'Health' for mothers seems to be all about preventing motherhood
By Deborah Gyapong
Caption: International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, shown earlier this year at announcement extending deadline for matching funds for Syrian Relief Fund. Deborah Gyapong (CCN).
Prolife groups expressed concern overseas abortion funding is being restored in a March 7 announcement of over $80 million in new funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
On the eve of International Women's Day, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said her government "is committed to a better and more comprehensive approach to supporting the health of women in developing countries."
She described this approach as "based less on ideology and more on evidence and outcomes; an approach that fully recognizes the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights, an approach focused on the health of women, children, and adolescents which also looks at ending child early and forced marriages."
"Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and empowering women and girls is central to achieving gender equality," she said.
Bibeau announced three measures to "illustrate our commitment to a more integrated approach to women's reproductive health and rights, and our commitment to the UN Population Fund."
With United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin at her side, Bibeau said she would provide $15.6 million towards the 2016 UNFPA budget; contribute $5 million to the UNFPA contraceptive supplies program; and contribute $11 million over five years to the UN Population Fund to help prevent pregnancies among adolescents.
She also announced $50 million to the UNFPA to "train midwives and other front-line health care providers in South Sudan, a country which has some of the world's worst maternal mortality rates."
Bibeau did not mention abortion in her statement, and subsequently denied the new funding was related to abortion. But Campaign Life Coalition UN observer Matthew Wojciechowski said when people say "'sexual and reproductive health and rights,' almost always comprehensive sex education, abortion, contraception and sterilization are part of it."
"What we're always trying to do is fight against this kind of language so it won't be part of any agreed statement," he said.
Both Wojciechowski and REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt viewed the announcement as a restoration of overseas abortion funding, which they both said is expected, considering Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's campaign promises. Landolt pointed to a motion the Liberal Party put forward to include abortion in Prime Minister Harpers maternal and child health care initiative, one that was defeated with some votes from within the Liberal caucus.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail following her announcement, Bibeau said, "We are ... supporting in different ways, through different partners, numerous countries to improve their health system. Providing the service of safe abortion, maybe in some countries where it's legal, it's part of [reproductive health] and we're not against it. This is a difference. But we're not promoting it right now."
The Globe said an email from her office the previous week "said the inclusion or exclusion of certain health services, such as abortion, is under the purview of recipient countries, meaning Canadian development aid could be used to fund abortions."
Using abortion and contraception that is in many cases abortifacient in trying to reduce maternal and infant mortality misses the reality that it is a lack of clean equipment, and access to trained birthing attendants, whether a midwife, a doctor or a nurse, Wojciechowski said. The majority of infant and maternal deaths "have to do with a lack of basic healthcare."
"It's to be expected with this government," said REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt, who pointed out the government has not analyzed the downside of abortion and contraceptive funding. Countries where abortion is illegal such as Chile, Ireland and Sri Lanka have lower infant and maternal mortality rates "because all that money is used for the care of women," she said.
Sometimes it is as simple as supplying vitamins "for pennies a day" or surgical gloves for midwives, and instructing them an unclean hut is not an appropriate place for giving birth, she said.
Landolt noted Harper decided not to include abortion in his maternal and child health initiative because it was too "divisive" both at home and in the countries that would be receiving help. The program has resulted in "markedly decreased" rates of child and infant mortality, a "huge downward curve," over the past 10 or 15 years, she said.
Landolt said the programs are designed to control the populations of Third World Countries, "that for cultural and religious reasons do not want it, but in order to get maternal health care help they have to put up with it. It's 19th Century colonialism at work again."
Wojciechowski said the initiative to train midwives is a good one, but he expressed concern midwives might also be trained to perform abortions.