Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kelly McParland and Conservatives: Missing the point on abortion

My conservative friend (small c) Kelly McParland over at the National Post has taken some issue with my post yesterday on the Conservative government’s decision to no longer include access to safe abortion (he doesn’t weigh-in on their also pulling contraceptives) from their otherwise laudable (and not at all political) push to improve maternal and fetal health in developing countries.

Here’s a taste from Kelly:

Even for Liberals, though, this is appalling stuff. The government proposes a program to help improve health care for impoverished women, and the Liberals try to turn it into a question of abortion politics.


So just what is the Liberal plan, then? If some impoverished country refuses to guarantee abortion rights, they get nothing? Jeez, way to go Michael Ignatieff! Cut off the needy unless they toe the line with Liberal party values. That's Harvard thinking all right. Or maybe it's Yale thinking, because didn't Bush go to Yale?

Yeah, what? No. It would seem what we have here is a failure to communicate. I only went to Carleton myself (the Harvard of Ottawa South), I don’t know where Kelly studied, but it needn’t have been Cambridge to see that’s not at all what we’re talking about. And I don’t know who is.

Let me break down what we are talking about -- slowly, with Carleton-level words, and bullets – so we can move the debate onto non-fictional grounds and carry on from there with a degree of rationality.

  • There are many factors that contribute to maternal and fetal health. Poverty. Access to medical services. Food and water. Education. Proper natal care.
  • Part of that is access to contraceptives. Contraception is an important part of family planning. Access to contraceptives is lacking in many poor and undeveloped countries, leading to larger families that are unable to care for them, prolonging the cycle of poverty. That’s why providing access to contraceptives to give these women options and choice is important to improving maternal health.
  • So is access to safe abortion services. The fact is, many women will seek access to abortion services, whether it is safely available or not. Forcing them into backalleys and unsafe environments leads to injuries and death, and is a major detriment to maternal health in developing countries. That’s why experts agree giving women the option and choice to access safe abortion services is important to improving maternal health.
  • No one is talking about forcing abortions or condoms on anyone. The law and regulations of the host country are obviously the final word. And no one is talking about denying funding to countries that don’t allow abortion. We’re saying it should (continue to) be part of our programs in those countries where it is permitted.

Back to the politics, there is one fundamental fact that Kelly seems to have overlooked, and it exposes his Liberal wedge argument as ridiculous: all Ignatieff and the Liberals are doing is calling for the current policy of the Government of Canada to be continued and respected.

That’s right. Today, as part of its development initiatives in developing countries around maternal and child health, Canada funds access to abortion and contraceptive services in those countries where it’s legally permissible. That’s a policy that predates the Liberal government by the way, because the experts in the field say it’s important and effective and necessary. We think that should be continued.

The wedge is coming from Stephen Harper, Bev Oda and the Conservatives. The Conservatives want to change that policy. Indeed, they have admitted that they are changing the policy, and will no longer include funding for abortion and contraception as part of our development policy and funding for maternal and child health.

I oppose that change. So does Michael Ignatieff, experts in maternal and child health, and millions of Canadians.

And that change isn’t some figment of our fevered Liberal imaginations. Just ask the anti-abortion groups claiming credit for reversing the government policy and raising donations for the Conservatives in gratitude.

It is a conscious decision by the Conservative government, an apparent sop to their socially conservative base, and one that has nothing to do with their stated goal of improving the lot of women in developing countries, and everything to do with their ideological and political views.

Now, you can argue abortion is wrong, and that’s a perfectly legitimate debate to have. My own view is I support a woman’s right to choose, up to a certain point in pregnancy or if her life is at risk, but I think we should all work to make abortion as rare and unnecessary as possible.

It is, however, the law of the land in Canada. And I have no indication the Conservatives want to change that law for Canadians. So I don’t think we should deny funding for something that is legal in Canada and legal in the host country and effective with the stated goal of the program, merely on ideological grounds.

