With Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s maternal health summit scheduled for Toronto in late May, pro-life groups are keeping a watchful eye on developments. CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

Pro-lifers key on Harper’s maternal health summit

  • March 21, 2014

OTTAWA - Pro-life groups say they will keep a hopeful but watchful eye on an upcoming Toronto summit called by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to address maternal, newborn and child health.

The summit, to be held May 28-30, will convene global leaders and Canadian experts and comes almost four years after Harper launched the so-called Muskoka Initiative aimed at saving the lives of mothers and young children in the developing world. The purpose of the summit is to “take stock of the progress made to date and discuss the way forward,” according to a government news release.

“We are looking at it hopefully, but recognizing it for what it is,” said Campaign Life Coalition Ottawa lobbyist Johanne Brownrigg, who questioned the timing in light of the 2015 federal election.
Harper’s maternal health care initiative coincided with his hosting G-8 leaders in 2010 and resulted in a commitment of $7.3 billion (U.S.) in new funding over five years from G-8 and non-G-8 countries, according to the release. The funds would be used to save 1.3 million children and 64,000 mothers, according to a press release at the time.

Canada committed $2.85 million in funding over five years and a government new release said it is on target after four years with 80 per cent of the funding disbursed.

“This summit sounds like a good opportunity to review the progress that has already been made in the vital area of maternal, newborn and child health, and to plan for greater progress in the years ahead,” said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry. “We would hope that Canada’s leadership in this regard enjoys broad support among all Canadians.”

Harper promised the Muskoka Initiative would not include funding for abortion overseas, a pledge that won praise from pro-life circles. But soon afterwards former CIDA Minister Bev Oda awarded the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) $6 million despite Harper’s promise.

If Harper had “followed through entirely” on his promise, “we would have been extremely thrilled,” said Brownrigg.

Though that money was not specifically earmarked for abortion services, the grant raised concerns because it freed up funds to promote abortion in the Third World, Brownrigg said.

“We were not fooled.”

Despite that, LifeCanada executive director Natalie Hudson Sonnen said “it is encouraging to see Canada taking the lead with this very pressing international issue.” She noted that maternal and child mortality has been “cut in half ” in some poverty-stricken countries.

Like Brownrigg, however, Sonnen questioned an agenda, she said is “to promote abortion and contraception, the world over. It is the new colonialism.”

Sonnen alleged that $40 million CIDA awarded to the United Nations Population Front (UNFPA) supports “organizations notorious for providing abortions.” At the same time, she said MaterCare International, devoted entirely to obstetrical care in Africa, has applied for government funding 12 times and been denied each time.

“While not a penny of Canadian tax dollars would go towards abortion with an organization like MaterCare, the IPPF and the UNFPA, regardless of whether or not they are providing abortions, are most certainly using our tax dollars to provide powerful contraceptives to women in these developing countries,” Sonnen said. “They also use the funding to lobby governments both at the local and regional levels for ‘sexual and reproductive rights,’ the euphemism for abortion.”

A government backgrounder on the summit says it will “welcome Canadian stakeholders and experts, as well as global leaders from developed and developing countries.”

Brownrigg said Campaign Life has not received an invitation but would send a delegation if invited.

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