So, the Harper Government decided not to open up the abortion issue and allow debate. How surprising.
It didn’t want to open up a can of worms and embarrass its members. Refusing to fund international programs that fund abortions puts women’s lives at risk and is fundamental to the issue of maternal health. Thousands of women die every year from botched abortions. Let alone the number of women who die during and after child birth, because they do not have access to medical care.

Whatever your view, women who seek abortions will find a way to have one. The real issue is whether that abortion is a safe one. We can argue forever on whether it is ethical. There are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. But the issue is women’s maternal health and reproductive rights.

Canada’s stance is confusing. Canada’s public health care funds access to abortions, but the country denies that access internationally. Canada ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, back in 1980. That convention guarantees women’s reproductive rights including access to safe abortions. The United States is taking an opposite stance. The U.S. never ratified the convention. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that maternal health includes access to safe abortions. President Obama’s National Health Care Plan does not include public funding of abortions. But America will fund it internationally, as will the other G8 countries. So, why is our government taking this stance?

Abortion is an issue few want to talk about and it is politically dangerous. It’s a topic that is emotionally charged and many people see it as black and white. Instead of seeing it as a health issue, many people will let their religion decide what side they are on. But the facts speak for themselves. There is compelling evidence that where there are broad legal grounds to safe abortions mortality among women is considerably reduced. Currently, according to the World Health Organization, 300,000 mothers die a year during pregnancy and childbirth, and thousands more die of botched abortions. Furthermore, according to the WHO, if barriers to safe abortions and abortion services are removed more maternal lives will be saved. Clearly, access to safe and legal abortions should be part of the goal of maternal health. Has the federal government followed the same path as our Ontario government on the safe sex curriculum and caved into pressure from religious groups?

There have been recent successes in overturning strict abortion laws in some countries. Mexico and Nepal overturned strict abortion laws even against political and religious opposition. Canadian and international human rights groups are surprised and disappointed with our government’s stance. According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Canada is getting failing grades on issues of human rights. I am saying human rights because women’s rights are human rights.

The problem is that international human rights groups have been critical of the Harper government, and groups that are critical lose their funding. As we know, this government does not respond well to criticism. It would rather shut down parliament and end debate rather than face criticism. In this case, it is the funding of international programs that support reproductive rights. Like women who seek abortions, these programs will be funded anyway from other more progressive countries — mainly the United States and European countries. I find it shameful and sad that Canada is now not considered progressive. This Conservative party got rid of that word and have to appease their backsliding origins. These backward world views do not match with the rest of the world, and what we need to do to improve the human condition. There are thousands of unwanted pregnancies due to sexual violence and these women do not have access to safe abortions and are at risk. If this conservative government is truly concerned with maternal health, then it should put its money where its mouth is.

Judith Sainsbury is a member of the Guelph Mercury Community Editorial Board.