Harper, most Conservative MPs silent on Morgentaler’s death
Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013 10:08PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 29, 2013 10:32PM EDT
The death of abortion crusader Dr. Henry Morgentaler has sparked debate about his legacy, but the Conservative government is not weighing in.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose office typically issues statements on deaths of notable Canadians and various other events, was silent on Morgentaler’s passing Tuesday.
Conservative MPs also avoided talking about the controversial doctor.
Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt simply said “no” when reporters asked her if she would discuss Morgentaler’s death. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq also did not comment.
Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose was delivering a speech when news of Morgentaler’s death broke. She reportedly said that Morgentaler “was a big figure in Canadian history and made a huge impact on the nation,” but did not make herself available for further comment.
Conservative MP Mark Warawa, a backbencher who wanted to introduce a motion to explore the question of when life begins, said he hoped Morgentaler “made things right with his maker” before he died.
Since becoming prime minister, Harper has said that he will not reopen the abortion debate. The topic remains taboo on Parliament Hill.
Canada is one of the only countries in the world with no federal abortion laws. Morgentaler played a key role in the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision to strike down Canada’s restrictions on abortions as unconstitutional.
Since then, critics and anti-abortion activists have argued that the lack of legislation means that women can technically get abortions at any stage of the pregnancy.
However, data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that the majority of abortions in Canada are performed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Less than two per cent of them take place in the final trimester.
“Let's put this in some perspective. The medical profession exercises its responsibilities carefully. The hospitals and clinics do their work carefully across the country,” Liberal MP Bob Rae said.
In the early 1990s, the Progressive Conservatives tried to introduce legislation that would sentence doctors to two years in jail for performing abortions in cases where the woman’s health was not at risk.
The bill died in the Senate after a 43-43 vote tie. That was the closest Canada ever got to resurrecting an abortion law.
Still, people like Rev. Tony Van Hee continue their call for abortion legislation.
Van Hee has been sitting and praying on the front lawn on Parliament Hill for more than two decades and his anti-abortions signs have become a fixture there.
He said his mission is “to get the law to protect the unborn.”
Meanwhile, an anti-abortion organization called the Quebec Life Coalition held a group prayer for Morgentaler’s soul in Montreal, in a park across the street from the first abortion clinic Morgentaler opened in 1973.
"Respect for the person is primordial in our ethos, so we're going to pray for him, for his soul," leader Georges Buscemi otold The Canadian Press.
He said his group considers Morgentaler one of Canada’s biggest criminals.
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian and files from The Canadian Press