http://network.nationalpost.com — “Abortion is an inalienable right and the consensus expressed in the National Assembly reflects the consensus on this issue in Quebec society.”
With those words, Quebec Premier Jean Charest ushered in the unanimous passage of a motion by the Quebec legislature supporting “the right of women to free choice and free and accessible abortion,” and calling for the federal government to end its “ambiguity” on the issue.
At a time when his poll numbers have slipped precipitously, and his government faces allegations of corruption, the Premier is looking for an issue — any issue — with which he can paint himself as the defender of Quebec. Abortion has conveniently landed in his lap, thanks to the controversy over the federal Conservatives’ maternal health initiative.
But Mr. Charest’s cynical grandstanding does a grave disservice to the issue at hand. As columnist Tasha Kheiriddin pointed out in a Tuesday column, abortion is a complex matter, involving the balancing of competing, concurrent rights. In 1990, while a federal cabinet minister, Mr. Charest himself voted in favour of legislation which attempted to do just that — balance the rights to life and bodily integrity of both a pregnant woman and the fetus she is carrying.
For him to declare today that there is no discussion to be had on the issue — and that the attendant bioethics may be reduced to a bumper-sticker slogan — is nothing short of a disgrace. Politicians are supposed to lead debate, not quash it. We expect this sort of behaviour from the radical pro-choice activists who staff university student councils, but not from purportedly serious provincial legislators.
Mr. Charest is also wrong when he says that the debate is settled in Quebec. In an Angus Reid poll conducted in January, 31% of Quebec respondents thought abortion should remain legal but subject to greater restrictions than currently exist; 17% thought abortion should only be permitted in the case of rape or incest, or to save a woman’s life; while 3% thought abortion should be outlawed completely.
Mr. Charest’s stunt is emblematic of the juvenile sloganeering that substitutes for debate about abortion in this country. Shame on the Premier. And shame on those who voted with him.