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Liberals press for 'full range' of family planning options in G8 plan

Bob Rae says the Liberal debate today has nothing to do with abortion. Others beg to differ.

Leading off the debate this morning, Mr. Rae, the party's foreign affairs critic, will criticize Stephen Harper's Tories for sending "contradictory messages" as they try to appease their base.

"The Conservative policy seems to be contraception if necessary but not necessarily contraception," Mr. Rae said this morning before he spoke in the Commons.

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The Liberal opposition day motion concerns the Harper government's G8 initiative on maternal health. Last week, the Conservatives flip-flopped on whether or not contraception would be included in the signature plan after an outcry by the opposition and other development and aid groups.

The Liberal motion asks that the plan include "the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options, including contraception." It goes to a vote this afternoon at 5:30 ET.

On CTV's Question Period this weekend, Mr. Rae denied the objective of the Liberal move was to revive the abortion debate.

"Well it's not about abortion," he said. "It's about whether you're going to include family planning as part of your approach to maternal health around the world, which is what the Prime Minister agreed to last year [at the G8 summit in Italy]"

It is true the word "abortion" is never mentioned in the motion. But the name of a former U.S. president is.

The motion says "the Canadian government should refrain from advancing the failed right-wing ideologies previously imposed by the George W. Bush administration, in the United States, which made humanitarian assistance conditional upon a 'global gag rule' that required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding to refrain from promoting medically-sound family planning."

Read between the lines - the Liberals are stirring the pot by using abortion rights as a wedge issue between their party and the Conservatives. And so far the Tories are falling into their trap.

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Repeatedly, over the past few days, the Prime Minister and his senior ministers have vowed that although they are not closing the door on all options, including contraception, they will not reopen the debate over abortion.

"The government has also made it very clear, and we have said all along, that we are not reopening the issue of abortion or the debate thereon," Transport Minister John Baird said yesterday in Question Period, where he was filling in for the Prime Minister.

Later, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said: "We have also been very clear. We are not opening any debate on abortion."

Maybe not but some opposition strategists believe that every time a Tory says the word "abortion," it's gold for the Liberals.

"I think the politics is extremely shrewd, very smart. I think it's exactly the right way to go," former Paul Martin communications director Scott Reid said on CBC's Power and Politics last night.

He characterized the issue, too, as a wedge and encouraged the Liberals to keep talking about it.

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"Abortion is such an issue when it comes to the Conservative Party. They have a very animated, very vigorous, very loud base that they try to keep quiet on this issue," Mr. Reid said.

"Abortion is not an issue they want to talk about in public. I think the more that Bev Oda is saying the word on camera, and the more the Conservatives are talking about it is a good thing for the Liberal Party … I wouldn't stop beating on this drum for a second if I were them."

(File photo: Jim Ross for The Globe and Mail)

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