By Patrick B. Craine

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, February 19, 2010 ( – Canada will not include abortion and contraception in its maternal and child health care initiative, confirmed International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda, who oversees Canada's international development program.

“Canada is not currently going to be changing its approach to improving maternal and infant health,” Oda told the Canadian Press in Halifax yesterday.  "The prime minister has been clear since we became government that there's no intention on regenerating any debate on abortion."

At the end of January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unexpectedly announced that Canada will use its presidency of the G8 summit this year to advance the cause of maternal and child health in the Third World.  “The lack of the most basic services can lead to dire consequences, especially for the world's most vulnerable populations,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Toronto Star on January 27th.  “Far too many lives and unexplored futures have already been lost for want of relatively simple health-care solutions.”

Pro-life leaders were concerned that the Conservatives had invited prominent pro-abortion groups, such as Action Canada for Population and Development, to their table of experts for the initiative, and both pro-life and pro-abortion groups demanded to know the role abortion and contraception would play in the plan.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff jumped in to insist on abortion funding, earning him rebukes from news columnists, pro-life leaders, and Catholic bishops.

Conservative MP Shelly Glover announced on February 10th in a CBC interview that abortion is “not part and parcel of this initiative.”  This prompted a reproach the day after from Liberal MP Keith Martin, who issued a press release accusing the Conservatives of “pursu[ing] an ideological approach to public policy.”

Oda has now confirmed, however, that Canada will focus the plan on providing basic health services.  A spokesman from Oda's office told the Canadian Press yesterday that “family planning” was never part of the specific services the Prime Minister had laid out for funding.

The solutions Harper mentioned in his Toronto Star op-ed were “clean water, inoculations and better nutrition, as well as the training of health workers to care for women and deliver babies.”

Oda told the Canadian Press that those services are the best way to proceed according to the international community, and that they are where Canada has been focusing already.
"There are many ways that infant health can be improved and many of those are easily done and they're inexpensive," she said.

The Canadian government does have a long history of funding groups that promote abortion, however, such as the United Nations Population Fund and Planned Parenthood, although recent reports may indicate they are taking a new approach.

The Interim reported earlier this month that federal funding for the Canadian branch of Planned Parenthood, known as the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, dropped from $1,285,674 in 2006 to $9,381 in 2009.  Additionally, last week the International Planned Parenthood Federation complained that the federal government has still not approved their request for a funding renewal of $18 million over the next three years, even though their previous funding agreement ran out at the end of 2009.