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Foreign Affairs

Harper Conservatives endangering maternal and infant health by refusing to fund birth control

Posted on March 18, 2010
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By excluding birth control from their maternal and infant health initiative, the Harper Conservatives are going in the opposite direction of its G8 partners and putting women’s lives at risk, Liberal MPs said today.

“Just when we thought the days of Bush-style abstinence policies were behind us, the Harper Conservatives’ right-wing ideology is now endangering the world’s most vulnerable,” said Liberal Health Critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett.  “Just as taboos over condoms in the developing world are falling to the wayside, the international community has recognized the critical importance of offering the full range of family planning options to prevent maternal and infant mortality in the developing world.”

The European Union, the United Kingdom and the U.S. have policies in place that support contraception in the developing world, while the Harper Conservatives have clearly stated that birth control is not a part of the maternal health initiative they plan to present to the G8.

“The Harper Conservatives are setting the stage to embarrass Canada at the G8 with an initiative that turns back the clock on women’s equality and human rights,” said Liberal Status of Women Critic Anita Neville.  “Their right-wing ideology should not be allowed to trump the volume of research from around the globe making a solid case for greater international support for sexual and reproductive health programs.”

Recent research by the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), for example, states that satisfying the unmet need for contraceptive services in developing countries would avert 52 million unintended pregnancies annually, which, in turn, would save more than 1.5 million lives and prevent 505,000 children from losing their mothers.

“Which of these facts do the Conservatives not understand?” asked Liberal MP Lise Zarac. “Greater use of modern contraceptives reduces unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and pays for itself by reducing the costs of maternal and newborn care.”

“Liberals are clear on this point: women’s reproductive rights are human rights,” concluded Dr. Bennett.

BACKGROUND

• Yesterday, Action Canada for Population and Development released a Call to Action on Maternal and Child Health at the G8 Summit: (Link) (English only).

• A 2006 International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) report (“Death and Denial: Unsafe Abortion and Poverty”) demonstrates that women who can’t access reproductive health services are more likely to obtain an unsafe abortion, and more likely to die as a result of pregnancy, childbirth or unsafe abortion.

• The report from the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/addingitup.pdf) shows that maternal deaths in developing countries could be slashed by 70 per cent and newborn deaths cut nearly in half if the world doubled its investment in family planning and pregnancy-related care.

• The report states that “investing in both family planning and maternal newborn services can achieve the same dramatic outcomes for $1.5 billion less than investing in maternal and newborn services alone.”

• The risk of maternal mortality increases with each pregnancy. Yet research shows that 215 million women who would like to delay or avoid childbearing do not have access to modern contraception. Providing contraception to those who want it would avert about one-third of maternal deaths.

• About 20 million women have unsafe abortions every year. About 8.5 million of those women need hospital care for complications, but such care is not available to about three million of these women.

• According to the UN Population Division, 61 percent of the world’s population live in countries where abortion is permitted. Providing safe abortion services where abortion is legal would prevent many of the estimated 68,000 deaths of women each year from complications arising from unsafe abortions.

• International human rights law states that maternal mortality constitutes a violation of the right to life and is linked to or results from violations of many other human rights, including the rights to health, education, equality and non-discrimination. 

• Canada is a signatory to several agreements that commit to providing a full range of safe and reliable family planning methods and reproductive health services. The Development Assistance Accountability Act, for example, requires that any assistance provided by Canada be consistent with international human rights standards. In June 2009, a UN Human Rights Council resolution also committed Canada to provide “the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls” which includes “sexual and reproductive health.”

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed onto last year’s G8 Leader’s statement, which clearly promotes accelerating progress on combating child mortality, including through “sexual and reproductive health care and services and voluntary family planning.”

• In a January 2010 speech, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “In the Obama Administration, we are convinced of the value of investing in women and girls, and we understand there is a direct line between a woman’s reproductive health and her ability to lead a productive, fulfilling life.”