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Trudeau clarifies: pro-life incumbent MPs must vote pro-choice on abortion

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 15, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 15, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - Justin Trudeau now says incumbent Liberal MPs opposed to abortion will be required to support a woman's right to choose in any vote on abortion.

The Liberal leader clarified Wednesday his decree that anyone who wants to run for his party in the next election must be willing to vote pro-choice should the issue come up in the House of Commons.

When he first disclosed that position last month, Trudeau said incumbent MPs would be "grandfathered" and their beliefs "respected to a certain extent."

But he hedged when pushed to say whether three pro-life incumbents — Toronto MP John McKay, Prince Edward Island MP Lawrence MacAulay and Winnipeg MP Kevin Lamoureux — would be allowed to vote freely on the issue.

"Well, it's a tough one because one of the things that's a strength of the Liberal party is that we draw in voices from right across the country and on a range of perspectives," he said at the time.

Eventually, he added: "We will see what happens ... when that issue comes up."

The ambiguity allowed NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whose party has long been officially pro-choice, to mock Trudeau's "two-tier" approach to abortion. And it led to some evident confusion within Trudeau's own caucus.

MacAulay this week told a Charlottetown newspaper, The Guardian, that he took Trudeau's comments to mean he could continue to vote however he chooses on the matter.

Not so, Trudeau clarified Wednesday.

The "grandfathering" of incumbents applied only to the vetting process the party conducts for anyone seeking to run for a Liberal nomination, he said.

"The existing incumbent MPs were green lit (to seek nominations) originally through a different process that we respect. But the policy going forward is that every single Liberal MP will be expected to stand up for women's right to choose."

Even before Trudeau issued that public clarification, MacAulay took to social media to reverse himself and promise to toe the party line.

"I am personally pro-life and have long held these beliefs," he said in a series of tweets following a Liberal caucus meeting.

"However, I accept and understand the party position regarding a woman's right to choose. Despite my personal beliefs, I understand that I will have to vote the party position should this issue ever come up in the House of Commons."

Lamoureux said he had always understood that he'd have to vote the party line on abortion, despite his personal beliefs.

"That was my interpretation and I'm very comfortable with it," Lamoureux said in an interview.

He added that he's "passionate" about a whole range of issues and recognizes that "at the end of the day, in the parliamentary process, that you need to be able to work from within a caucus in order to get things done."

McKay declined to comment on Trudeau's clarification.

"I'm going to leave it as I've said what I've said, I'm not saying no more. I'm done," he said.

McKay apologized last month after he was secretly recorded by a Conservative sympathizer criticizing his leader's decree on abortion.

In the recording, McKay said he initially thought Trudeau's dictum was a "bozo eruption." He went on to suggest the leader's inner circle has "no political sense whatsoever" if it doesn't realize how "toxic" the abortion issue is.

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