Stephen Harper caved to opposition calls to include contraception, but not abortion.

Campaign Life Coalition’s CLC National News publication was all ready for layout, with a story that praised the Conservatives for holding firm on keeping any facet of “reproductive health” out of the government’s signature policy to improve maternal and infant health in the developing world.

On March 17, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon informed the foreign affairs committee that the initiative “does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning.” He added, “Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives.” He reiterated his comments to reporters after the meeting. The strong position maintained by the government deserved kudos and CLC was one of the lonely voices praising Harper and his government for their steadfastness in the face of criticism.

The usual suspects – pro-abortion NGOs, the opposition leaders and their abortion-supporting surrogates, and certain media outlets such as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail – attacked the government for not including contraception as part of its maternal health package. Less than 48 hours after that foreign affairs hearing in Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper contradicted his foreign minister and said he would consider including contraception in the plan when the issue is examined at the G8 meeting Canada is hosting in June. Pro-life groups condemned the prime minister for capitulating on the issue.

Under fire from NDP leader Jack Layton in the House of Commons during Question Period on March 19, Harper told Parliament, “We are not closing the door on any option, including contraception.” He added, “However, we do not wish to debate abortion in this place or elsewhere.”

During the same Question Period, Bev Oda, minister of international co-operation, told the House that the government is “not closing the door on any options that will save the lives of mothers and children, including contraception.” However, in February, Oda had indicated the program would not include “reproductive health.”

Reproductive rights is a buzz phrase commonly used by the United Nations and the World Health Organization to mean abortion.

Layton continued to lambaste the government over the issue and demanded that the prime minister clearly answer whether Harper agreed “with the broad sweep of opinion that is extremely clear, that contraception saves lives?” The prime minister caved and Cannon was forced to answer questions about his unambiguous statements.

Asked by CTV how he could articulate an anti-contraception policy on Tuesday, when on Thursday the government seemed quite open to including contraception, Cannon told CTV that he was simply mistaken. Yet, Cannon maintained that abortion would not be a part of Ottawa’s maternal health initiative. The plan “doesn’t deal with abortion,” he insisted, but “it doesn’t exclude contraception.”

As part of the political manoeuvring, the Liberals introduced a motion that called upon the government to “refrain from advancing the failed right-wing ideologies” of the Bush era and be guided by scientific evidence “which proves that education and family planning can prevent as many as one in every three maternal deaths.”

Pro-abortion NGOs and international agencies claim that contraception and abortion are required to help save women’s lives in the developing world. The United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation suggest that spacing children further apart is necessary to protect the lives of women and infants. Jennifer Kitts of Action Canada for Population and Development claims abortion and contraception will reduce maternal deaths by 30 per cent and infant mortality by 20 per cent. The Allan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the pro-abortion movement, claims more than 200 million women suffer from an “unmet” need for contraception.
Pro-life groups say that the number is either bogus or explainable.

Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute told that women in the developing world are assumed to “have a so-called unmet need for contraception” based simply on the fact that they had a baby in the last two years and are not currently sterilized or on contraception.

Dr. Jack Willke told The Interim that part of the “demand” for abortion and contraception stems from their easy availability, compared to the “long and dangerous distances many poor, rural women must travel to get legitimate care, especially for delivery.” Many women who need obstetric care never reach health clinics and give birth en route, if they set out at all. He said providing more trained medical staff and creating more health facilities will save lives by making delivering babies safer and reduce the so-called need for abortion and contraception.

Mosher attacked the idea that abortion and contraception are parts of maternal health. He said the pro-abortion “cure for maternal mortality is reducing the number of women who get pregnant,” and added that they are “trying to save lives by preventing women from conceiving children at all. That’s like saying we’re going to stop all traffic fatalities by preventing people (from driving) cars.”

In January, Harper announced at the Davos Summit in Switzerland that his government would press the other G8 nations to invest in clean water, better nutrition, safe deliveries and inoculations in order to reduce maternal and infant mortality in Africa, Latin America and Asia. He was immediately attacked by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who insisted that the “full gamut of reproductive health” services be included as part of the maternal health initiative. The Tories stood firm, saying the goal was to save lives.

Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, called the government’s flip-flop “a giant step backwards and a huge disappointment.” She told The Interim that “preventing pregnancy and killing children does not further their aim of providing good maternal care.” She said Canadians support the promotion of maternal health and do not want to see the divisive issues of abortion and contraception detract from the positive aspects of the original proposal.

Douglas was worried that compromising on contraception would lead to future compromises. She told that “The prime minister has caved in to pressure from pro-abortion activists to allow for contraception in the G8 health plan. Hopefully, he will not cave on abortion too.”