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Motion 312 and reproductive rights: Pay attention to what Tories do, not to what they say

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Brent Rathgeber

In this era of routine political deceit, wise voters are advised to pay attention to what their elected representatives actually do, not what they say.

So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada tries to have it both ways on abortion in the debate surrounding Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth's Motion 312, which would have Parliament "study" the point at which a baby becomes a human being, this strategy should be seen for what it is: an effort to chip away at women's reproductive rights through the Parliamentary back door.

Tory heavy Jason Kenney says he's voting for it. Prime Minster Harper says he'll vote against it. But by allowing the vote to proceed later today they are tossing a hunk of red meat to their hard-right social conservative base, which would ban abortion outright in a moment if it ever got the chance.

So even though the motion will likely be defeated -- for the time being -- they are keeping the issue on the front burner and providing the foes of reproductive choice with opportunities to organize, raise money and generate publicity for their cause. Count on it that they also see a continuing fund-raising opportunity for themselves in this tactic.

But no matter how calculatedly they split their votes, the Harperites really can't be everybody's good buddy on this one, as the party's official caucus blogger, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, seemed to be trying to do in a jaw-dropping post on his Parliamentary website yesterday.

"I have come to the conclusion after years of deliberation and inner debate that I am both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life," Rathgeber wrote. (Emphasis added.) "That does not make me bi-polar; it means that this matter extremely complicated, with multiple methods of examination, resulting in potentially polarizing conclusions."

While it is indeed true this statement does not provide any evidence Rathgeber is bi-polar, what it does mean is that he'd really like to keep everyone voting for him and his party despite taking action on one side of an issue that is as polarizing in his riding as it is across Canada.

So it's what Rathgeber does, and not what he says, that really matters.

And what he's going to do today, as he stated elsewhere in the blog, is to vote for Woodworth's motion, the intention of which is obviously to tighten the screws on women's right to reproductive choice.

Rathgeber can try to justify his vote as he wishes, but he's taking a stand against reproductive choice. Period. No excuses. No opportunity for appeal.

Yet try he does, at length: "A void exists in Canadian law regarding this issue; Canadians are perhaps unique among western democracies in that we have neither sanctions nor regulations approving abortion or the rights of fetuses," Rathgeber bloviates. "The void in Canadian law means there are currently NO LEGAL restrictions regulating the process.  Theoretically, a very late term procedure, if performed, would not attract criminal sanction. …"

"Accordingly, given how divisive this issue is, I concede that if the matter were settled, it ought to remain so.  ….  So Parliament must do what the Supreme Court invited it to do in 1988: fill a vacuity in Canadian law, no matter how divisive and polarizing that debate will be." Yadda-yadda.

In this way, Rathgeber -- and by extension, the entire Conservative Party for which he so frequently speaks, even those parts of it that allow the vote and then say Nay -- tries to pass off his action to suppress the rights of all women as just a matter of procedural consistency.

Sorry, but that dog won't hunt!

A nice analytical hint about the Tories' real motives is contained in Rathgeber's previous blog post, about the death of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, in which the MP laments the decline in the quality of Parliamentary debate from a (largely imagined) golden age of substantial ideas to a contemporary one of fleeting and insubstantial sound-bites.

"Today, we live in the era of the seven-second sound-bite and reaction to the story becomes the next story. … Fulsome debate does not lend itself to the seven-second sound-bite," Rathgeber moans, as if it was the other guys responsible for this. "It was policy, not spin, that interested Premier Lougheed."

Unfortunately -- for all of us -- it's nothing but blatant spin that interests Rathgeber, Kenney, Harper and all the rest of the Parliamentary Conservative caucus on this particular issue.

But it really boils down to something as simple as this: no matter what they tell you, if you're concerned about women's rights, you’re foolish to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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