That’s what we’re talking about here. Not invented bogeymen, or Ivy League potshots.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Steve V said...

Imagine if Kelly McParland had any credibility whatsoever. Is there a bigger joke columnist in Canada?

dzuunmod said...

The post I'm waiting for: "Kelly McParland: Missing the point on everything"

Ted Betts said...

Good series of posts/comments, Jeff.

This is important stuff.

And it is not isolated. Harper has made a commitment to the far right social conservatives in Canada. He doesn't have the guts or the power to do it in public or with legislative changes, but he still needs their support and, more importantly, he needs them to keep quiet/muzzled, especially those who are elected.

So what can he offere them? Lots... outside the public eye, or would be but for more and more commentary like yours.

He protects Rob Anders. He cuts almost all funding to Planned Parenthood. He guts Rights and Democracy and appoints a few far right extreme Christians (one who believes "the next fight over human rights will be over religion"). He cuts funding to KAIROS despite the great work they do.

And he tries to sneak in an anti-abortion policy condition to foreign aid to women and children in need.

Bush made a splash when he announced $15 billion for AIDS aid in Africa. No one realized the money came with conditions: teach only abstinence, change your laws to ban abortion, do not even teach about contraception or abortion.

And now we have Harper's Canadian version: you want to help your women and children with our money, then comply with our rules and conditions.


LifeonQueen said...

Any commitment to improving maternal health without funding for contraception and abortion is just political gamesmanship.

Banning abortion does not prevent abortion, it kills women. While every honest medical & public health professional in the world will tell you that, you need look no further than the New York Times report on Tanzania from June 2009: - 19 million unsafe abortions resulting in the death of 70,000 women EACH YEAR.

Harper's change to Canada's policy on providing funding for contraception and abortion will result in needless lives lost among the very women he so cynically proposes to save.

CanadianSense said...


It boils to down to priorities. Canada under the CPC have put basic needs ahead of population control or Big Pharma.

No one is stopping Planned Parenthood from seeking donations from weathly Liberals to provide birth control pills, condoms, and abortions.

Just don't ask the taxpayer to fund the Liberal worldview for social justice when they are out of government.

Jeff said...

CS, if you want to make the LPC position about ideology and foisting world views, then you need to admit the CPC is doing the same thing: changing long-standing policy to foist a Conservative ideology and world view on the developing world.

Here's the nuts and bolts: if you want to ban abortion in Canada, then go ahead and try it. Introduce legislation. Hold a referendum. Stop dicking around with development programs in stealth and have the balls to have the debate in public.

In the meantime, I think that medical services that are legally available in Canada to Canadian women shouldn't be explicitly barred from women in developing countries through our development programs.

Leave ideology out, and let the medical experts, aid agencies and local governments send the resources where needed.

Suzanne said...

Just because something is legal in Canada doesn't mean we should have to pay for it in Third world.

Old School Liberal said...

You are lying CS.

Bev Oda announced today that, as Igantieff forwarned, the Conservatives newfound concern for the health of women in developing nations does indeed come with a condition: if you want our money, thou shalt abide by our policies.

All Ignatieff said, was if they need the money, don't make anti-abortion a condition. If they need the money, give it to them, don't try to forcefeed your ideological view of the world because it will cost lives. It will cost lives not just because of botched abortions, more pregnancies that result in death... but because women who need the help won't get it from Canada if their government doesn't comply with Harper's beliefs.

That is a reversal of Canadian policy for the last 40 years. That is an exact copy of a Bush ideological agenda to force his beliefs on 3rd world countries. That is disgusting and will cause deaths.

Ti-Guy said...

Just don't ask the taxpayer to fund the Liberal worldview for social justice when they are out of government.

Yes, they are our taxes aren't they? And since a majority of Canadians, not just Liberals, believe education on reproduction and reproductive freedom is a component of women's health care *and* we form the majority, it's legitimate that we get to decide where that money goes, regardless of who's in power. And most definitely, when "who's in power" represents a fringe of social conservatives intent on imposing their morality on the rest of the World.

