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A squabble in Canada over foreign aid has brought to light studies showing a drastic drop in maternal mortality rates after countries recriminalized abortion.
BY Steve WeatherbeRegister Correspondent
— Though Canada’s government includes several small-“c” conservative
Christians among its leadership, most notably Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it
speaks very softly on issues involving personal morality — and on abortion says
nothing at all.
That’s why everyone was surprised
when Michael Ignatieff, leader of the opposition, objected to Harper’s recent
vow to lead the G8 countries in a campaign to improve the health of mothers and
children in the Third World.
Ignatieff’s grounds: Harper’s
project (made in his role as this year’s president of the G8) did not provide
for improved access to abortion.
“Women are entitled to the full
gamut of reproductive health services,” declared Ignatieff. “And that includes
termination of pregnancy and contraception.”
Given that Harper’s Conservative
Party rules with just 143 members, 15 shy of a majority, and given that all
three opposition parties are avowedly pro-abortion, Ignatieff’s threat to
oppose any foreign-aid plan lacking abortion had some bite to it.
Until, that is, the socialist New
Democrats refused to join Ignatieff’s boycott and the separatist Bloc Quebecois
simply ignored the issue.
Thus, the matter that the Tories
themselves dare not raise for fear of alienating voters had been raised anyway,
and the public forum was briefly full of argument about whether improving
access to abortion in developing countries would improve women’s health there.
Of course it would, declared Dr.
Gail Erlick Robinson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
She cited a recent survey disproving research connecting depression and
abortion. This and other research showing links between abortion and heart
disease and premature births all suffered, she claimed, from “severely flawed
University of Alberta sociology professor Amy Kaler proclaimed that “anyone
with a glancing acquaintance with reproductive health knows that cutting off
legal abortion doesn’t make women healthier.”
Many begged to differ: Dr. Rene Lieva of Ottawa noted that El Salvador’s maternal
mortality rate was cut in half after the country recriminalized abortion in
1998. Ian Gentles of the De Vebers Institute of Bioethics in Toronto
contributed similar data from Poland. After the fall of communism, abortion was
recriminalized and the Polish
maternal mortality rate fell 75%. Commented Gentles: Poland’s improvement in
maternal health came “certainly not from spending a lot of money on
‘reproductive health services,’ to use the preferred euphemism.”
outspoken bishop of Calgary, Fred Henry, weighed in, describing Ignatieff’s move as “pathetic” and
“crass … particularly … in light of all
the orphaned children we now see in Haiti.”
political science professor John Redekop of Vancouver’s Trinity Western
University says Prime Minister Harper’s plan should be taken “at face value: It
was an honest attempt to address a serious problem.”
Abortion’s Absence No Accident
the other hand, the absence from Harper’s plan of any component related to
abortion access was not an accident, Redekop added. “It’s consistent with this
beliefs are not the same, however, as pro-life priorities. “This government
does not put a high priority on restricting abortions in this country,” said
move by a minority Tory government to restrict abortion would see the other
parties coalesce in opposition and bring the government down. Even if Harper
got a majority, it wouldn’t take action because the Supreme Court of Canada is
so pro-abortion, said Redekop: “No legislation would be sustained.”
Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer with Canada’s Campaign Life Coalition,
“The irony here is that the prime minister says he’s going to do something
about maternal and child health in the Third World, but he’s afraid to do
anything about abortion at home, which is how 100,000 Canadian unborn children
die each year.”
Douglas gives Harper credit: “He was trying to do a good thing that would make
everybody happy, like any politician. And everyone but the Liberals were
did Ignatieff object? Douglas’ sources within the Liberal caucus say Ignatieff
was put up to it by the party’s women’s caucus. The considerably smaller group
of pro-life Liberal ministers of Parliament “was never even consulted before
Ignatieff made his statement.”
says public opinion will have to change to favor restrictions on abortions
before any government will have the nerve to put them in place. “The problem is
we have a captive press here in Canada. We can’t change public opinion if the
news media ignore us. Eighty thousand Canadians will protest across Canada in
May when we have our March for Life — and nobody will report it.”
is ironic, says Douglas, that the news media’s coverage of Ignatieff’s
“reproductive rights” gambit has mostly been negative.
Alleged ‘Hidden Agenda’
media pundits speculated that Ignatieff hoped to raise the specter of Harper’s
alleged “hidden agenda” to recriminalize abortion with Canada’s voters, who
favor a women’s “right to choose” but also some restrictions on abortion.
wondered if Ignatieff hoped to trigger inflammatory comments from the more
devoutly pro-life members of Harper’s caucus: If so, the hopes were dashed as
the Conservatives kept a disciplined silence while Ignatieff attempted to
fellow Liberal Minister of Parliament Keith Martin, a physician, undermined his
would be a shame,” said Martin, “if the debate about abortion hijacks the
larger issue of what we can do very simply to enable pregnant women to be able
to deliver safely.”
Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.