REGINA — A candidate for premier of Saskatchewan is walking back his anti-abortion comments while some female politicians and women's groups say abortion should no longer be up for political debate.
Saskatchewan Party legislature member Ken Cheveldayoff told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that he believes life begins at conception and that abortions should be restricted only to women whose lives are in jeopardy. He was then asked about victims of sexual assault.
"No," he said. "I think it's when the life of the mother is in jeopardy —that's where I would draw the line."
On Thursday, he released a statement saying he wanted to clarify his comments. He said "in jeopardy" reflects factors other than health.
"Let me be very clear — I believe that any victim of sexual assault has the right to make the choice to have an abortion or not," he said. "I have the utmost respect for women ... I understand there are circumstances where abortion is necessary."
Cheveldayoff, a former minister of parks, culture and sport, is one of the leading candidates to replace Brad Wall, who is retiring after a decade as premier. A new leader for the Sask. Party is to be chosen Jan. 27.
Cheveldayoff and two other male candidates — former environment minister Scott Moe and former Conservative MP Rob Clarke — recently talked about their anti-abortion views with the Ottawa-based group Right Now, which is dedicated to electing anti-abortion politicians. The interviews were posted online.
Moe talked about supporting a caucus discussion on parental notification for youth seeking abortions. Clarke, who is Indigenous, said his culture doesn't support abortion.
In question period Thursday, Wall said the province's stance on abortion hasn't changed and it is largely a federal issue.
"There's no contemplation of a change," he said.
NDP Opposition Leader Nicole Sarauer said she was happy to hear Wall's response but is worried that the men who want his job seem to be living in the 1950s.
"I worry about what the future looks like when (Wall) is gone," she said.
The two women running to replace the premier didn't respond to Right Now's interview requests.
"I declined because this is not an issue in 2017," said former social services minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor. Wwomen she talks to are most concerned about jobs, education and domestic violence, she said.
"This is not a conversation that women in Saskatchewan want to go back to. We've moved on and frankly most men have also moved on."
Alanna Koch, the premier's former deputy minister, said in a statement that she supports a woman's right to choose and, if she becomes premier, she won't put abortion up for discussion.
Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said she almost laughed when she heard that the male candidates had made anti-abortion comments.
"We've got three men talking as if their personal opinions should be a factor in whether women should have access to abortion. This issue was decided in 1988 by the Supreme Court," she said. "It's almost rather insulting."
"These fellas are keeping themselves busy," said Heather Bear, a vice-chief with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. "Matters pertaining to women has been the business of women."
She said Clarke's statement that Indigenous people don't believe in abortion is wrong.
"It's not only careless, but it's disrespectful for anyone to make a blanket statement like that."
ErinMarie Konsmo with the Native Youth Sexual Assault Network said family planning, including ways to abort pregnancies with traditional medicine, has always existed in Indigenous culture.
She said she and other Indigenous women think Clarke doesn't know what he's talking about.
"This person needs to go talk to his aunties."
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton
The Canadian Press