If the social conservatives don't like that, they can always emigrate.

Ted Betts said...


"Just because something is legal in Canada doesn't mean we should have to pay for it in Third world."

Unlike CS, you at least seem to get it, understand what Harper is doing. You applaud it, which is your right, but you aren't denying it like others.

I guess my view is that, when the policy decision is to provide aid, we should not be coupling that with an effort to push our own ideology on others as a condition for getting that aid as Harper has done. Especially when the Canadian population does not support the position.

Think of two countries in Africa. One bans abortion. The other allows abortion. Neither one have adequate health facilities or clean water or enough doctors to provide proper healthcare for sick kids. But one gets Canadian funding and the other doesn't because of Harper's ideology. That is just wrong.

As Jeff says, show some guts and have the debate openly if it is actually important to you. But don't sneak around and try to stuff your ideology down another country's throat in granting life giving aid.

Jeff said...

Suzanne, but is the change in policy a fiscal issue or a moral issue?

I don't think the argument is "nothing wrong with abortion/contraception but we want to spend the money elsewhere" is it? That would be odd, since the government is talking about increasing funding here.

It seems to be the government argument is a moral an ideological one "abortion and contraception are wrong, and will no longer be part of our development programs."

You can make the latter argument, but here's where (well, one of the places where) I have a problem with that: how can you argue it's morally wrong for women in poor countries, but still allow it here?

Now, I know you'll argue it's wrong to allow it here to, I disagree but I respect your view and your consistent in that regard.

The Harper government, however, doesn't share your consistency. Here's my bottomline, as I said to CS: if the government wants to ban abortion, then give it a try for real: referendum, legislation, have that debate with Canadians. If they really believe it's a moral issue, that's what they'd do.

Otherwise, they shouldn't use development programs to "foist an ideological worldview" that they don't have the stones to try at home. That's just politics, and politics shouldn't be directing our help for the third world.

CanadianSense said...


I have no problem with wealthy, elitists, athletes, hospital staff being able to board a plane or jump the health queue. We call them facts.

I don't believe in one size fits all solution.

If the current government does not want taxpayers dollars to fund abortion, birth control pills in the third world for X reason they are entitled to move it forward.
The official opposition, currently the Liberals with help from other parties can excercise their majority and remove their confidence on March 2009.

We call this being accountable in Parliament.

The McGill study explains in greater detail how the religious (Catholic) vote has left the Liberals and is responsible for the current government.

I have NO problem with Progressive funding their own priorities when they form the government. I expect the opposition if they disagree to oppose and offer alternatives.

I don't share the progressive Liberal worldview and pushing abortion to the poor, your views of birth control and sex education.

This is NOT a right wing conspiracy or hidden agenda.

In the US many democrats have threatened to remove any support for the OBAMA healthcare plan if they sneak in Public Funding for abortion.

The thousands dying as a result of not having birth control pills or funded abortions by the Canadian government is fearmongering does not wash with me after the same progressives made DDT illegal.

Estimates are 40 million children. Want to talk facts?

Different priorities vote up or down but in this democracy each vote counts.

Unknown said...

Thank you Jeff, for your work on this. The right's continued attacks on a woman's right to control her procreation are outrageous, especially when viewed with the fact that we are working hand in glove with a government in Afghanistan that has passed legislation that says a man can rape his wife. I remember the novel, Angela's Ashes, how women are pressured into bearing children whether they are physically able or not. It goes on every day. Rape is the new weapon of war, and yet no one seems to think that having to bear the child of a rapist is a problem, and those concerns should be addressed?

Thank you for standing up.

Unknown said...

Sandra - Please don't try to paint reproductive rights as a left/right issue, its facile and inaccurate.

There are many people on the "left" who are anti-abortion, just as there are many on the "right" who are pro-choice.