On Tuesday, Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Party leader, made some really stupid comments about abortion. He was responding to Harper’s proposed maternal health initiative for women in the developing world. Apparently, Iggy thought that he could score some political points by insisting that unborn babies be permitted to be torn from limb to limb:
In a press scrum following a lengthy Liberal caucus meeting Ignatieff expanded on the theme, noting that during “the Bush regime” federal funds were prohibited from groups which performed or advocated for abortion. “We don’t want us to go that way,” Ignatieff said. “We want to make sure that women have access to all the contraceptive methods available to control their fertility because we don’t want to have women dying because of botched procedures, we don’t want to have women dying in misery.”
The release says: “Liberals are concerned that Stephen Harper’s maternal health initiative will not fund organizations that advance women’s rights to reproductive choice and access to birth control.” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is quoted as saying, “So we want a clear commitment that women’s reproductive rights – and the organizations that promote them – will not be jeopardized by the Conservative caucus.”
Claiming to speak for the entire Liberal caucus, Ignatieff praised Harper’s maternal health initiative, but added that “the one thing we feel very strongly about is that if you are going to do that and do it seriously, the full range of access to reproductive health services should be made available.” Asked for clarification that he meant abortion, Ignatieff said, “We’ve had a pro-choice consensus in this area for a couple of generations and we want to hold it.” (Source)
When Harper proposed the initiative, the political and cynical side of me was thinking, “Harper is setting Iggy up to ensure Iggy doesn’t attract back the Catholic vote“. And sure enough, Iggy took the bait. And now he has earned the rebuke of the Archbishop of Toronto. Whatever the Liberal Party establishment may think of the Catholic Church, it’s not good politics to upset the constituency you are trying to win back to secure electoral victory.
Harper and Ignatieff hold basically the same position on abortion, and both of them know, that it’s one of those slippery issues that can derail a campaign. In the past, the “abortion noose” has always been around the Conservative neck, but these days, with the tide turning against abortion, the noose has slipped off the Tories and is now encircling the Grits. If they insist on pushing abortion on the third world even more than Canada already does now, the Liberals risk alienating a constituency which is key to their electoral success. That’s why Chretien and Dion were very careful about what they said about the issue. They said it quietly and very rarely.
Harper played Ignatieff like a finely tuned violin. Harper has a very good “feel” for where abortion is right now. He senses that it is starting to slide in popularity, so if he can push his political opponent into promoting something with no political upside (only downside), then he’ll have succeeded very well indeed.
Little did Iggy know that his comments will only make it that much harder to win back the constituency that he needs to secure power.