International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced March 7 that the Liberal government is pledging $81.5 million for new “sexual and reproductive health services and rights” funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). There were confusing signals whether this would include abortion.
The Globe and Mail reported that the announcement excluded funding for abortion even in countries where abortion is currently legal, but iPolitics reported an unnamed “senior government official” who said that the UNFPA and governments will be able to allocate funding however they want, including for abortion.
“Sexual and reproductive health services and rights” is well-known UN-speak for contraception and abortion on demand, noted Campaign Life Coalition’s Matt Wojciechowski, who represents CLC at the United Nations.
The Liberals’ decision appears to be a reversal of the Conservatives’ ban on abortion funding as part of international aid in their 2010 Muskoka Initiative on Maternal Health. The $2.8 billion, five-year commitment announced by then-prime minister Stephen Harper, was focused on providing nutrition and health care to women and children but opposition parties and abortion advocates condemned the plan for not funding reproductive services. Eventually the Harper government caved on funding contraception but reiterated no money would go to fund abortion.
During the 2015 federal election campaign, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair said if elected prime minister they would restore abortion funding in foreign aid. During the Munk foreign policy debate in Toronto, Trudeau said he would fund “the full range” of reproductive services.
In her announcement, Bibeau stated in a press release, “Canada is committed to universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights. We also believe that programming decisions on these matters should be driven by evidence and outcomes, not ideology.” Yet she told the Globe and Mail the government was “supporting in different ways through different partners numerous countries to improve their health system,” and that “providing the service of safe abortion may be in some countries where it’s legal, it’s part of it.” She added that for the time being, “we’re not promoting it right now.”
A government fact sheet stated that of the $81.5 million, the Liberals designated $16.5 million in 2016 to the UNFPA for “increased access to sexual and reproductive health services” and “accelerated progress in the empowerment of women and girls, including action on sexual and reproductive health services and rights.” An additional $11 million from 2016 to 2021 is allocated to reduce teen pregnancies in Honduras, where abortion is banned except when the mother’s life is in danger, and the abortifacient emergency contraception is also banned. The funds in Honduras will go to “strengthen protection of the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents” and to “improve the coverage and quality of adolescent health care services, including comprehensive sex education, for the prevention of adolescent pregnancies.” The Liberals also designated $5 million to a “contraceptive supply initiative,” and $50 million to improving midwifery services in South Sudan between 2015 and 2020.
Funds are also allocated to forming “strategic alliances between key governmental, civil society and private sector parties to help prevent adolescent pregnancies.”
CLC’s Wojciechowski said he is concerned that despite Bibeau’s denials that the government is not “promoting” abortion “right now,” the strategic alliances is code for funding abortion lobbying where the procedure is currently illegal.
Obianuju Ekeocha, founder of the educational and research group Culture of Life Africa and the keynote speaker at the National March for Life Rose dinner in Ottawa in May, called the announcement “a terrible blow” for the women and children of Africa. “We have a lot of real needs in terms of maternal health,” the Nigerian-born Ekeocha told LifeSiteNews. To see Canada, “invest money in abortion and contraception, it’s an insult to the African people.”
Ekeocha said western countries routinely tie humanitarian aid to “demands that we have to change our way of life, to change our views to accommodate them,” calling the practice “cultural imperialism.” She said “the liberal ideology is ravishing a lot of nations in the developing world” and pushing a pro-contraceptive, pro-abortion agenda is “morally objectionable and reprehensible.”