Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Harper’s “help" for women: no abortions, no contraceptives?

UPDATE: Hello to readers from Full Comment. You can find my reply to Kelly's post here:
Kelly McParland and Conservatives: Missing the point on abortion.

When Michael Ignatieff last week called on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to pledge that access to safe abortion services will be part of the government’s ballyhooed G8 initiative to generate international support for improving maternal and child care in the developing world, he was attacked by the critics.

Even though he was calling for an affirmation of what has been longstanding Canadian development policy under both parties – not to follow the George W. Bush route of tying development funds to personal moral and religious beliefs – Ignatieff was attacked by the critics for raising irrelevancies, for playing politics and trying to politicize the initiative.

It turns out, however, that his fears were far from unfounded. In a story in Embassy Mag (behind a subscriber firewall, but I’ve pasted the relevant sections below) Canadian International Development Minister Bev Oda confirms safe abortions, and even contraception, will not be part of the Conservative push on maternal and child care:
Oda says no abortion, contraceptives support
But the WHO reports that lack of both contributes to unnecessary deaths.

CIDA Minister Bev Oda says the government's child and maternal health strategy will not address unsafe abortions in developing countries or support access to family planning and contraceptives. Rather, she said that to ensure the aid agency remains effective, "it's the lives of mothers and babies that we are focused on."

But with nearly 15 per cent of all maternal deaths being attributed to such abortions, and up to 40 per cent of maternal deaths preventable with access to family planning and contraception, experts and critics say support for these areas is essential.

On Jan. 28, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that rallying support for maternal and child health would be a major focus of Canada's G8 presidency. In developing countries, more than 500,000 women die each year in pregnancy and 9 million children die before the age of five.


When asked about support for contraceptives and family planning in an interview last week, Ms. Oda said: "In order to maintain our focus, again our focus is on maternal and child health and mortality rates.

"We want to make sure that mothers, pregnant women, are healthy and can have safe births, and that the birthing process is made safer because if you look at the number of births during the actual birthing process, that's where a number of maternal deaths happen," she added.

"We also want to make sure when babies are born, they are born as healthy as possible so that they can live through their early age, up to the age of five, with as strong and good health as possible."

The decision by the Harper Conservatives to not include addressing abortion safety as part of their effort would seem to question just how sincere their effort to address maternal and child care really is, not to mention how effective it would be, according to the experts:
A recent report from the New York-based Guttmacher Institute found that 20 million unsafe abortions are performed in developing countries each year, and World Health Organization spokeswoman Olivia Lawe-Davies said 68,000 women die because of unsafe abortions said.

"It is also estimated that up to 40 per cent of maternal deaths could be averted with access to family planning or modern contraception," Ms. Lawe-Davies wrote in an email last week.

A recent Amnesty International report said a lack of safe and confidential access to information and modern contraceptive methods in Burkina Faso, for example, has contributed to early and unwanted pregancies as well as life-threatening abortions.

"Family planning is severely underfunded," the report reads, "partly because, until recently, international donors and the government have concentrated on other public health priorities, notably the AIDS pandemic, polio and malaria."


Liberal CIDA critic Glen Pearson says a narrow focus on pregnant women doesn't address many of the root problems associated with high maternal death rates in developing countries.

"The whole problem for women in these countries is they have no access to condoms," said Liberal CIDA critic Glen Pearson. "It's a nightmare out there for a woman to be able to just protect herself from even getting pregnant, or once she's pregnant and complications develop, from her going through her own abortion procedure and other things they do. You can't make it about just once the child is in the womb."
The idea of a major push to address maternal and child care is a noble one. But ideology can’t be allowed to dictate the program and the help we’re going to give to women in need. We should listen to the experts on the ground about what is needed and what will be effective to meet the goals we’re trying to achieve and let them direct the resources accordingly.

That has always been the Canadian policy, and if the Conservatives desire to address this challenge is legitimate, it shouldn’t change it now. Sadly, though, it seems that the trend of the Harper Conservatives allowing ideology to guide development and aid decisions is ever expanding.

