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Politics Trudeau’s abortion stand ‘discriminatory,’ former Liberal MPs say

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau  speaks in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill Tuesday April 8, 2014 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A group of former Liberal backbenchers is blasting Justin Trudeau's "discriminatory" decision to call on all party MPs to vote in favour of abortion rights in Canada.

An open letter from former Liberal MPs, including Tom Wappel, Pat O'Brien and Janko Peric, elicited the support of Campaign Life Coalition, a group that advocates the election of anti-abortion legislators.

The Liberal Leader has not backed down in the face of the controversy created by his decision, announced earlier this year, to oppose the nomination of any candidate who would refuse to vote for abortion rights in the House of Commons. Mr. Trudeau and his team have said that their decision is based on the fact that Canada's abortion law was struck down in part because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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But the seven former MPs, who served between 1980 and 2008, said the Liberal Party's new position on abortion goes against the spirit of the Charter.

"Since your edict singles out the issue of being opposed to abortion, but only that issue, it clearly discriminates against a select class of people, namely those who oppose abortion, and no one else," said the letter that was also signed by Garnet Bloomfield, Rex Crawford, Murray Calder and John O'Reilly.

The former MPs said the policy opens the door to further restrictions on issues of conscience. Mr. O'Brien left the Liberal Party over the issue of same-sex mariage, while Mr. Wappel worked for Campaign Life Coalition as legal counsel and Mr. Bloomfield went on to run for the Reform Party after leaving the Liberal Party.

"If your order is not rescinded, it will stand as a precedent for you, and future Liberal Leaders, to issue similar edicts on other moral issues, such as being either for or against assisted suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, animal/human genetic splicing/mixing and many such issues which we cannot even imagine today, but which may develop as our technological knowledge increases at an ever more rapid pace," the letter said.

The Conservatives have attacked the Liberal policy to force all MPs to vote the same way on the issue of abortion, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper praising his party as open to all views on the issue. Still, Mr. Harper's government has refused to legislate on the matter or even reopen the abortion debate.

Campaign Life Coalition is calling on its supporters to stop donating to the Liberals as long as the party maintains its current position on abortion.

"All MPs who believe in democracy should be as outspoken as these former MPs, against any leader who dictates how they ought to speak and vote if they wish to join a particular party," Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition, said in a statement. "Trudeau claims the Liberal Party is the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but, as is pointed out in the letter, Section 2 guarantees, 'freedom of conscience' which includes 'freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.' Nowhere in the charter is there a so-called 'right' to kill pre-born human beings."

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Still, Liberal officials are confident that their clear stance in favour of women's rights will be a winner with the electorate that they are courting in the next election.

"Anyone is entitled to hold their own personal views, but Canadians deserve to know that when they vote Liberal they will get an MP who will vote to defend women's rights in the House," a Liberal spokeswoman said in response to the open letter.

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