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Abortion, Canadian Politics, and Countermobilization

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The ongoing Canadian election is fascinating from a political junkies standpoint, as it seems as if the reborn Conservative party could capture a plurality government, and it is unlikely that the Liberals–who seemed completed unsassailable one year ago–will get their fourth consecutive majority government. Even under current poll numbers, the Liberals could lose despite an overall lead in votes cast, because their support is more regionally diffuse.

Should the Liberals wipe out, focus will be placed on internal problems with the party. This is valid as far as it goes, but Chretien certainly wasn’t a popular leader when he won his third election. What really needs to be explained is why the Conservatives are now reunited and potentially viable. And one of the biggest reasons is that Stephen Harper has been smart enough to punt the abortion issue, specifically promising not to legislate on the issue. This has contributed to making them viable in Ontario.

What’s interesting about this is that Canada’s abortion policy–there are no legislative restrictions on abortion at all–was created by the judiciary, which struck down a national abortion law. While many people assert that judicial policy-making is much more “divisive” than when issues are resolved by legislatures, the court’s intervention is so popular 15 years after the fact that proposing even modest abortion legislation is electoral suicide. The lesson of this is obvious: people evaluate judicial policy-making the same way they evaluate other forms of policy-making. The idea that prior to Roe v. Wade American abortion policy was represented by a stable consensus is absurd, but a convenient myth for people who oppose abortion, because the legislative status quo was heavily slanted against the pro-choice majority. Abortion policy in the U.S. is divisive because it’s divisive; it doesn’t matter whether it’s courts or legislatures that do the policy-making. E. J. Graff write a clever article recently arguing that Goodridge is noRoe. True as far as it goes, but Roe was no Roe either.

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