Piere Poilievre is an old acquaintance of mine and the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party. He has closed the door on any legislation to limit abortion legality in Canada when the Conservatives have previously been open to at least some limits. Canada has the most radical abortion laws in the world – legal & fully government-funded for all nine months for any reason – and it would be good to pass at least some more limited bans.
Below, I give a bit of background, my letter, and Pierre’s response.
(I realize a minority of my usual readers are Canadian. I understand if non-Candians skip this one. One note for Americans: in Canada, all criminal law is federal, so any abortion restrictions would have to be federal, not provincial.)
Pierre & I: some background
In high school and at the local state university I went to right after, I was quite involved in political clubs, and speech and debate. One of the best debaters and an active member of such clubs was a young man named Pierre Poilievre. I’d even seen him at high school speech and debate tournaments, but we would just say hello and little more then. We were both right-wing but with different focuses: he was more of a libertarian & I was more focused on family values. We were both on the executive for the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta club on campus. We both actively supported Stockwell Day in the 2000 Candian Alliance leadership race: Pierre was on staff & I was often down at headquarters on the phone in the evening. We appeared together on the national CTV News, celebrating Day’s victory after the first round of voting in the leadership race. Both of us left the University of Calgary early: Pierre got a job working for the Canadian Alliance in Ottawa while I entered the seminary.
(Note for those who haven’t followed the last 25 years of Canadian politics: the Canadian Alliance was the main right-wing party in Canada at the time and a forerunner to the current Conservative Party Pierre heads; the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta is likewise the forerunner to the current United Conservative Party that is in power in Alberta. It is more complex, but that’s enough for outsiders to know.)
It’s interesting how some of his mannerisms always remained the same.
Pierre himself was born in a situation where abortion would often be practiced. Despite his name, he was born to a 16-year-old of Irish ancestry. He was adopted by French-Canadian school teachers who gave him his name.
My Open Letter
Dear Pierre Poilievre,
I don’t know if you remember me, but I remember you. When we were younger, we were both active in the Canadian Alliance and provincial Progressive Conservative political clubs at the University of Calgary. I remember a few moments with you from going for a beer below the Stockwell Day war room in downtown Calgary to both of us winning elections to club offices in the Spring of 2000. But my fondest memory was you teaching me a libertarian pro-life argument. You noted how the freedom of your fist to move stops at my face and that likewise, a woman could have control over her body, but that stops once it reaches the surface of another person’s body that just happens to be inside her at the moment. You indicated abortion was against the non-aggression principle. This memory is why I was surprised at your recent change on this issue.
At the time, we were different branches of Canadian conservatism and that has led us down different paths. In university, you were more in the libertarian wing, and I was more in the family values wing. Both of us left the U of C before we graduated: you went to Ottawa to work for Stockwell Day, and I felt a call to become a Catholic priest. I had a strong indication in my call to give up any partisan politics, but as a priest I sense I can still offer a moral voice.
You have slowly risen up the ranks to become the Conservative leader and likely the next Prime Minister. From our relationship back in the day, this does not surprise me as you always had a smart mind, a quick wit, and a good ability in debate. When I would see parliamentary debates where you often dramatically take off your glasses, I remember it as your classic move when debating in high school and university.
Now, over 20 years later, I have come back to you to ask you to reconsider your current views on the politics of abortion, and I ask you to be open to views more in accord with those of your youth.
In 2020, you told La Presse that not only would you not support any restrictions on abortion, but you would also squash private members bills doing so. In 2021, you even voted no to a bill that would protect girls in the womb from being killed because they were girls. This is contrary to most Canadians who when polled think sex-selective abortion is wrong.
I realize that the ideal I would like around abortion legislation is not pragmatically or politically possible in Canada now, and you may not even personally support it, but I suggest that you can be truer to your earlier convictions by looking at restrictions to abortion along the line of what exists in Western Europe and Scandinavia, where it is banned somewhere in the 12-18 week period. Canada is rather unique for a developed country in having no restrictions on abortion.
Restricting late abortion is not contrary to women’s rights. Canada often places well when looking at the best countries to be a woman in. But in rankings by the World Economic Forum, US News, and several others, a few countries always outrank us. Sweden, Norway, and Finland are the only three that were above Canada across the board. Sweden bans abortion after 18 weeks, while Norway and Finland do so after 12 weeks. The only other places in the developed world to have no gestational limits on abortion are certain US states, and Canada is not the USA.
The current policy is government-funded abortion in all nine months of pregnancy for any reason. Recent polling says that Canadians are split between that current policy and some kind of restrictions, with a slight majority preferring some kind of reasonable restrictions like I propose. A 2022 ResearchCo poll found a slight favor for at least some kind of restrictions (47% vs. 44%):
When asked about abortion, 44% of Canadians (-4) think it should be legal under any circumstances, while 37% (+1) believe the practice should be legal only under certain circumstances. Only 10% of Canadians (+2) believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.
A 2020 Angus Reid poll found even higher numbers with 54% wanting at least some kind of restriction: “44 per cent of those surveyed believed abortion should be legal in some circumstances, 32 per cent said when the woman wanted it and 22 per cent said it should be prohibited unless the mother’s life was at risk.” Reporting on this, the National Post noted, “A vast majority of Canadians believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy.” It also noted, “Two-thirds would back a law requiring women seeking abortion to wait 24 hours between counseling and having the procedure done,” yet nothing like that exists.
The kind of silence done by politicians in the country also goes contrary to the population’s wishes. From the same National Post article: “When told Canada is unique in the world in that it has zero legal boundaries on abortion, half of Canadians think politicians should at least be willing to talk about providing some regulatory framework.” Why not follow the majority voice and bring it up with reasonable restrictions on the practice?
Even if you personally think some abortion is OK, and you can’t propose an abortion law contrary to popular belief and become Prime Minister, it’s hard to support legalizing abortion past viability or later in pregnancy. I think a majority would support a restriction in the 12-18 week range if explained to them.
I ask you to consider a possible change in your policy to allow rather limited restrictions on abortion, more in line with the rest of the developed world and the countries that most Canadians want to emulate. We are humanitarians who help out the least and the oppressed: who is more the least than babies about to be born?
Sincerely, your old friendly acquaintance,
Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC
Response from Pierre Poilievre
Dear Mr. Schneider:
Thank you for your correspondence.
While my government will not introduce or pass a law banning abortions, there are many other ways to support women who want to bring a child into the world. I do not believe that abortion should be the only option available to women faced with an unexpected pregnancy.
We can ease the challenges of putting a child up for adoption by supporting women through all nine months of pregnancy. I will also stand up against attempts by the government to attack organizations that help pregnant women.
I believe focusing on bills that promote adoption and help pregnant women through crises would do greater good.
Once again, thank you for writing. It was great to hear from you.
The Hon. Pierre Poilievre, P.C., M.P.
Leader of the Official Opposition
Please pray for Canada. Nobody with the possibility of power seems willing to stand up for the most vulnerable in the womb and offer even some basic protections like making sure babies aren’t killed because they are girls. The end of politics is the common good and Canada is radically lacking in this on abortion.