Choice Is Life: Canada's Flawed Foreign Aid Policy

It's been quite a controversial year for Canada. After the prorouging of parliament, the Afghan detainee scandal, repeated Tory attacks on the government funded broadcasting company CBC, and the slashing of funding for women's legal advocacy programs, it seems our Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not only at odds with the electorate, but now also with world leaders.

Recently, the PM announced that foreign aid to third world and developing countries would not receive funding for abortion services. Harper stated the decision was made because his political party didn't want to see the abortion debate re-opened; by disallowing funding, however, that is exactly what has happened. Everyone from world renowned medical experts to international aid advocates to Canadian citizens have decried this move by Harper's Conservatives.

A top medical journal, The Lancet, slammed Canada in an editorial: "The Canadian government does not deprive women living in Canada from access to safe abortions. It is therefore hypocritical and unjust that it tries to do so abroad." 350,000 women around the world die during childbirth. Worldwide, 70,000 women die from unsafe abortions.

Citizens and advocates alike want to know why Canadians at home have access to maternal health care and safe, accessible abortion services, but won't give this basic human right to the most vulnerable and needy women and girls in developing and under-developed nations.

Canada is hosting both the G8 and G20 summits in June. Harper's latest decision has annoyed other G8 nations, especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who compared those of the American Republican Party and former president George W. Bush, who banned funding for family planning among other anti-abortion initiaves. Other nations involved in the summit are being urged to challenge Canada's policy and work together toward creating a maternal health plan that includes providing vital services to women and children.

While anti abortionists view this as a religious and ideological debate, most people understand that we live in modern times, and that reproduction is ultimately intertwined with health, poverty and basic human rights. “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions,” Clinton said at a March meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Ottawa.

While most anit-abortion supporters see this move as positive, for women living in the worst conditions throughout the world, this decision means only more death, the exact opposite of what anti-abortion activists claim to support. Extreme poverty, inequality and violence against women coupled with a lack of basic education and health care means that women and young girls have no choice over their bodies or reproduction. With human trafficking an increasing, global problem, more innocents will be lured into this black market business. These are the detrimental outcomes for women without a voice.

Maternal deaths continue to be unequally distributed across the globe with South East Asia and Africa having the highest rates. Without access to family planning and safe abortions, the lives of women and their children are a sentence of poverty, disease and death. Supporting a full range of maternal health services means empowering women and saving more lives. Canadians have already decided on the abortion issue; it is time we share this human right with our sisters around the world. The G8 health initiative must begin to support women and children and include steps to make family planning a human right. Canadian women have equality and choice, our foreign aid to the world's neediest should include these same rights.

Canada, World Poverty, Stephen Harper, Women's Rights