UPDATE: In this YouTube clip, Conservative backbencher Shelly Glover confirms that, in a reversal of longstanding Canadian policy, safe abortion will not be part of the government program. And conservative anti-abortion groups are claiming credit for the policy reversal, using the clip to encourage donations to the The Harper Party.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


fern hill said...

Thanks for this, Jeff.

Big surprise, eh?

Off to blog.

WesternGrit said...

Great post. Back from vacation in Paris, and just catching up on local politics. We can learn a few things from the French...

Unknown said...

Well, there is it, out in the open. He says nothing about it for 4 years, and then, when he really needs to rally his troops, he uses the abortion issue to claw his way back into the good books of the alliance church.

DavidA said...


Got anything interesting or worthwhile to write about?

CanadianSense said...

Interesting use of facts. How many women and children die of malaria, and the decision to stop the use of DDT by "democratic" or "left wing" governments?

G.W.B. did a great deal to help Africa and population control was not on his list of priorities.

Are you suggesting the wealth goverments are responsible for millions of deaths as a result of malaria not being addressed with a DDT alternative?

It is my understanding the priorities have shifted to cover basic needs like access to clean drinking water, food and shelter.

I am not sure if the Liberals want to go to the Polls with a government funding requirement for Pro-Abortion position in the third world.

Dauphin said...

Abortion is Canada's shame. It's a violation of the most fundamental human right, the destruction of innocent life where it should be safest.

Pro-choice advocates are forced to hide behind vacuous slogans like "right to choose" and "reproductive rights" because they know their argument has no moral force. There is no justification for taking innocent human life.

Here's a link to Michael Coren's recent talk at Queen's University entitled "Abortion: Canada's National Shame"

Those who ignore this grave and ongoing violation of human rights need to wake up and fight it. It's particularly shameful that anyone should see fit to export abortion to foreign countries, or present it as a matter of "health".

Suzanne said...

As if pushing abortion in the third world isn't ideological.

Helping women deliver children safely and giving them access to vaccinations and clean water is the way to go.

Ireland and Poland are areas where abortion is illegal but maternal mortality rates are low. We got that in the bag without abortion.

And by the way, I'm sure countries who recognize the right to life of unborn children will love having Canada telling them they need to killing their unborn children to save the mothers. Colonialism anyone?

Steve V said...

I love how Conservative apologists just LAP up Harper's political manipulation as sincere.

My challenge to find ONE sentence in Harper's past where he championed these SUDDENLY vital issues is still on the table. Takers, apologists, koolaid drinkers, anyone?

Mindless sheep.

fern hill said...

'Pushing' abortion. Right.

More idiotic ReformaTory talking points.

As Jeff says, Canadian foreign policy used to be guided by experts and by people on the ground, not by Christofascists like REAL Women and SUZY ALL-CAPS.

Women die from unsafe abortions. How is trying to address that not part of maternal health?

And the women who die often have other children who are put at extreme risk with the death of their mother. How is trying to address that not part of children's health?

Harper is a complete hypocrite. Taking on the mantle of 'Motherhood Steve' while trying not to alienate the fetus fetishists.

Well, it is just not gonna fly.

CK said...

"Ireland and Poland are areas where abortion is illegal but maternal mortality rates are low. We got that in the bag without abortion.

And by the way, I'm sure countries who recognize the right to life of unborn children will love having Canada telling them they need to killing their unborn children to save the mothers. Colonialism anyone?"

Really rich, Suzy.
How do you know places like Ireland and Poland aren't giving themselves very rudimentary abortions done in clandestine dark spooky places or using the ol' wire hanger?

Suzy, once again off the mark. Iggy (or Most of Canada) isn't telling them they have to have abortions if they become covered. They're offering safe abortions as a choice for those who want them.

And not even subsidizing birth control? Hell, there are Christian relief groups furnishing birth control.

Most children in Africa die by the age of 5, usually from starvation, preventable diseases, and squalid living conditions. Where is your outrage for those poor souls?

