Thursday March 18, 2010

Third World Women Don’t Want Contraceptives, Expert Tells Canadian Politicians

By Patrick B. Craine

OTTAWA, Ontario, March 18, 2010 ( – Opposition critics and the mainstream Canadian media have lashed out at the Conservative government again over their plan for promoting maternal and child health care at this June’s G8 summit. The criticism follows comments from Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Tuesday, in which he insisted that the plan would not involve family planning or contraception.

Critics argue that hundreds of millions of women are in grave need of contraception, and that access to contraception is essential to reducing maternal mortality.

But a respected social scientist and expert on population issues has pointed out that this solution amounts simply to reducing the number of pregnancies, when, in fact, what these women actually want is to be able to bear and deliver their children in safe circumstances – which the Conservative’s plan is aimed at doing.

NDP leader Jack Layton (Toronto-Danforth) drilled the government Wednesday during Question Period, calling their decision not to fund contraception “unbelievable.” “How can a program aimed at reducing maternal mortality not allow for any contraception as a part of the program?” he asked. “I ask the Prime Minister, is Canada’s signature initiative at the G8 going to be the no condoms for Africa strategy?”

But Bev Oda (Durham, CPC), the Minister of International Cooperation, insisted in response that the initiative “is about saving the lives of mothers and children.” “Far too many lives are being sacrificed when we can do something about it,” she said. “This is the time we should act.”

Liberal health critic Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s) charged that the government’s decision not to include contraception was confirmation that their “commitment to maternal health ends when it comes to reproductive health.”

Like Layton, she argued that contraception is necessary for saving lives, pointing to statistics from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that claim that “lack of adequate contraceptive services is responsible for 1.5 million deaths in developing countries every year,” in her words.

Oda retorted, however, saying, “We have chosen to focus the world’s lens on saving the lives of mothers and children.”

“We know what we can do by providing clean water, vaccinations and better nutrition. As well the most effective way is the training of health care workers and improving access for those women. That is what we are going to do.”

Bennett also cited research from the UNFPA that claims 215 million women in the world who want contraception do not have access. “Has the minister informed our G8 partners that Canada’s so-called signature priority is doomed for failure because Conservative Party ideology does not think that birth control has anything to do with saving lives of women and their children?” she asked.

In response, Oda insisted that all of the G8 countries have “applauded” the government’s initiative.

Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute (PRI), agreed with Oda, and labelled Bennett’s claim that hundreds of millions of women in the developing world are “crying out for contraception” as “non-sense.”

PRI has conducted surveys in such countries as Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Mexico and found in every case that “reproductive health” was lowest on women’s list of health care priorities. “It’s not what they want,” said Mosher. “We’re not responding to their pleas for help. … They ask for clean drinking water, and we give them contraceptives.”

He explained that women in the developing world are deemed “ipso facto [to] have a so-called unmet need for contraception” based on the simple fact that they had a baby in the last two years and are not currently sterilized or on contraception.

“In other words, they’re not asking these women if they want contraceptives,” he said. “They’re assuming.”

“The existing programs of family planning are imposing Western views on people who have a different view of life and very different desires for family size,” he said. The approach taken by such groups as UNFPA and Planned Parenthood is “contraceptive imperialism,” according to Mosher, “exporting the mentality of Manhattan … or Hollywood to relatively innocent, untouched corners of the world.”

Mosher also highlighted the fact that contraception-pushers’ “cure for maternal mortality is reducing the number of women who get pregnant.” They are “trying to save lives by preventing women from conceiving children at all,” he said. “That’s like saying we’re going to stop all traffic fatalities by preventing people to drive cars.”

“Of course if you’re not pregnant, you don’t die from child birth,” he continued. “But we’re talking about women in the developing world who want to have children. They just don’t want to die in the process.”

“They’re asking to be assisted in having their children, that they want, in safe circumstances,” he added.

The Conservative government’s health initiative “is a wonderful program,” said Mosher. “They’re meeting the real needs of the people, of women in the developing world who are dying because they don’t have access to attended births.”

See related coverage:

Maternal Health Plan about Saving Lives, not “Family Planning”: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister