Stephen Harper’s stance on foreign aid threatens to re-open a debate that has been uneasily settled in Canada for more than twenty years. In 2009, Prime Minister Harper announced that child and maternal health programs in developing countries are to be a major focus at the upcoming G8 summit in June.
On May 10, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda explained that the Conservative government’s approach to international aid “does not mean supporting abortions.” While the Conservatives are willing to consider incorporating contraception into their maternal health programs abroad, abortion will not be included under any circumstances.
The formulation of an aid program by a developed country to aid a developing neighbour suggests that the former has the ability to make decisions that are in the latter’s best interest. Harper’s approach runs contrary to a key tenet of foreign aid, the understanding that citizens of all nations are entitled to certain basic rights and amenities which must be provided. 98 per cent of all unsafe abortions take place in developing countries with restrictive abortion laws, resulting in 70,000 deaths annually. It is hypocritical for the Canadian government to formulate an aid program which fails to ensure a medical right which its own citizens enjoy. Harper’s insistence upon a definition of family planning that excludes abortion is clearly an attempt to curry favour with his constituents. This suggests that the Conservative government has put ideology ahead of effective foreign aid.
Where abortions are going to occur, they must be safe. Funding safe abortions would help protect the lives of would-be mothers who would otherwise be forced to place their lives in jeopardy. Whether the Conservative government likes it or not, the Canadian definition of family planning encompasses the right to elective abortion; Canadian foreign aid must reflect this right.
Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada. He should therefore limit himself to endorsing Canadian laws and values, and avoid promoting policies abroad which he cannot enforce at home.
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