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Anti-abortion protesters take to the Hill

Thousands of Anti-abortion activists march down Elgin St. in Ottawa during the National March for Life on Thursday, May 13, 2010.

Darren Brown/The Canadian Press/Darren Brown/The Canadian Press

Thousands of anti-abortion protesters are taking their case to Parliament Hill, but many long-time MP supporters will be missing from the crowd, thanks to turnover at the ballot box and the election break.

Organizers of Thursday's National March for Life say it is too soon to say how many new members will back their cause, or if their numbers will make up for some high-profile departures, including retiring cabinet ministers Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl and fellow B.C. Tory MP John Cummins.

The election also saw several Liberals the group counts among its allies go down to defeat. They include Toronto-area members Paul Szabo, Dan McTeague, Gurbax Malhi and Alan Tonks.

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"They were a great loss to us," said Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer of the Campaign Life Coalition. "Now we have a group of 60 or more new ones that we will be working on to find out where we stand."

The group plans to target new Conservative MPs and the two rookies in the Liberal ranks. Ms. Douglas said no Bloc Québécois members supported the group's efforts and she does not expect to find backers among the first-time New Democrat MPs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged his government will not reopen the abortion debate - a promise he was quick to repeat when the topic surfaced late in the campaign. While Mr. Harper has vowed to keep the controversial topic off the table, a small socially conservative group within his caucus continues to work for changes.

Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost is one of them. A member of the mostly conservative anti-abortion caucus, he created a furor during the election campaign when he boasted that he helped deny funding to International Planned Parenthood because it supported abortion. The Conservative government denied that a decision on funding for the group had been made.

Mr. Trost - who will be in his riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt on Thursday, not on Parliament Hill - said he believes a few anti-abortion Liberals "have hung on," but declined to put a number on the non-partisan group, saying it rises and falls. While abortion remains a no-go topic for the Prime Minister, Mr. Trost said his group will look at ways to advance its cause, although no plans have been made for the coming session.

Likewise, Ms. Douglas said her group will not change its tack now that the Tories have a majority. It plans to continue to work through individual MPs, with the hope that some of them will be interested in introducing private member's bills.

While federal politicians will be scarce at the march, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson appears to have inadvertently waded into the debate, proclaiming Thursday to be Respect for Life Day in the capital. Organizers of the march applied to the city clerk's office for the proclamation, and staff recommended granting the request.

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A posting on the city's website states that such proclamations are designed to "encourage public awareness or provide recognition for events," but will not be issued if the undertakings or philosophy of the group are "politically or religiously motivated."

Mr. Wilson is on the record as supporting a woman's right to choose.

Editor's note: Jim Watson is Mayor of Ottawa. An incorrect surname appeared in an earlier version of this story.

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