Under any other circumstances the pledge of one billion dollars toward maternal and child health in poor countries – made recently by the federal Conservatives with the proviso that other countries aim to match the amount – would by itself be applauded, especially considering that is actually twice as much as Canada’s current aid pledge. But, as Stephen Harper’s government is no stranger to eyebrow-raising policy shifts away from the neutral middle most Canadians are used to, this pledge comes with the controversial stipulation that funding will not go to organizations that provide abortions.
This is appalling hypocrisy given that women in Canada can obtain legal abortions.
The issue of aid for maternal and child health will be high on the agenda for the upcoming summits of the Group of Eight and Group of 20 developing economies.
Heading into the summits there has yet been no end to the complaining and disdain that have arisen as a result of preparations being made for both, taking place in Ontario, over three days near the end of this month. And yes, there will be protesters, including those who will want to make it clear they disagree with this ban on funding organizations that provide legal abortions abroad.
We can also expect that there will be push back from the army of security personnel lined up for the summit, especially in Toronto. Toward that end, there is a lot of money being spent ahead of the arrival of the many heads of state and their entourages. In fact, the oft-cited $1.2 billion (and counting) is more money than Canada pledged to give in foreign aid for maternal and child health care to struggling countries.
The question is not just about a woman’s right to choose but more so that women are being denied safe and legal abortions. For, make no mistake, in countries in sub-Saharan Africa for instance, if legal abortions are not made available women who are resolved to terminate pregnancies will resort to unsafe alternatives. So the issue is not simply about whether or not to allow abortions, for the fact is they occur with or without proper funding for medically safe environments, putting lives at serious risk.
The counter argument is that women will be provided with alternatives to terminating pregnancies or preventing them in the first place. In an ideal world that alone would be enough. If, for instance, we lived in a world where all babies and young children were absolutely guaranteed care and nutrition even beyond the mother’s means to provide the necessities, then perhaps there would be less fire in this debate. Or perhaps if every pregnancy was guaranteed to go to term and that the health of the mother was guaranteed. Or if women caught in countless areas of military or tribal conflict who are being raped as a military tactic and may as a result become pregnant are treated so that their mental, physical and emotional health are completely recovered.
But that is not the real world. Every day, worldwide, 16,000 children under age five die because they don’t get enough food to sustain life – six million annually.
It is interesting to note that Malawi – which has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, is among the eight African countries that Harper has invited at the last minute to attend as guests at the G8 summit. One hopes that Malawi’s president Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika will be able to bring some perspective to the talks on this matter given its high priority at the summit.
But this brings up yet another disconcerting matter: It appears that for the most part male politicians, most of them of advanced years, are tackling this issue, when in fact it is most significantly a female concern.
Then there was Senator Nancy Ruth cautioning a women’s group to be quiet on the funding issue so as not to anger the PM by speaking out on a matter that most directly affects women. That is somehow not right on so many levels, the stench of patriarchy being one.
While we continue to fight over lives not yet here, yet put the lives that are here at risk, clearly, the divisiveness over this issue is not going away any time soon.
A note on protest tactics…
The G20 protesters will be at Queen’s Park while the visiting heads of state and their entourages attending the G20 summit will be (mostly) inside the ‘Great Wall of Harper’ in the Front St. W. area on June 26 and 27. To make sure our end of month visitors hear the vital messages protesters have for them, the protesters could follow the custom of South African soccer fans and come armed with their own ‘sound cannons’. In other words, take your own vuvuzelas. Just make sure to aim them in a southward direction and pray for a corresponding wind.