In defense of Canada's "No Abortion Policy" in foreign aid
Joseph C. Ben-Ami Friday, 07 May 2010
At a recent meeting of G8 Ministers in Halifax, Bev Oda put to rest weeks of speculation by announcing that Canada would definitely not be funding programs that promote or perform abortions as part of its contribution to the proposed Maternal Health Initiative in developing countries. Judging by the reaction of some in the media, one would think the Conservatives were planning to ban food shipments to victims of famine. In fact, the decision makes good sense.
To begin with, the Maternal Health Initiative is not intended to be a Canadian initiative alone. What Mr. Harper proposed is a joint G8 program. If the other G8 countries don't agree to participate in the Maternal Health Initiative, it won't happen. There is no plan for Canada to "go it alone".
It's important to know this because, if the initiative proceeds, the resources contributed by each country will end up being allocated in a coordinated manner. In practical terms, this means that the decision of any country to direct its contributions to one area of the initiative can be off-set by other countries directing their resources to others areas. Let's say, for example, that Canada decides to direct its contribution toward a "better nutrition program" for mothers with young children. The Americans could easily direct their contribution toward the expansion of abortion services if that - as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems have been saying - is what is important to them. The net result on the ground will not change. The argument that pregnant mothers will be denied access to safe abortions as a consequence of Canada's stand is, therefore, specious.
The government has been accused of putting ideology ahead of women's health. This itself is nothing more than ideologically motivated clap trap.
Consider what would happen if Canada were to go it alone on the Maternal Health Initiative. In such a scenario, the distribution of resources would be zero-sum, i.e. the allocation of funds to expand abortion services would require a commensurate reduction of funding for other, equally important health services. To put it plainly, more abortions in one country would mean less food and medical care for mothers and their children in another.
Faced with this reality - and let me stress once again that this is not the case with the proposed G8 Maternal Health Initiative - the difficult decision must be made as to where finite resources will be directed. Obviously the values, or "ideology", of the government of the day play a role in this decision, but that cuts both ways; the decision by one government to fund expanded abortion services overseas is just as "ideological" as the decision not to. Any assertion to the contrary is merely self-serving twaddle.
The question, therefore, is: how closely do the values of the government correspond to the values of Canadian at large on this issue?
If polling tells us anything about Canadians' attitude to abortion, it's that they are overwhelmingly troubled by it, but deeply divided over what to do. In view of this lack of consensus, a case can be made that the government's decision is entirely consistent with the feelings of Canadians on the subject, especially since that decision does not prevent individuals from supporting an international pro-abortion agenda if they so choose.
That's right - as independent organizations, groups like Planned Parenthood are perfectly able to raise money on their own and spend it as they please, without government interference. The fact that they don't - or can't - raise private money despite in many cases having charitable status, is a strong indication of how little Canadians actually support their agenda. This is an important aspect of the overall story, yet a search of the record could not find a single report that includes it. Not one.
Media collusion or just plain laziness? You be the judge.
Whatever the answer, it's abundantly clear that, far from imposing it's "ideology", where there is no consensus this government is respecting the right of Canadians to choose for themselves who they will support.
What about the fact that abortion is legal in Canada and fully funded through tax dollars? Shouldn't our foreign policy reflect those facts?
There are two problems with this line of reasoning. First, Canada's domestic policy toward abortion is badly out of step with Canadians' attitude on the subject. Canadians may not be marching in the streets by the millions demanding change, but that doesn't mean that they embrace the status quo and have a burning desire to see it exported.
The second problem is that, while abortion on demand may be legal in Canada, it's actually illegal in most of the countries into which aid would flow as part of this initiative.
I'm surprised that this fact has garnered as little attention as it has in this debate. It's one thing for private groups like Planned Parenthood to raise money and spend it in defiance of the laws and customs of the countries in which they are operating - it's another thing entirely when states do. The former is a nuisance; the latter is a form of neo-colonialism that can undermine any number of bi-lateral or multi-lateral initiatives from improving trade to protecting the environment.
Inter-state relations is just one more of the "real world" facts with which government must contend.
To summarize, Canada's decision to refrain from funding abortion services in developing countries as part of its contribution to the Maternal Health Initiative represents a sensible compromise on an emotional issue that will provide real aid to women in need in a manner consistent with genuine Canadian values, without imposing a moral choice on anyone.
It doesn't happen often, but it's an example of good policy-making for which the federal Conservatives are to be congratulated.