Motion 408 against sex-selective abortion is an opportunity to engage Canadians and get them involved in the issue of pre-born human rights, groups lobbying for abortion legislation said.
Mike Schouten, campaign director of We Need a Law—a group campaigning to build support for abortion legislation—said his group has benefited from Motion 408 as well as Motion 312, which asked Parliament to study the definition of a human being and was defeated in September.
“We're using this as an opportunity to build our campaign a lot faster than we thought we would,” he said in an interview.
Motion 408, “that the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination,” was introduced by Conservative MP Mark Warawa on Sept. 26. On the same day, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's Motion 312, “Studying Canada’s 400 Year Old Definition of Human Being,” was voted down in the House.
Schouten said he is advocating for a late-term abortion law that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks and that he would rather “take it head on” rather than “stealthily through the back door.”
Woodworth had announced his intentions for his motion just before We Need a Law launched in May, Schouten said, which provided an opportunity for grassroots engagement.
“Motion 408 provides an opportunity for Canadians to bring the entire issue of pre-born human rights to the foreground again,” he said.
We Need a Law's mission is to “restrict abortion to the greatest extent possible,” he said. The group is looking for common ground with the majority of Canadians and to work from areas of consensus, which opposition to sex-selective abortion nearly is, he said.
“It's essentially an intentional effort not to polarize the debate,” he said.
Schouten registered in October on behalf of WeNeedaLAW.ca to lobby on “Motion 408, with respect to unfair discrimination against pre-born females by pregnancy termination,” the federal lobby registry says. The group hasn't reported any communications and Schouten said the lobbying side of its advocacy work is just beginning. He doesn't have any advocacy days planned on the Hill before Warawa's motion is debated in March.
“Obviously we would work with some of the MPs that we know are going toward the pro-life persuasion, that are being pressured by pro-choice Canadians or the Prime Minister's Office to vote against Motion 408 because it's perceived as opening up the abortion debate,” he said.
At least three other groups are registered to lobby with asks related to abortion, the federal lobbyist registry says. The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) is registered to lobby on “Abortion/Fetal Rights: Seeking to influence government policy as it relates to fetal rights,” as well as several other issues including pornography, prostitution, multiculturalism and media regulation, the registry says.
ARPA's website says its mission "is to educate, equip, and encourage Reformed Christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities."
The association has contacted Warawa eight times this year, most recently Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, the registry shows. It contacted Conservative MP David Sweet Oct. 22 and has also communicated with Conservative MPs Joy Smith, Rob Clarke, Brad Trost, and Rod Bruinooge, Liberal MP John McKay and former Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain.
ARPA executive director Mark Penninga said his group does grassroots advocacy, mostly within Canada's Reformed churches, to equip them with tools to respond to their MPs or to write editorials in their local newspapers.
“We try to get everyday Canadians involved on issues like Motion 408,” he said in an interview.
Penninga wouldn't comment on the nature of the meetings he's had with MPs. He said he's a former constituent of Warawa's and got to know him while living in his riding.
The Campaign Life Coalition's lobby registration says it “lobbies MPs... and strives to educate them on the pro-life position that all human life is sacred. Our goal is to have legislation enacted which will protect all human life from conception until natural death.”
“As part of these goals monthly meetings of pro-life MPs are co-ordinated,” the registration says.
The coalition hasn't reported any communications with public office holders since 2009. It is currently running a petition to support Motion 408 on its website.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has most of the same asks and the same wording as ARPA's registration, including its ask on abortion.
The group met with “all 305 members of Parliament” on Sept. 25, the registry says. The fellowship has had several other meetings with public office holders this year, most of them with MPs and also with PMO senior adviser Julie Gaudreau and special adviser for legal affairs and policy Benjamin Perrin.
WeNeedaLaw.ca has a pre-written letter to send to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in support of Motion 408 as well as a petition and a list of “Helpful Talking Points for Motion 408.”
Schouten said he started the campaign because “the political arm of the pro-life movement was accomplishing nothing.”
Pro-lifers wanted the “perfect law that protected all pre-born children,” he said. “We fully believe that, especially in politics, you probably can't find any area of the law where there's the perfect law. There's no such thing. Politics is the art of the possible.”
Schouten is a former member of the Conservative and Christian Heritage parties, and ran for Christian Heritage in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale in the 2011 federal election.
He said he disagrees with pro-lifers who thought Motion 312 was a failure because it didn't pass. The debate showed Canadians “are mature enough to have this discussion about a very sensitive topic. For years the debate has been so polarized that the average Canadian didn't even want to engage.”