Last Tuesday, a Liberal motion in the House of Commons to modify Stephen Harper’s maternal and child health initiative for developing nations, to be presented at June’s G8 summit, failed. Harper’s program intends “to save the lives of mothers and children” by reducing preventable deaths through improved nutrition, clean water, and health care. It is a promising move, one that should demonstrate Canada’s commitment to working toward global social justice. The Liberals wanted to make sure that “the full range of family planning, sexual, and reproductive health options” was included in the initiative.
The elimination of any family planning or abortion services, however, will seriously undermine the potential effectiveness of this initiative. The Globe and Mail reported that Katherine McDonald, executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development, says that “no maternal-health policy can be effective without providing ways for women to space out pregnancies, because many childbirth deaths are caused by complications from having too many pregnancies too quickly or from unsafe abortions.” Giving women across the world the ability to control their reproductive health is an essential component of decreasing rates of death or disability caused by pregnancy and childbirth.
“Of the more than 500,000 women who die [every year] during pregnancy or childbirth, 90 per cent occur in Africa and Asia,” the United Nations Population Fund reports on their web site. “The majority of women are dying from severe bleeding, infections, eclampsia, obstructed labour, and the consequences of unsafe abortions – all causes for which we have highly effective interventions.”
Instead of providing preventative means of spacing out pregnancies, the Harper government has chosen to let the stigma still surrounding the many options for reproductive health limit the efficiency of Canadian aid. Helping women around the world have safe, legal abortions performed by trained professionals and with appropriate aftercare is a necessary step to reducing maternal and child mortality.
A lack of access to reproductive health services also disproportionately traps children in poverty. Population Action International reports on their web site, “More than twice the proportion of the world’s children live in poverty (1 in 3) than do adults (1 in 7), in part because poor couples often lack access to family planning services and accurate information about contraception.” Pregnancies early in a woman’s life, or disability in mothers caused by untreated complications of pregnancy or childbirth, can seriously disadvantage her when it comes to receiving an education or providing for herself or her family.
According to the National Post, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda said the Conservatives rallied against the motion to explicitly include family planning and abortion because it contained “rash, extreme, anti-American rhetoric” intended, she asserted, to “reignite the abortion debate.” The motion rejected the Bush administration’s refusal to fund organizations providing contraceptives or abortion; the idea that this rhetoric is worth discarding an entire amendment with substantial benefits for women and children is both irrational and harmful.
Between the global gag rule of the Bush administration; the recent decision to outlaw deliberate miscarriage or “illegal” abortion in Utah; and even the new U.S. health care reform package’s rejection of public health insurance for abortion, we should be looking to the U.S. – if only to learn how to prevent a similar erosion of reproductive rights, both domestically and abroad. Women, children, and families across the globe deserve the economic and social benefits of accessing their full range of reproductive rights.
Hannah Freeman is a U3 English Literature student and The Daily’s copy editor. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.