Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose faced a barrage of criticism after she voted in favour of a motion that sought to resurrect the abortion debate in Canada.
Pro-choice groups slammed Ambrose for joining nine other cabinet ministers in voting for Motion 312, a private member’s bill, Wednesday evening. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had announced his intention to vote against the motion, and it was defeated 203 to 91.
An online petition calling on Ambrose to resign was making the rounds Thursday, and a Facebook page urging her removal from cabinet had more than 2,500 “likes” by the end of the day.
Ambrose first responded to the criticism on Twitter, writing: “I have repeatedly raised concerns about discrimination of girls by sex selection abortion: no law needed, but we need awareness!”
In the House of Commons on Thursday, Ambrose was defiant when questioned about her vote.
"It is interesting that this is the first question that I have received on the status of women file this year. In fact, I think this is the first question I have received since last year as well," she said during question period.
"Do you know why that is, Mr. Speaker? It is because this government has an incredible track record of standing up for Canadian women and girls. We have increased the funding to the status of women to its highest point in Canadian history."
Motion 312 was introduced by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth, who represents the Kitchener Centre riding in Ontario.
His bill aimed to strike a committee to examine the definition of a human being and when human life begins.
Although Harper repeatedly made it clear that he had no intentions of reopening the abortion debate, 87 Conservatives, including 10 cabinet ministers, voted in favour of the motion. Four Liberal MPs also voted “yes.”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and House Leader Peter Van Loan were among those who voted in favour of the bill.
The motion may have been shut down in the House of Commons, but it sparked intense public debate across Canada on the sensitive issue of abortion.
Dawn Fowler, the Canadian director of the National Abortion Federation, told CTV News Channel Thursday that Ambrose’s portfolio requires her to advance women’s rights and
But Diane Watts from the group Real Women of Canada argued that “not all women think alike” and that just because someone is pro-life, that doesn’t mean they don’t support women’s rights.
Watts said Ambrose was “courageous” in the way she voted and the minister is indeed “concerned about women’s rights.”
“We should be concerned about women who are coerced to harm their unborn child; we should be concerned about the rights of the unborn child,” Watts told CTV News Channel.
“This is not about abortion, this is about consideration for the unborn child,” she added.
Fowler disagreed, saying Motion 312 was nothing but “a thinly veiled attempt to regulate abortion.”
Woodworth, who put forward the bill, told CTV’s Power Play that “the notion that women’s rights or anyone’s rights depend on stripping another individual of their worth and dignity and equality” is an example of “dangerous” thinking.
Woodworth also denied that the result of Wednesday’s vote exposed a rift in the Conservative Party, after so many members voted against Harper’s wishes.
NDP deputy leader Libby Davies said the fact that so many Tories voted for the motion is “worrying” and raises questions about “Harper’s credibility as a party leader.”
With files from The Canadian Press