Will Stephen Harper majority put the abortion debate back in the spotlight?

Thousands of anti-abortion protesters filled the lawn of Parliament Hill Thursday for a "pro-life" rally marking the 1969 passage of legislation that legalized the medical procedure in Canada.

In their midst were several Conservative MPs including Royal Galipeau, Stephen Woodworth, David Sweet and Scott Reid.

A member of the Campaign Life Coalition told CBC's Julie VanDusen there are 65 "pro-life" Tory MPs in the House of Commons and we should expect a private members bill restricting abortion by the fall.

For his part, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been unequivocal about his position on the issue: "As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate," he said during the election campaign.

"The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister."

If a private members bill was introduced, Harper could require all Conservative MPs to vote in accordance with the party's position, known as a whipped vote, or face censure or expulsion from caucus.

Would Conservative MPs support Harper and follow the party line?

Tim Powers of the Toronto Star recently wrote, "With a majority — and a policy to allow his members free votes on conscience — a private members bill aimed at criminalizing abortion could, at least theoretically, get through the Commons."

In April 2010, Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge tabled table a private members bill criminalizing "coercing" a woman into abortion. Bill C-510 was handily defeated but 10 Conservative cabinet ministers voted in favour of it despite Harper's "strong recommendation" his caucus members vote against it.

Joyce Arthur, the executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition, said the vote on C-510 gives the anti-abortion movement hope.

"It's important to point out that Harper's promise not to legislate doesn't mean much because he can't even control his cabinet, let alone his caucus," she told iPolitics in an email.

"There was no indication his 10 cabinet members who voted in favour of Bill C-510 were disciplined . . . which means his cabinet would have no compunction against disobeying Harper in the future on this issue."

Whatever the outcome, it seems the abortion issue is very much an issue again, whether the prime minister likes it or not.

(CP Photo)