Oda firm on abortion, says G8 united on family planning
Any plan to improve the health of women and children in developing countries must ensure donor nations are getting "the biggest bang for the buck," International Development Minister Bev Oda said Wednesday at the close of a G8 development ministers meeting in Halifax.
At a closing news conference to mark the end of the two-day meeting, Oda announced that the ministers agreed on a set of principles to guide G8 leaders as they flesh out an agenda on the issue ahead of the G8 leaders summit in Ontario in June.
"We understand it's our responsibility for our taxpayers and for our people to ensure that we are -- as we used the expression -- getting the biggest bang for the buck, that we are improving the value of our international assistance," Oda told reports. "Corresponding to that, we spent a lot of attention on how are we going to measure the outcomes, how are we going to measure that our investments in international assistance are actually going to pay off and make a difference in the lives of those people that we are working for."
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that an initiative to reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity in the developing world would be a priority at the June summit.
But the Canadian government broke from other G8 countries, in particular the United States and Britain, by confirming earlier this week that Canada's contribution to the plan will not include funding for abortions.
The position stands in contrast to that of the United States. During a trip to Canada last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said reproductive health and maternal health go hand in hand, and access to legal, safe abortions is part of reproductive health.
During Wednesday's news conference, Oda clarified the definition of family planning the development ministers' used during their discussions.
"The definition that we all work with, every one of us at this table, of family planning is a way of spacing your children, having ability to space your children and to make sure you have control over your family, and does not include abortion," Oda said. "So I just want to clarify: family planning does not include abortion."
When asked if he agreed with that definition, Dr. Rajiv Shah of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said while Oda's definition of family planning is consistent with international conventions, his country supports a more comprehensive approach to maternal health programming.
"We know one of the most effective ways to reduce maternal death and morbidity lies with effective family planning, lies with improved access to reproductive health services, including contraception, and a range of other initiatives," Shah said.
In a statement released at the close of the meetings, Oda said the ministers agreed that any maternal and child health initiative must include plans to strengthen health systems via initiatives that include skilled attendants at birth, family planning, immunization and improved nutrition.
Shah also listed training health workers, building health facilities and establishing a financing system that can support those facilities over the long term as key goals.
The ministers also agreed on the importance of being able to monitor how money is being spent and that it's leading to results.
"Our aspiration is by focusing in on results in this very specific way and setting common goals and targets, we can be better partners with each other, with the countries in which we serve, and ultimately on behalf of our taxpayers get more health for every dollar we spend," Shah said.