Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maternal health and abortion

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Canada's refusal to fund access to abortion services in developing countries is muddying its laudable policy of spending $3 billion for maternal and child health overseas, and its efforts to protect the lives of girls and women from sexual violence.

Having told the UN that Canada condemns systemic rape and forced marriage, Foreign Minister John Baird cannot refuse to include abortion services in the projects it is funding for women and girls who are victims of such violence.

Mr. Baird told the UN last month that forced marriage is rape and condemned countries with appalling records of sexual violence. Canada's funding for the developing world encompasses nations where war, civil conflict or traditional marriage practices victimize women and girls sexually. But last week, International Development Minister Christian Paradis said new funding for projects overseas doesn't include abortion services for rape victims and child brides.

The policy, he said, aligns with rules Canada set out at the G8 in 2010, which effectively reversed the country's policy on funding abortion services in aid programs abroad.

The Harper government has strenuously avoided being drawn into an abortion debate in Parliament, but with some pro-life organizations backing the need for access to abortion for victims of systemic rape abroad, its position makes no sense politically or practically.

In some developing nations, sexual violence is endemic due to years of war or rule by religiously conservative governments. Being forced to carry a baby to term condemns a woman to a life of poverty, shame and, in the case of forced marriage, servitude and often abuse.

Mr. Baird cannot stand on the world stage and proclaim female economic empowerment as key to progress in the developing world while maintaining an aid policy that makes Canada complicit in the oppression of women victims.

The U.S. and Britain see the logic in having development programs include access to safe and legal abortions, and so must the Harper government.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2013 A8

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Updated on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 7:05 AM CDT: adds image

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