The campaign to insert abortion funding into maternal health initiatives has dominated the media coverage leading up to the 36th annual G8 Summit, which will be held in Huntsville, Canada in late June. The host government, Canada, has come under considerable criticism from the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), pro-abortion NGOs and the Canadian media for refusing to bring abortion into the debate.
The G8 Summit brings together the leaders of eight of the largest economies of the world. Traditionally, the host country has wide latitude to set the agenda. In January, the Canadian government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, announced its intention to make maternal and child health a development priority for this year’s summit.
Almost immediately, pro-abortion groups attacked the plan for not specifically including family planning and abortion. The opposition has been led by Maureen McTeer, the wife of former Prime Minister Joe Clark and the Canadian representative for the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, who has been actively lobbying Canadian government officials using a briefing paper published by Action Canada for Population Development.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) stopped funding abortion services overseas last year by not renewing funding contracts with two of the largest international abortion providers, International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International. It is this non-renewal of funding for these abortion providers that some believe is at the heart of the protests over the Canadian policy for the G8 health initiative.
In February and again in March, Canadian administration officials confirmed that family planning and abortion would not be included in the G8 maternal and child health initiative, because as one official explained, “the purpose of this is to be able to save lives.”
On March 30, at the G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Quebec, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stoked the fires of the debate by declaring, “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health, and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.” The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, expressed his nation’s agreement with the US: “Our position is very much as stated by Secretary Clinton.”
Although the Canadian government has softened its stance on family planning, they have held firm on the abortion issue. Last week, Prime Minister Harper definitively ruled out abortion as part of the G8 initiative, stating “”We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children and are used on the many, many things that are available to us that frankly do not divide the Canadian population.”
Despite Secretary Clinton’s statement in March, neither the US nor Canada currently directly fund abortion services in developing countries. While the US Agency for International Development (USAID) does give money to independent agencies that provide access to abortion, it is also restricted by the Helms Amendment, which states that “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”