Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan meet with students at Toronto’s Davisville Public School and are presented with a painting by vice principal Lara Schneider and student Joseph Awuah. Photo by Jill Thompson

Abortion raises its head at summit

  • June 3, 2014

TORONTO - At a breakout session on maternal mortality closed to media at the maternal health summit in Toronto, experts discussed the merits of abortion, according to Dr. Robert Walley, executive director of MaterCare International.

“I was appalled that it was taken over more or less by everybody saying we’ve got to include abortion,” said Walley, whose organization funds Catholic obstetricians who provide health care services in the developing world.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the promise not to include funding abortion services in the 2010 Muskoka Initiative and -- the day after this breakout session -- clarified his position regarding the renewed funding promise of $3.5 billion at a press conference May 30.  

"Frankly, we've got to keep people focused on what we agree on…and we're not going to embark on something that is going to cause widespread division," said Harper, when asked about abortion funding.

“I was talked out,” said Walley. “I had to leave. I’ve heard it all before… You want to offer them life and hope. You want to respect their culture and their dignity, their religious values, their ethical and moral values.”

There was no Catholic voice whatsoever at the session, said Walley.

“It’s inevitable that they’re either going to ignore us or think that we’re medieval but we’re still one of the largest providers of health care in the world,” said Walley. “We’ve got to start to look at ourselves and get better organized so that we can show that what we’re doing is what people want — culturally — and not what these bureaucrats and idealogues want to impose on others.”

Walley affirms that he is pleased to see Canada taking a leadership role in focusing on the reality that mothers are dying in developing countries.

“But you’ve got to remember the mother’s dignity and the dignity of all human life. You’ve got to remember that she has a right to health care that she wants — not what they think she should have.”

When asked about the abortion issue during a scrum following Harper’s renewed funding announcement, Rosemary McCarney, co-chair of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Maternal Health, said “family planning is embedded in all of the programming.”

“But there’s a spectrum of family planning that is supported and funded and there are aspects of it that are not legal or not available in countries and we have to work in the context in which we find ourselves.”

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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