By Steve Scherer
UPPER KINGSCLEAR, New Brunswick, Oct 3 (Reuters) - The leader of Canada's opposition Conservative Party, accused by opponents of hiding hard-line views on abortion ahead of a federal election, on Thursday said he was "pro-life" while repeating a promise not to limit a woman's right to choose.
The comments by Andrew Scheer marked the first time he has directly addressed the issue since the election campaign started last month. Polls show he has a chance of defeating Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Oct. 21.
Trudeau repeatedly pressed Scheer to publicly state his views during a French-language debate on Wednesday. Scheer sidestepped the question, stating simply as prime minister he would not reopen the matter.
"My personal position has always been open and consistent," Scheer, a 40-year-old father of five, told reporters during a campaign stop in the Atlantic province of New Brunswick.
"I am personally pro-life, but I've also made the commitment as leader of this party it is my responsibility to ensure that we do not reopen this debate," he said.
There are few restrictions on abortion in Canada and the Conservatives have traditionally steered clear of the topic, fearing they could alienate progressive voters.
Scheer, whose Conservatives include legislators and officials who hold anti-abortion views, accuses the Liberals of trying to use the matter as a wedge issue. Many social Conservatives backed Scheer's leadership bid in 2017.
Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Montreal on Thursday before Scheer made his remarks, insisted his rival needed to state whether he believed in a woman's right to choose.
"Who is he going to fight for? I am going to fight for everyone and I think women can see Andrew Scheer will not be there to defend their rights," he said.
Conservative officials insisted on Thursday that Scheer's views on the matter were already well known.
In 2015, women voters played a central role in electing Trudeau, who now faces a tight bid for re-election following a series of scandals. The latest public opinion polls show the Conservatives and Liberals are neck-and-neck ahead of the vote.
Trudeau, a self-described feminist who has made a point of championing women's rights internationally, told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in May that Canada was concerned about some U.S. states restricting women's access to abortions. (Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa Writing by Kelsey Johnson and David Ljunggren; Editing by Tom Brown)
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