Harper defends Tories' G8 abortion stand
Published Tuesday, April 27, 2010 4:51PM EDT
OTTAWA - A full-blown abortion debate -- one the government said it never wanted -- exploded in Parliament on Monday, but the reignited political brawl centred on the poorest of pregnant women a world away.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons there is plenty for Canada to spend its development dollars on besides abortion as he offered his first detailed comments on his government's G8 child- and maternal-health initiative for Third World countries.
After more than a month of confusion on his government's exact position, Harper defended the decision to exclude abortion from the signature G8 plan.
"We have a lot of ways of saving lives," Harper told the Commons on Tuesday. "We're clear what initiatives we are funding . . . there's more than enough to do in those areas."
The Opposition blasted Harper for pandering to a socially conservative agenda that they said diminished Canada on the world stage and left it in lockstep with the values of the departed Republican administration of George W. Bush.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused the Conservatives of embarrassing Canada on the international stage by not funding abortions as part of the G8 plan. Ignatieff said Harper has reopened the abortion debate after it was settled in Canada two decades ago, when the law outlawing abortions was struck down.
"Why is the prime minister denying the fact that maternal health must include access to safe and legal abortions be it in Canada, or be it outside of Canada?" asked Ignatieff.
"The government is reversing a 25-year-old position of consensus on this issue in Canada on this question."
Canada hosts the G8 summit this summer in Huntsville, Ont. and has championed the plan to bring basic health services to the poorest of pregnant women and children, mostly in Africa.
An estimated 350,000 to 500,000 women die in childbirth each year, while another nine million children never live to see their fifth birthday. An estimated 13 per cent of deaths are due to complications related to abortion.
After weeks of uncertainty on the issue, Canada clarified its position on the abortion-funding issue on Monday, on the eve of a meeting of G8 international development ministers in Halifax.
Conservative MP Jim Abbott, parliamentary secretary for International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, said Canada would spend money in other areas such as training frontline health workers, nutrition, treatment and prevention of diseases such as pneumonia, malaria and AIDS, as well as clean water and sanitation.
Abbott said Canada would also fund family planning.
But experts and some G8 partners have repeatedly said there is no way to separate abortion from family planning when spending money on development projects.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an impassioned defence of a woman's right to plan her own family, including having an abortion, when she attended the G8 foreign ministers meeting outside Ottawa.
NDP Leader Jack Layton accused Harper of pandering to social conservative values.
"The Conservatives' stubbornness to fund safe and legal abortions overseas is a major step backward. It puts us on a very, very dangerous path because it puts ideology to the forefront."
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae pointed out that rape is well-honed weapon in war-torn regions of Africa. He said teenaged women in the Congo, for instance, are raped by the thousands.
"Is it the policy of the government of Canada that those young women will not have access to abortions after they've been raped?"
Harper brushed aside the criticism and said the government had the full support of Parliament. The prime minister was reminding the Liberals they lost a recent vote condemning the government policy when more than a dozen of their own members abstained or were absent from the Commons.
Ignatieff said it was "curious" for Harper to adopt that position given that the prime minister has defied the Commons in the past.