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Abortion and International Development – The Debate of a Prorogued Parliament

The party leaders were adamant that they did not want to debate abortion in the House of Commons. With Parliament prorogued, the debate has started in the media and the near vacant Centre Block.

Last week, Prime Minister Harper announced that as President of the upcoming G8/G20 summit he intended for Canada to lead in pursuit of two of the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs): improve maternal health and reduce child mortality. (The other six are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and, develop a global partnership for development.)

Canada, along with over 100 other nations, committed at the turn of the millennium to accomplish the MDGs by 2015. As the world arrives at the 2/3 mark, it is important that there be leadership if any measure of the established goals are to be reached.

The Prime Minister noted that 500,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every year and 9 million children die before their fifth birthday. 

The PM’s announcement has been greeted with mixed response. Some Canadian charities already active in this area have noted that they have been declined for CIDA funding because their religious orientation encourages a focus on maternal health, not including the option of abortion – which, when you think about it, is the antithesis of maternity care – and one of Minister for International Cooperation Bev Oda’s advisors on this matter is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion services in the world. The government can rectify these concerns by engaging in a broad consultation, including faith based perspectives, on how to best engage with existing networks to pursue the goals.

Another point of concern expressed by experienced representatives from the international development community is that international development assistance priorities have changed several times in recent years, most recently in May 2009, and there are currently no guidelines available to apply for Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) partnership funding. When combined with the November 2009 report of the Auditor General that notes it takes approximately 43 months (a little over 3½ years) to process a funding request through CIDA, it’s clear that the government will have to undertake serious effort in order to facilitate Canada’s role in accomplishing these goals in the timeframe established.

Perhaps the greatest surprise, however, was not anything the Prime Minister or Minister Oda had to say, but an unexpected announcement made just before lunch on Tuesday at a Roundtable on International Development organized by Liberal MPs Glen Pearson (London North Centre) and John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood).

First, full credit to Mr. Pearson and Mr. McKay for organizing an event that focused on Canada’s fading role in the world community over the last 15 years in regard to international development assistance. Panelists had suggestions for both Liberal and Conservative governments and noted mistakes made by both during the timeframe in question. This meeting was as close to a non-partisan look at the issue as one might find and well worth following up with a similar multi-party event (if one can be organized).

Unfortunately, the good work done by panelists was overshadowed by Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff’s announcement that the Liberal Party of Canada will stand to ensure that the Prime Minister’s announced maternal health initiative will include “the advancement of women’s rights to reproductive choice and access to birth control.”

Reproductive choice is simply a euphemism for abortion. The word “right” is one that should be reserved for constitutional guarantees, not the passive absence of law in an area of Parliamentary jurisdiction (read the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Morgentaler on this point).

I estimate that there were about 200 of us in the room. Around 30 or 40 applauded and cheered the announcement. Another 60 to 70 offered polite applause, the kind you hear when others have started and the uncertain join in. About half the room sat in shocked silence. I exchanged glances with some friends who had been tracking with the presentations up to that point. Did he really say that?

Could there be anything more contradictory to “maternal health” or reducing “child mortality” than exporting the only unregulated solution in the western world, one that has cost Canada an estimated over 2 million children since 1988? And what about the number of women and men now speaking up about the emotional and mental trauma they have endured because of the decision, usually made without being fully informed of available options. Could Mr. Ignatieff seriously consider the improvement of maternal health to include the advancement of abortion on a global scale?

Although the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Dimitri Soudas has commented, “this has nothing to do with abortion,” the door is clearly wide open for the Prime Minister to speak for himself and the leaders to allow informed, intelligent debate on the topic.

Canada has been without an abortion law for over twenty years, not because there is a right to abortion but because there is not a political will to properly debate its impact on the values of a nation, the costs associated with its funding as a standard medical procedure and the lost generation who will not replace retiring baby boomers as Canada’s social security net strains at the pressure of what has been referred to as the “geezer boom.” And, this doesn’t take into account the many wondering what life would have been like had they made a different choice.

Mr. Prime Minister, we’re waiting to hear from you.

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