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Anti-abortion protesters place signs in a pile during the National March for Life on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 8, 2014.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's announcement that he'll seek only pro-choice candidates is drawing mixed reviews from some in his party – with a former MP calling the move "totally unnecessary," but a current MP saying he'll agree to toe the party line despite his personal views.

Mr. Trudeau expects future Liberal MPs to vote "pro-choice" on any bills before Parliament. He made the announcement Wednesday, a day before an annual anti-abortion rally drew thousands of protesters to Parliament Hill.

Among the speakers Thursday was Tom Wappel, who was a Liberal MP in Toronto from 1988 to 2008 and criticized the move that will block anti-abortion candidates.

"It was a very sad move in my view, and totally unnecessary," Mr. Wappel said. "What's wrong with participatory democracy? Everyone's saying not enough people are voting, not enough people are taking part in the political process. All this says is, listen, you group of people, we're not interested, not interested in what you have to say."

Mr. Wappel said it was impossible to know what impact the move will have on Liberals at the polls.

"This is more than an issue of pro-life. This now becomes an issue of participatory democracy, this becomes an issue of a leader saying he's going to have open-fair nominations and then dictating the rules after he's already said that. So this is an issue of credibility of a leader," Mr. Wappel said.

Mr. Trudeau added a caveat to his decree: Current MPs who favour restrictions on abortion access, or expanded social programs to discourage women from abortions, would be "grandfathered" in. Among those is Winnipeg MP Kevin Lamoureux, who said Thursday he will decline to be grandfathered and will follow the party's wishes in voting pro-choice.

"No one can really change what I believe. I believe what I believe. Having said that, I don't want to be defined by one issue. I'm a parliamentarian and I deal with a wide selection of different issues. Abortion is just one of those," he said, brushing aside questions of whether people who favour restrictions on abortion access are still welcome in the Liberal fold. "I'm pro-life. I do not feel isolated from the Liberal Party, and I'm pro-life," he said.

Mr. Lamoureux stressed he is not changing his personal belief, or playing down the issue, but that it should not trump his long list of duties as a parliamentarian.

"There are some [voting] restrictions based on party platform, Charter and budget. I have to live within or give up on politics – which would you recommend?… At the end of the day, I feel privileged to be where I am as a Member of Parliament, and I don't want to impose upon – whether it's the residents of Winnipeg North or all Canadians – my own personal beliefs on all issues," he said.

At least 19 MPs and three senators attended Thursday's anti-abortion rally, all of them Conservative, and were among those to take a shot at Mr. Trudeau's stance.

" I believe you should be able to join political parties and actually run for political office," Manitoba Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, who was announced as president of the parliamentary pro-life caucus. "And thankfully in my party I have that right, I can run as a pro-lifer and I'm very proud of that."

Ontario Conservative MP Harold Albrecht was also among the attendees, and lamented Mr. Trudeau's announcement, saying it is freezing out people from democracy. "We [in the Conservative Party] will certainly welcome those who share our values at any point, absolutely, but I take no joy in the fact democracy has been diminished. Not at all," Mr. Albrecht said.

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