The leaders of the G8 countries meeting in Huntsville, Ont., endorsed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s signature Muskoka Initiative on maternal and infant health and pro-life leaders are cautiously optimistic that it will remain abortion-free despite loaded wording of the leaders’ statement.

On June 26, the G8 released a statement committing the world’s rich countries — Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom — to support “key interventions along the continuum of care” from pre-pregnancy through to early childhood to improve maternal health and reduce child mortality. Despite the global economic uncertainty, the G8 promised new funding to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

For five months following Harper’s announcement in January, the government has been criticized for not including abortion as part of its maternal health program. The Conservative government resisted calls by the opposition parties, feminist groups, and even U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to fund abortion to help reduce premature maternal deaths. In March, Parliament narrowly voted down a Liberal motion to force the government to include abortion funding.

Indeed, the G8 statement does not include the word abortion, but does support the provision of “sexual and reproductive health care and services, including voluntary family planning.” Those are, as Terrence McKeegan of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute noted, sometimes code words to promote abortion. Yet, he praised Harper for successfully “keeping references to abortion out of the final document.”

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition and vice president of the International Right to Life Federation, told The Interim, said that language has in the past been used to promote abortion and that both CLC and IRLF will both monitor the maternal health project closely. He said he is “hopeful” that abortion will not be part of the initiative considering the federal government did not capitulate despite the intense political pressure for it inclusion. He said “abortion is not maternal health” and applauded the document’s focus on clean water, better sanitation, improved nutrition, and genuine obstetric care as the “correct path to help women in the developing world.”

Pro-abortion groups were incensed that the lack of specific reference to abortion. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, condemned Harper: “No effective maternal health improvements can occur without comprehensive reproductive health care, including access to safe and legal abortions.”

Le Devior reported that despite the domestic political hoopla about abortion in Canada leading up to the G8 meeting, “the various G8 countries did not seem to be obsessed with maternal health, in general, and with the question of abortion, in particular.”

Indeed, disappointingly to the prime minister, Canada is providing the lion’s share of funding for maternal health: $2.85 billion of the $5 billion committed over the next five years, including $1.1 billion in new funding, whereas the United States will contribute $1.3 billion over two years. Another $2.3 billion has been promised by non-G8 countries such as the Netherlands, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.