Several Liberal and NDP MPs are accusing the Conservatives of blocking a proposed study on women’s international access to reproductive and sexual health care, including safe abortion, and how Canada could support women’s health.
Since the motion was introduced nearly a month ago by Liberal MP Hedy Fry, the House of Commons foreign affairs committee has spent four meetings debating the text of the motion. The Liberal and NDP MPs say their Conservative colleagues are filibustering the committee with off-topic discussion and have delayed its progress on other studies covering the war in Ukraine, vaccine equity and security threats to Taiwan. The Conservatives deny the accusations.
Dr. Fry’s motion cites “recent reports of international backsliding related to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights,” though did not refer to last month’s leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court indicating a likely repeal of Roe v. Wade and end to federal abortion rights in the United States.
On Friday, Heather McPherson, NDP critic for foreign affairs, said the committee has been stalled ever since the motion was introduced. She said it was “heartbreaking” given the files on the committee’s agenda, and noted that several organizations are looking for the report on vaccine equity. On Monday, Ms. McPherson said the committee was going into 20 hours of filibustering by the Conservatives.
“They don’t want to look at women’s rights, ultimately,” she said. “But I don’t see the game plan. I don’t understand how long they think that this can go on for.”
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said there has been no filibuster by the Conservatives, and accused the Liberals of working to politicize the committee.
“What we had here, frankly, is the effort by the Liberals to upend the agenda of the committee, to politicize it, and to try to bring up abortion at as many committees as possible,” Mr. Genuis said.
He added that if the committee agrees to an amendment he has put forth – that the study proposed by Dr. Fry not take place until after the committee’s studies on Ukraine, vaccine equity and Taiwan – he and his colleagues “would be quite happy to see the motion proceed to a vote.”
Liberal MP Rachel Bendayan also said the committee’s work has been delayed substantially, and pointed to several witnesses on the committee’s Taiwan study who had to be rescheduled.
“Given where we are in the parliamentary calendar, I fear that it’s an effective cancellation. I don’t know when they would be able to appear,” she said.
Dr. Fry, who is a physician, said women’s health is of deep concern to her, noting that she introduced a similar motion in December, 2021, but that it fell off the committee’s agenda.
“I’m not saying drop what we’re doing,” Dr. Fry said. “Let us make this one of our top, urgent issues, because every day women are dying.”
On June 2, the committee unanimously agreed to an amendment from Mr. Genuis to strike a mention of how many meetings should be set aside for the study. Since then, debate has largely centred on Mr. Genuis’s subsequent amendment to guarantee that the study not take place until certain other work is completed, as well as on a subamendment from Bloc Québécois MP Stéphane Bergeron.
Ms. McPherson said that Mr. Genuis’s amendment was unnecessary, as Dr. Fry’s motion was not time-bound and would not have required that the committee drop its existing work.
Debate has included detailed speeches by Conservative MPs, including last week when Rick Perkins spoke about his political career, from his memories around the collapse of the Soviet Union to a military coup in Haiti.
“We have happily listened to the résumé of the new member for the Conservative Party, but now we are veering off into discussions of Haiti,” Ms. Bendayan interjected eventually. “I would remind us all that we are dealing with a motion on the reproductive rights of women.”
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