Originally written January 2018.
As it forms a platform and prepares for the 2019 provincial election, the United Conservative Party (UCP) and its leader, Jason Kenney, may face controversy over perceived anti-abortion policy.
Minister of Status of Women Stephanie McLean sees the UCP’s abortion policies as potentially dangerous because of these ties.
An abortion rights group, Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition, and the head of a progressive non-profit group, Progress Alberta, also are concerned about Kenney, pointing to his long record of approval by anti-abortion groups.
Should Kenney become premier in 2019, they do not trust his pledge not to cut access to abortion.
On the opposing side, an anti-abortion group recently tied to the UCP said that their aims are modest, and even supported by Albertans.
In an email interview, McLean said “it’s becoming clear just how extremist and reckless Jason Kenney and the UCP really are” on women’s reproductive rights.
Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, said that he “didn’t think [Kenney] could contain himself on this issue.”
He noted that the UCP leader, during his years in Parliament, had a perfect voting record from the Campaign Life Coalition, the Toronto-based anti-abortion lobby group.
Celia Posyniak, a member of the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition and director of the Kensington Clinic in Calgary, agreed.
“Until he entered provincial politics, Mr. Kenney never hid the fact that he is thoroughly anti-choice,” Posyniak said in an email.
But according to Cam Wilson, political coordinator for anti-abortion group The Wilberforce Project, Albertans should not worry about abortion rights being rolled back under Kenney.
“Jason Kenney is a politician of deep integrity, and we trust him when he says that his government won’t introduce abortion legislation,” said Wilson in an email interview.
On Jan. 24, the Calgary Herald reported that Wilberforce Project was encouraging members to get involved in developing UCP policies and nominating candidates.
The same week, the Ottawa-based anti-abortion group RightNow sent an email to its members encouraging them to pursue UCP internships that are open this summer.
Currently, the UCP’s platform makes no mention of abortion.
The party will vote and ratify on policy and governance documents during their Founding General Meeting and Convention in Red Deer from May 4-6.
Wilberforce Project’s initiative has the stated goal of ensuring the UCP “has good pro-life policies.”
When asked what those policies were, Wilson said they were “much more pedestrian than recent media would suggest.”
He said that two goals for the group were ensuring that “pro-life healthcare providers” were not “forced to participate in abortion or euthanasia”, and modernizing Alberta’s adoption laws.
Wilson also said he “[didn’t] think many voters are going to be hesitant about equality of conscience policy.”
Wilson said the group’s short-term objectives were to find “general consensus between pro-life Albertans and Albertan society at large as to policy” at the convention.
However, the Progress Alberta director had a different assessment of Alberta’s voters.
“[Anti-abortion policies are] not in line with what Albertans actually believe,” Kinney said.
According to Kinney, seemingly modest goals such as parental consent for abortions represent “the thin edge of the wedge for their issue of ultimately restricting everyone’s reproductive health care.”
McLean and Kinney both suggested that the UCP was concealing the depth of their anti-abortion ideology.
“Albertans deserve to know what happened in the backrooms of UCP leadership campaigns, and what promises were made to these anti-choice groups that worked to get [Kenney] elected,” said McLean.
Kinney, meanwhile, suggested the UCP leader would pursue anti-abortion policies as premier simply because he “believes he can win [the election] either way.”
Posyniak said that even if a UCP government does not actively touch abortion policies, they could still allow “current issues and inequities” in abortion and birth control to grow.
McLean said that since the NDP was elected in 2015, “we have been working hard to make lives better for families”, which includes reproductive rights.
“The 2019 election will be an important time for Jason Kenney to explain where he stands on women’s reproductive issues,” said the minister.