He's categorically pro-choice, and telling Liberal MPs they have to vote that way, too. But now he's also telling pro-lifers he empathizes.
The political damage that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is trying to repair isn't that he offended pro-life activists who can never support a pro-choice party. He didn't have many of those voters anyway.
But in telling Canadians that new Liberal MPs will have to vote pro-choice from now on, he's given some the impression that he's booting people out of the party because of their deeply-held views. It's become an issue of inclusion.
That explains the language Mr. Trudeau used. "To those it has troubled: I understand," he said in an e-mail missive sent out Monday. "I empathize."
Just who is he talking to? It's not those for whom the pro-life cause is the all-important, absolute issue in politics. They're not likely to be comforted.
But there's another group of people whose sentiments have been riled, but aren't likely to cast their ballots solely on pro-life or pro-choice lines.
John McKay, a pro-life Liberal MP, argues there are many people in between the "fundamentalists on both sides."
There are generally pro-choice folks who believe, as former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said, that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. There are those who want legal restrictions on late-term abortions. There are people with a generally pro-life orientation who don't cast their ballots chiefly on the issue.
Among them are many people, perhaps two or three per cent of the population, who were starting to seriously consider switching votes to Mr. Trudeau's Liberals, Mr. McKay said.
If those people feel cast out, it has an impact. Two or three percentage points can be the margin of victory, or defeat, in an election. It certainly means seats.
There's another group, too, that could be turned off: pro-choice voters who don't like the idea that the issue is dividing people – like pro-choice Catholics upset at the notion the Liberal party is rejecting people, their friends and neighbours, because of their views on abortion.
That's why Mr. Trudeau's advisers are stressing that leader's position is about votes, not views. Liberal candidates and MPs can hold whatever views they want, as long as they vote pro-choice. It only goes so far: to a lot of people that looks a little like Henry Ford's assertion that customers could buy a Model T in any colour they like, so long as it's black.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper managed to needle Mr. Trudeau on the issue, making it about inclusion. The Conservative Party, he said, knows Canadians have conflicting, deeply-held views, "and all such views are welcome…"
For Mr. Trudeau, making the issue a question of party line made it possible to claim unequivocally that the party would stand up for woman's right to choose. In the past, Liberals accused the Tories of harbouring a hidden agenda, only to have the NDP note they didn't take a firm party stand.
Pro-life organizations like Campaign Life Coalition, who were trying to help nominate pro-life Liberal candidates, accuse Mr. Trudeau of acting undemocratically. But it's not really clear voters think it's more democratic to treat abortion as a debate of conscience for MPs, rather an issue they can decide at the ballot box by choosing between clear party position. No major party has adopted pro-life policies, but that's at least partly because they believe it's bad politics.
In purely political terms, however, it's unlikely Mr. Trudeau will gain supporters by making the party's pro-choice stand unequivocal. It may make some potential supporters feel like they're not wanted.
Religious voters, notably, have moved heavily into the Conservative camp over the past decade. The party had hoped to win some back.
The Liberals might have little hope with Evangelical Christians, about 9 per cent of the population, 59 per cent of whom voted for the Tories in 2011, according to Angus Reid Global's Andrew Grenville. But churchgoing Catholics, about 5 per cent of the population, used to be more likely to vote Liberal, until 2006. That suggests some might one day vote Liberal again, Mr. Grenville said.
They may be less likely if Mr. Trudeau's position on abortion is taken by many as tantamount to exclusion. That's probably why the Liberal Leader is doing his best to express a little empathy to repair some of the damage.