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Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Jason Kenney speaks during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, September 10, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The opposition is questioning why Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has decided to vote in favour of a motion to study when life begins – and go against many Conservative colleagues, including the Prime Minister.

The motion from Conservative backbencher Stephen Woodworth would require Parliament to study the point at which a baby becomes a human being. Critics charge it's a step toward banning abortion and limiting reproductive rights.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear he doesn't support the motion, making the high-profile cabinet minister's decision more notable.

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"It comes as a surprise in a sense that we know that [Mr. Kenney] is very close to the Prime Minister," said NDP MP Niki Ashton in a Tuesday morning news conference. "The question here is why he's choosing to stand up against the government's wishes."

Ms. Ashton and fellow NDP MP Françoise Boivin also suggested that the motion should have been shut down before it reached the House of Commons.

According to the Parliamentary rules on private members' business, however, an item is only non-votable if it's outside federal jurisdiction, is clearly unconstitutional or is too similar to another matter already before Parliament.

The Liberals have come out against the motion. They're hosting a petition on their website with a note from former Quebec Senator Lucie Pépin, who, as an MP in the 1980s, was part of the push to legalize abortion that ended in a 1988 Supreme Court ruling.

The Morgentaler case struck down Canada's abortion law, but the court invited Parliament to draft a new one that could overcome certain issues. Brian Mulroney's government made an attempt, but a new law was never passed.

Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber, a Conservative, said on his website that he supports the human-being motion – but only to study the issue, and not to make a decision on abortion.

"I have come to the conclusion after years of deliberation and inner debate that I am both pro-choice and pro-life. … I am not prepared, as a legislator on this contentious issue, to impose my opinion on others; although, ultimately I would hope that they will choose life," he wrote.

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The motion comes up for a vote on Wednesday.

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