Let's be clear about G8 maternal and child health plan

  • September 15, 2010
Bev OdaCanada’s maternal and child health plan raised $5 billion in public and private funding and was endorsed in June by all the G8 members. The program to save the lives of tens of thousands women and children in developing nations was one of few highlights from the summer’s outrageously expensive gathering of world leaders.

Despite pressure from many quarters, the government of Stephen Harper took the commendable position that none of Canada’s $1.1-billion contribution would be channelled into abortion. That position didn’t sit well with all our allies. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thundered that “you can not have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and access to legal, safe abortions.” She, and others, were persuasive to the extent that Canada eventually included family planning into the program but drew the line at abortion.

But barely nine weeks later, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, charged with overseeing Canada’s commitment, seemed to be putting her own interpretation on the policy. After spending time in Mozambique and Mali, she told a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen that Canadian money might fund abortion in certain circumstances.

According to the Citizen, Oda said Canada would support abortion infrastructure if asked. “As long as it is legal within the country and it’s a legal procedure ... if we were asked to help in that way, we would do that,” she is quoted.

Oda’s comments brought hasty congratulations from the NDP and abortion supporters. The government just as quickly distanced itself from Oda, restating that Canada’s position has not changed.

“Our child and maternal health initiative is aimed at saving the lives of children and mothers,” said a spokesman for the Prime Minister. “We’ve been clear that we will not be funding abortion.”

And Oda? A spokesperson said her comments “were taken out of context.” The Minister then sent a letter to the editor of the Citizen: “Our government has been very clear that Canada’s G8 signature initiative on child and maternal health will not include abortion,” she wrote.

So it would appear all parties are once again singing from the same song sheet. But for how long?

In the weeks before the G8 summit, the government took great pains to draw a distinction between family planning and abortion. Despite criticism, it insisted you could have one without the other. Opponents countered that comprehensive family planning must include abortion. Oda, in cabinet, defended the government position.

But recent events cast doubt on Oda’s commitment to the government policy. She was outed in Africa. We now have a situation in which a Minister seems inclined to let her personal views steer the  implementation of a $1.1-billion program.

The Prime Minister should not let that go on.

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