This week’s Global Summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health is another opportunity for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to set himself apart from the leaders of the two opposition parties. The summit is themed: Saving Every Woman Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach. According to a recent government release, “Canada is a world leader in promoting women and children’s health in developing countries and in reducing the unacceptable mortality rates that these vulnerable populations face.”
Harper’s interest in maternal and newborn health these past few years has not come without controversy. One of the conditions Harper insisted on right from the beginning was that Canada’s contributions would not fund abortions.
The background to this week’s summit is the Muskoka Initiative, announced at the G8 meetings in 2010. It was then that Harper set in motion a five year, $1.1 billion commitment to maternal, newborn, and child health in developing countries. The $1.1 billion was in addition to the $1.75 billion already committed to such care.
The exclusion of funds to expand access to abortion around the world of course incensed the other political parties in Ottawa; especially Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Status of Women critic Niki Ashton who seem to think that women’s rights are synonymous with abortion access.
Some viewed the abortion exclusion as a move by the Prime Minister to pander to his social conservative base. While others, many from that same base, expressed a degree of skepticism as they openly wondered whether the prime minister could be trusted to follow through on this promise.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Harper’s position is very similar to that of Melinda Gates (who will be present at the summit this week). In a TED talk a few years ago she said, “If we’re going to make progress on this issue, we have to be really clear about what our agenda is. We’re not talking about abortion. We’re not talking about population control. What I’m talking about is giving women the power to save their lives, to save their children’s lives, and to give their families the best possible future.”
Harper’s position on maternal health is laudable – if we are ever going to live in a world where abortion is an unthinkable solution to an unplanned pregnancy, there must be adequate care for pregnant mothers and their newborn children. But it is inconsistent with the fact that Canada continues to contribute $6 million per year to International Planned Parenthood – an organization with a goal to dismantle abortion laws and to have abortion declared a worldwide fundamental human right.
The Saving Every Woman Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach summit is a positive sign that Canada is committed to ensuring we get the very best results for the money we spend – the Prime Minister has made real results a priority. In this he sits in stark contrast to the other party leaders who continue to frame their message in such a way that woman’s rights, both in Canada and around the world, will apparently only be achieved by granting unfettered access to abortion.
We can do better. Our humanity demands we do better. The Global Summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health should not be about partisan politics or pandering to one group over another. No, this is about caring for those less fortunate – the vulnerable in our human family. The Canadian government is leading us to do better. For that we can be thankful.