Harper government stands alone on maternal health initiative

April 29, 2010

OTTAWA – The Conservative government is isolating Canada from the rest of the developed world and breaking with 25 years of Canadian tradition by imposing its anti-abortion ideology on developing countries, Liberal MPs said today.

“International Development Minister Bev Oda’s claim that our G8 partners have no issue with Canada’s change in policy is a misnomer,” said Liberal International Cooperation Critic Glen Pearson.  “Hillary Clinton expressed her disdain in Ottawa at the Conservative policy, British Foreign Minister David Miliband did the same – and all other G8 partners agree.”

Mr. Pearson expressed reservations that the change in Conservative policy now means that the government will cut off funding to Canadian NGOs that provide a range of essential and sometimes life-saving services to women and children – and not just abortion services.

According to a news report today, a new Children and Youth Strategy for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) fails to address the sexual health of young women in the developing world, despite the fact that sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and the dangers of pregnancy loom large in their lives. (Ottawa Citizen, April 29, 2010)

“The Conservatives are already cutting off funding to other programs that don’t meet their ideological pro-life agenda,” said Mr. Pearson. “By not including any references to sexual health in this strategy, they are ignoring the reality that the health of girls throughout the developing world is inextricably linked to their sexual health.”

Liberal Health Critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett said that the Conservatives’ reversal of the Canadian government’s long-standing tradition of supporting aid groups that provide overseas abortion assistance threatens to reduce the total amount of funding that the G8 nations will pledge to maternal and child health.

“Not only are the Conservatives re-opening the abortion debate by changing Canada’s long-standing position, but by putting Canada alone amongst all other G8 countries in taking this position, they’ve politicized their maternal health initiative, making it more difficult for other G8 countries to support it,” said Dr. Bennett.

“As a result, they’re putting millions of dollars in G8 donor funding in jeopardy, which means thousands of women and children could suffer. In war-torn regions of Africa, for example, rape is commonly used as a weapon. Why are they cutting funding to victims of rape in Africa?”

British Columbia MP Dr. Keith Martin, who has served as the party’s critic for the Canadian International Development Agency in the past, said that the Conservative government is imposing its values on other countries that have laws allowing abortion services.

“Everyone else around the G8 table is leaving ideology and politics out of maternal health because they know what’s most important is saving lives – while Stephen Harper’s Conservative government stands alone in imposing its values on poor women, men and children,” said Dr. Martin.

“Instead of being a global leader on access to this type of primary care – one that would reduce maternal and childhood mortality, and one that other G8 nations could follow – we have a government breaking with our G8 partners, cutting off funding to many groups doing important work, meaning the G8 will be less likely to support our initiatives, and in the end, women and children will suffer.”

“Liberals will stand up for Canadian NGOs that offer a full range of reproductive health services, and support our traditional position so that all G8 governments will provide more support to organizations that provide maternal health services to women and children,” concluded Mr. Pearson.