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Abortion issue shakes Canada

RU-486 drug tests, stabbing of doctor heat up the debate

SHARE Abortion issue shakes Canada

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories — Canada, traditionally a liberal bastion in the abortion war, is suddenly gripped by a debate that has gone beyond ideology to an array of violent attacks and threats.

In one week, a right-wing politician with strong pro-life views was elected leader of Canada's main opposition party, a Vancouver gynecologist who performs abortions was stabbed and a death threat was telephoned to the leader of trials of an abortion drug. A man claiming to represent the "Baby Liberation Army" took responsibility for the stabbing and warned other doctors to "watch their backs."

Days earlier, Dr. Ellen Wiebe, the physician who leads the clinical trials of the French morning-after pill RU-486, was on national television, discussing the drug tests that started recently in four cities. Her appearances prompted one pro-life group to criticize RU-486 strongly.

Now, she has a police guard and refuses interviews. Police say her statements may also have spurred the attack on Dr. Garson Romalis, now in stable condition under police guard. His assailant escaped.

Romalis, whose procedures include late-term abortions for women whose fetuses show signs of severe birth defects, was attacked once before, in 1994. After that, two other Canadian doctors who perform abortions were shot and wounded. The suspect in all three cases, an American anti-abortion activist named James Charles Kopp, is on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.

And in politics, the abortion opponent Stockwell Day — a former youth pastor and Alberta treasurer — recently was chosen as leader of the Canadian Alliance, the nation's largest opposition party.

He has played down abortion lately, suggesting it could be decided in an unusual national referendum.

Still, some contend that his rise has spurred on the violent fringe.

But Day condemned the use of violence: "I've been very clear, very clear on this. How would you like me to spell it out? Denounce, condemn, outrageous, untenable."

Critics are unmoved.

"We have Stockwell Day, an evangelical minister, a very religious-right person, signing up members from the anti-choice movement in Canada and spouting anti-choice, anti-abortion rhetoric," said Marilyn Wilson of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League, "He has to take some responsibility for people taking action who share his beliefs."