Canada: McTeer accuses Tories of putting women’s lives at risk

May 5 2010

The federal government’s decision not to fund abortion as part of its new G8 maternal health initiative will contribute to the loss of life of women and young girls, says Maureen McTeer, wife of former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark.

McTeer, who works with the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, said she was at first “delighted” to hear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper planned to make reducing maternal and childhood morbidity and mortality in the developing world a key initiative when he hosts next month’s G8 and G20 summits in Ontario.

However, the federal government’s plan to exclude abortion from its funding for the initiative means women who live in conflict zones where rape is a tool of war, or young girls who are married off to older men and find themselves pregnant at age 10 or 11, will be left to their own devices when trying to access a safe abortion, McTeer said.

“In situations where they are pregnant against their will, (help is about) providing them with a safe abortion,” McTeer told CTV’s Power Play Wednesday afternoon. “Because women will continue to abort if the situation is as dire as it is for so many of these women. They die, the fetus dies. What in the world are we saying to our partners around the world? Why are we so smug about saying to them, ‘Well, figure it out as best you can?'”

The government’s stance on abortion as it pertains to the maternal health initiative has become a hot topic on Parliament Hill, and gained steam earlier this week when Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth advised a gathering of women’s groups to “shut the f–k up” on the abortion issue or risk a blacklash from the government.

The day after Ruth’s contentious comments, it was revealed the government had cut funding to 11 women’s groups over the past two weeks. On Wednesday, Liberal status of women critic Anita Neville said by her count, 24 groups have had their funding cut, including groups that have long been funded by Status of Women Canada.

“I think it’s politics at its worst,” Neville said, adding that funding was slashed to groups that “had the temerity to speak out against” the government on abortion or other issues.

Government defends spending

Rona Ambrose, the minister responsible for the status of women, responded that the government is spending the most it has ever spent on women’s programs, but cannot fund all 400 groups that apply for funding.

According to Ambrose, 78 groups have had their funding requests approved, and 40 per cent of them are “brand new groups that have never received funding before.”

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff criticized the funding cuts in the House Wednesday, saying the government is trying to bully and bankrupt its critics.

“This is a big issue here. It is about whether the government respects democracy,” Ignatieff said.

“That is the fundamental issue. When will the Conservatives stop the smears, stop the attacks, stop the intimidation and start showing the Canadian people some respect?”

Transport Minister John Baird replied by charging Ignatieff with bullying his MPs for forcing them to vote against a bill to scrap the long gun registry.

“Let us let members of Parliament honour the sacred trust, the promises that they made to their electorate,” Baird said.

Shift in policy

McTeer accused the government of backing away from a foreign aid policy that has long supported access to safe abortions as part of maternal and reproductive health initiatives.

“Maternal health, and sexual and reproductive health, which is what we’re talking about here, is about providing a basket of services that are needed by women because they happen to be able to bear babies,” McTeer said.

“So that’s what we’re talking about here. This is a brand new shift in our foreign policy, because our foreign policy since the Nairobi Conference has been quite clear: we have supported women’s access to all necessary medical procedures related to reproduction and sexuality where they are legal.”

McTeer said the goal is always to provide women with health services so they can avoid having to make the “terrible decisions” that many women have to make every day. The initiative must include funding for health facilities, trained health workers and equipment, she said.

But she wondered what will come of the negotiations at the two summits, when the Canadian government will be facing countries such as Britain, the U.S. and France, all of which support abortion as part of maternal health.

“The larger question is:

Is our government willing to do what’s needed to be done to save women’s lives? Historically Canada has,” McTeer said. “We seem to be moving away from that policy now. We don’t know what the final agenda will look like, we don’t know how it will play out.” Source

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