Lewis to fight Liberal plan to axe charity status for anti-abortion pregnancy centres

·4 min read

OTTAWA — Leslyn Lewis, in one of her first acts as an MP on Parliament Hill, says she plans on inviting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a pregnancy centre that risks losing its charity status over opposing abortion.

The newly elected Ontario representative revealed her plans to a recent crowd of demonstrators who gathered in Ottawa to rally against the Liberal government's promise to remove charity status for anti-abortion organizations.

During the election campaign, Trudeau ran on a platform pledge to no longer provide this status for organizations that provide "dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy."

It listed crisis pregnancy centres as an example, which proponents of access to abortion services say offer incorrect information about the procedure.

"We know that regardless of the fact that they may distribute some diapers, they have impacts on people's access to health care, and they have public health impacts in terms of delayed access to care," said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said of crisis pregnancy centres.

In a statement, Lewis, a former Conservative leadership contender who was heavily backed by the party's social conservative members, said Trudeau ran on a plan that required "adherence (to) the Liberal Party of Canada's illiberal values test," as she touted pregnancy centres for offering supports to women.

"Too often, women find themselves in a position where they feel that the circumstances of life are pushing them to make a decision they don't want to make," she said.

"As a member of Parliament, I will be opposing the proposed illiberal, anti-women policy that would seek to strip charitable status from organizations … that don't pass Justin Trudeau's values test," Lewis said her statement.

In a statement, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, repeated the wording of the Liberals' platform pledge, adding only that "more information will be available in due course."

In an interview, charity tax lawyer Adam Aptowitzer warned moving on the promise would be a politically loaded process that could open the country up to a debate about what counts as "charitable" in Canada.

"They surely do not want to get into that discussion because that is really fraught with difficulty," he said.

Campaign Life Coalition, a national organization opposed to abortion, has nonetheless been mobilizing against the promise. On Wednesday, it presented petitions to Lewis, as well as other MPs that hail from the federal Tories' social conservative ranks.

One of those was Alberta MP Arnold Viersen, who appeared alongside Lewis at that day's Parliament Hill demonstration. He told the crowd they would fight the move "tooth and nail in the House of Commons."

How much Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole plans to back that battle, however, remains unclear.

Asked about the Liberal pledge on Thursday, O'Toole repeated he supports reproductive rights, and that he doesn't believe in politicizing health issues.

"If anyone is at crisis, for any reason, whether it's addiction, homelessness, an issue related to choice for a woman, we need to bring people together, not divide them. And that's what Conservatives will try and do."

Several years ago, the Conservatives mounted a vocal opposition to the Liberal government's requirement that applicants to its summer-jobs program needed to pledge support for abortion access to qualify for funding.

Last month, a Federal Court judge dismissed a legal challenge against that rule, which came from Toronto Right to Life.

The social conservative grassroots of the Conservative party have been some of the fiercest critics of O'Toole because they say he backed down from promises he made to them when he was running for the leadership last year, where he directly appealed to supporters of Lewis.

Despite what was viewed as an impressive showing during the race, Lewis was left on the backbenches when O'Toole named his picks for critics earlier in the month.

O'Toole says as Conservative leader, he's a supporter of reproductive rights.

Most of his caucus voted in favour of a private member's bill from Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall in June that proposed to ban physicians from performing what is known as sex-selective abortion.

The bill was defeated easily after Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs characterized it as a Trojan horse to erode reproductive rights.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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