Oops! I forgot, for prolifers, life stops at Birth.

As you were

Rotterdam said...

Liberal litmus test on foreign aid, must include abortion.

First the western elites took away the DDT, millions died from Malaria.

Now the want to eradicate the third world by aborting them. Planned Parent founder Margaret Sanger would be proud.
Maybe the third world want to live.

Show some decency, focus on nutrition, food, immunization etc.

Anonymous said...

Ignatieff: paying to abort third-world babies is my new hill to die on.

Harper: checkmate. again. dumbass.

Sheesh, Iggy is worse than Dion!

lyrical said...

The women of Ireland go to England to have abortions.

Harper's ideology is mainly from outside our country and we need to nip it in the bud ASAP. It's religulous. If he continues on this path, he should allow a lot more immigration to our country, because he's hastening the overpopulation of poorer countries.

Al Franken gave a great speech on choice recently.

Unknown said...

CK - Don't let the facts get in the way of your ideology!

The child mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa is roughly 166 per 1000 live births. Atrocious, yes, but not even close to your ridiculous statement that "most children in Africa die by the age of 5".

If access to contraception and abortion are, as you argue, the preeminent solution to this awful problem, then how can you explain the vast discrepancy in childhood mortality rates between South America and Africa?

Clean drinking water, adequate food, sterile medical supplies, access to trained medical professionals - all of these can have a profound and immediate impact on the lives of women and children in the developing world, yet a good initiative is put at risk so that Ignatieff can score cheap political points at home.

That's shameful, and I say that as someone who is pro-choice.

CK said...

blur007: many children do die before age 5 in places like Africa; that comes from such organizations as UNICEF and PLAN.

Again, the idea of implementing abortion or something even most basic like birth control would be of utmost help. All about having choices; a way out. No one is suggesting to subject forced abortions.

And what is so wrong with birth control?

And another thing, I am no fan of Iggy's, but why is that Stevie gets pretty much a free ride; he can score all the cheap political points he likes (ie anti-semite attack flyers on Liberals): All his attack ads are even applauded. But Iggy so much as behaves like an opposition leader who expresses disagreement with St-Stevie, he is merely scoring cheap points? Explain this double standard, please?

I too think there was more to this: his own liberal ministers even clammed up fairly quick.

I would go so far as to say Iggy is trying to bring out the Reform and NCC ultra-right Stevie to the forefront.

Unknown said...

Hi, CK.

Sadly, you're right - many children in Africa do die before the age of five, but not most as your earlier post stated. The infant mortality rate in Africa is around 1/6. I think that we can both agree, though, that it is disturbingly high and intolerable in a world that has such great wealth as ours.

I completely agree with you that access to contraception (especially) and abortion (not as much) would improve the lives of women in these countries and I support funding such initiatives. That said, on the list of critical items that will have the most impact of the lives of women an children in the developing world, both items rank well down the list. Many of these countries lack even the most basic sterile medical facilities!

At the end of the day, if a Canadian leader (of any party) is going to make the health of these women and children a top priority for the G8, I am for it.

(I'll try to respond to the rest of your post later).

Unknown said...

CK (continued) - I have to respectfully disagree regarding Harper getting a free ride from the media. I think that he receives the same amount of criticism/scrutiny that previous PM's have. I can tell you that there is a definite feeling on the right, though, that Harper is generally treated unfairly in the media (I don't agree, but I think that demonstrates how much/little bias you see in the media is coloured by your own biases).

Obviously, the job of the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition is to "oppose", however there are times when partisanship becomes entirely self-serving.

Holding Harper to account is one thing, trying to derail a program that will benefit some of our world's most desperate people is something entirely different.

Let's be proud that Canada is taking a leadership role in improving the health of women and children rather than making this yet another partisan poo-flinging fight.

Unknown said...

Well I like your post as well as the encouragement towards the woman, no abortions no contraceptives, the one thing comes in my mind is permanent contraception, tubal reversal is a procedure by which woman has a chance to pregnant again. is all about this. Thanks.