Two days after his Foreign Affairs Minister reasserted that contraception and abortion would not be part of the Canadian government’s plan for maternal health, Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to have reversed, or perhaps clarified, the government’s position on contraception. Harper says that contraception will be included — maybe. Or perhaps it was always included and it was not properly communicated. It is difficult to separate what everyone is saying and the media’s spin. A close reading indicates that the Prime Minister is open to discussing contraception with other G8 leaders and won’t insist that it won’t be included. However, Harper still seems opposed to including abortion. Six of the other seven G8 countries are all strongly committed to “reproductive health” (a euphemism for both abortion and contraception) as part of maternal health, so Harper has effectively capitulated on that and he will be under tremendous pressure from foreign leaders, NGOs and the opposition parties to include abortion. How long until there is a reversal/clarification on that issue, too?
This partial reversal is disappointing, to say the least, but also completely unnecessary. The government could articulate why abortion and contraception are not part of their proposal (every dollar for condoms is one less dollar for inoculations and clean water) and win this argument or at least make it a non-issue. And they don’t need to win over everybody. The few Canadians whose votes would be determined by the issue of condoms and abortion for Africa will never vote for the Conservatives even if the government were to come around and embrace their pro-death priorities in maternal health. These people are ideologically committed left-wingers and the Tories will never, ever be acceptable to them. “Reproductive health” as part of a plan to reduce maternal mortality is bad policy, but the capitulation is also bad politics.