Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosted the Summit on Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) in Toronto May 28-30, with more than 300 representatives of international agencies, foreign governments, and non-government organizations, to continue the work on his 2010 Muskoka initiative to reduce maternal and infant morbidity.

While many of the partner organizations the Canadian government works with promote population control and abortion rights as part of maternal health, Harper was adamant that the $3.5 billion Canada will commit over five years will not pay for abortion. “We’re trying to rally a broad consensus behind what we’re doing,” he told reporters, “and you can’t rally a consensus on that issue (of abortion).”

Harper added that “we’re focusing on the things where we can save lives and where there’s great public consensus on what we’re doing.” The focus of the MNCH summit was vaccinations, nutrition programs, trained birthing attendants to ensure safe delivery of babies, and better data in terms of tracking births and deaths.

While the MNCH did not promote abortion, it did commit money to family planning, which includes contraception. Rosemary McCarney, co-chair of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health, said, “family planning is embedded in all the programming.” Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that helps fund maternal health programs, said that while she accepted abortion was off the table, contraception is a top priority.

Campaign Life Coalition Matt Wojciechowski told The Interim he was disappointed many “summit participants were focused on eliminating the poor rather than eradicating poverty.” He said, “family planning with a large contraception component is a distraction from the real needs of impoverished and vulnerable people in the developing world.”

Dr. Robert Walley of Matercare International told the Catholic Register that abortion was discussed in the breakout sessions that were closed to the media. “I was appalled that it was taken over more or less by everybody saying we’ve got to include abortion.”