© Diane Crocker
Frank Coleman said Monday night he won’t use political influence to make changes to the province’s abortion laws if or when he becomes premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I am not going to, in my role, dictate or abuse my position to create a change in the current funding model, or policy, that would have a negative impact on what I believe to be a person’s right to exercise their free will in this province,” Coleman, the lone candidate for the leadership of the province’s Progressive Conservative Party, told The Western Star.
Coleman was responding to a statement issued Monday by Patrick Hanlon, a representative of Pro-Life Newfoundland and Labrador. The group, which advocates for restrictions to abortion access, said it was aware of Colemans regularly participating in the annual Right to Life walk in Corner Brook.
Hanlon said in the statement, however, he did not realize those Colemans included the family of the province’s next premier.
“The pro-life movement is certainly gaining momentum, and when we see an individual such as Frank Coleman stepping forward, we see this as a good thing,” said Hanlon, who added he believes Coleman has an opportunity to take action to restrict women’s access to abortion.
“Ideally, we would like him to completely abolish abortion in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said, noting Coleman could follow Prince Edward Island’s lead on that front.
“However, being realists, we know that may not be achievable. We know that not every politician is as principled as Frank Coleman is. So we would like to see Frank use his influence to bring about some changes to make a bad situation just a little bit better.”
But Coleman told The Western Star he doesn’t want to exercise or exact control over people’s choices.
“I’m not imposing my view on people. I have a view and I believe in what I believe,” he said. “But I also respect that we live in a democracy and I respect people’s free will.”
Coleman confirmed last week in an interview with TC Media that he has attended the Right to Life event in Corner Brook every year. He could not attend last Friday’s event due to travel commitments.
‘Emotionally charged issue’
After news broke of his family’s participation in the event, social media debate swirled, with many wondering whether Coleman’s views on abortion would impact his role as premier.
“It is an emotionally charged issue and I recognize that,” said Coleman adding he wasn’t shocked to see people line up “pretty quick” on both sides.
“I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t have a view.”
Coleman said for him participating in the peaceful walk, which has been going on for some 28 years, is an attempt to quietly express his beliefs. He reiterated what he said in his press release Friday that he has absolute respect for people’s rights and free will.
“I would have expected I would have been afforded the same right to have and express a view on my own,” he said.
Coleman said this experience won’t cause him to shy away from expressing his opinion on other issues in the future.
“I’m not nervous, I’m not afraid,” he said. “I don’t intend to try to imitate some other province that wants to exact control. That is not my way.”
Coleman also said he doesn’t believe his view diminishes his respect for women’s issues.
“The fact that you have a view on one moral issue, that does not render you ... anti-women or you’re some sort of archaic individual.”
But, as Hanlon sees it, Coleman appears to be at odds with himself on the matter.
“We believe he still is intrinsically pro-life, but why he would make such a statement — it is puzzling,” Hanlon said. “We believe that you cannot hold one view privately and another view publicly if you have a good informed conscience.”
To help clear the air, Hanlon said he would like to see all provincial MHAs express their views on abortion.
Frank Coleman’s views on abortion have sparked controversy after he said Friday that he attends a rally each year in Corner Brook opposing abortion.
Coleman issued a statement saying he won’t deny his beliefs, but he does not intend to force his personal views on others.
But Pro-Life NL says it finds Coleman’s comments about not imposing his pro-life views puzzling.
Patrick Hanlon, a spokesman for the group, says a well-formed conscience does not allow for one view privately and another publicly, adding that he hopes Coleman’s conscience will guide him in using the influence he will wield as premier.
Coleman became the sole Progressive Conservative leadership contender last Thursday after his only competitor dropped out of the race.
Premier Tom Marshall replaced Kathy Dunderdale in January when she stepped down from the position, but he has done so only on an interim basis until a leadership convention scheduled for July.