The federal Liberals are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to include access to contraceptives and safe abortions as part of the conservatives’ maternal health initiative, given Harper’s pledge for Canada to work towards improving maternal health worldwide during this year’s G8 Summit.
Carolyn Bennett, liberal health critic, said that Harper must include a full range of reproductive health services in his maternal health initiative.
“Thirteen per cent of maternal mortality is from unsafe abortions. You need to be able to provide contraception such that every child is a wanted child and you can’t just take bits of it to do. There is a woman on this planet dying every minute of every day,” said Bennett. “It’s huge.”
Bennett said that a recent Liberal press release calling on Harper to include a complete range of reproductive health services as part of his initiative came as a result of concerns raised during a roundtable hosted by the liberal status of women critic, Anita Neville.
According to Bennett, there were concerns that Harper could choose to follow the route previously taken by former U.S. president George W. Bush and cut funding to organizations that provide services related to abortion and contraceptives.
Andrew MacDougall, deputy press secretary with the prime minister’s office, said that Harper’s G8 initiative “is about saving the lives of vulnerable children and mothers in the developing world.”
Blake Hamm, president of the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives, said that he agrees with Harper’s spokespeople.
“Saving lives shouldn’t be a political football,” said Hamm.
Christine Ulrich, president of University of Saskatchewan Students for Life, said that her student group is troubled by the liberals’ remarks regarding Harper’s G8 maternal health initiative.
“We do not agree with [ . . . ] the belief that access to abortion and abortive contraceptives are necessary to women’s reproductive health. Abortion is the killing of innocent lives and it negatively affects women’s physical and emotional health.
A woman’s healthcare initiative that included support for abortion and abortive contraceptives would be counterintuitive as it would threaten the health and life of women,” said Ulrich.
“A truly complete and equal initiative would not discriminate based on age or size, but would provide care for all women, both born and unborn.”
Bennett dismissed claims from Harper spokespeople that the liberals were raising “red herrings.”
“There is no red herring about [ . . . ] 500,000 people a year dying [because of pregnancy or childbirth],” she said.
“It is a very, very real problem that we need dealt with, both domestically, particularly with our aboriginal woman and children, [and] internationally. There is no red herring about this. This is about woman and children losing their lives.”
Recognizing that women everywhere will continue to access abortion services, Lauryn Pizey-Allen, co-ordinator at the University of Manitoba Womyn’s Centre, said safe methods should be provided in order to save women’s lives.
“No matter what, women are going to need access to that service. They’re going to need control of their reproductive systems and bodies. If it’s not legalized and if it’s not supported and if it’s not accessible, then women are going to die or be seriously injured because of it,” said Pizey-Allen.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May agreed, saying that maternal health is an important issue and a good choice for the G8.
However, “I think we have to be a little cynical about Mr. Harper’s motives, given that he has had the government that has been the most hostile to women’s issues,” said May.
May said she thinks it’s unlikely that Harper will use this opportunity to reduce funding and access to such services as abortion and contraceptives, but that he will rather use it as an opportunity to soften his image.
“One thing it means is that he does not want to pursue the climate crisis or global disarmament, both of which are key issues right now. In a sense, it’s a safe issue for him and I’m sure it was chosen with an eye to domestic political advantage.”
The G8 Summit will be held in Huntsville, Ont. from June 25-27, 2010.