saying that is what happened, just that I wouldn't be surprised by such a revelation.
However, that is just a conspiracy theory at this point. The other, maybe more likely probability is that this campaign is something of a test run by the anti-choice lobby of Canada, to see what their impact might be on an election when they have an organized campaign. Why they would then target Trudeau is clear, so long as he continues to lead in the polls ahead of Mulcair. If they did see an impact from their campaign, then its likely they would turn up the pressure on pro-choice Conservatives and attempt to sway that party's leadership.
The CLC in particular makes inter-party political endorsements that, if No2Trudeau is seen as successful, could become more targeted. A good example is in the recent Ontario PC leadership race, where they endorsed both Monte McNaughton and Patrick Brown, while going out of their way to attack Christine Elliott - they will very likely do the same in the next federal Conservative leadership race, and if this campaign goes well, they could have a serious impact.
The future of anti-choice?
No matter the outcome of or purpose behind #No2Trudeau, I think one thing is clear - these anti-choice groups are growing bolder, their base is getting younger, and more distressingly, they're also getting more money from somewhere. These activist groups are non-profits and must have a relatively substantial donator base for them to run the campaign they've been able to so far - it is not cheap to design, print, and distribute the promised 1-million leaflets for their campaign.
The trick will be to find out where they're getting their money from. It could be they have a large donation pool to draw from, or they have a few benefactors. If it is the latter, I would be very interested in finding out who funds this sort of project though, as I think most Canadians would be.
This isn't the only campaign going on, either. There is a recent push in Saskatchewan to try and force parental consent for abortion access, thankfully rejected but still a sign of the times (as are these underground gas line markers that keep popping up everywhere), and so many other local or larger things going on, including the upcoming March for Life rally, which is expected to hit 20,000 and also touch on topics such as assisted suicide.
One thing for sure: this anti-science, anti-woman, anti-choice movement is not going away anytime soon, and I would not be surprised if you saw some of their disgusting little leaflets show up at your door someday soon - or worse.