Canada Conservatives move to avoid abortion debate

Mon Aug 25, 2008 4:48pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Conservative government, seeking to take the abortion debate off the table as it heads toward an election campaign, possibly as early as September 5, said on Monday it would strengthen penalties for violent attacks on pregnant women.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the bill he would introduce would make pregnancy an aggravating factor when a woman is assaulted but do so in a way that leaves no room for the introduction of fetal rights.

This would not go as far as a private-member's bill introduced earlier by a Conservative backbencher, which would have made it a separate crime to cause the death of an unborn child when a woman is attacked.

Nicholson said some had interpreted this as an expansion of rights of the unborn and an indirect way to reintroduce abortion restrictions. Canada has no laws restricting the procedure.

"Let me be clear. Our government will not reopen the debate on abortion," Nicholson told reporters. "The bill will not be open to misinterpretation."

The dissolution of Parliament and an early election campaign would preclude introduction of the legislation, but the Conservative government would be able to point to its bill and say it has no plans on abortion.

"This is an example of us clarifying what the government's intent is with regards to its agenda and what the government's agenda is not," Kory Teneycke, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told reporters.

"That clarity, I think, is helpful for Canadians, especially as we go into a period where they might be forced to make a choice."   Continued...

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech to Conservative Party supporters at the Croatian Parish Park in Mississauga, August 18, 2008. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese</p>