Parliamentary committee meetings feature
roster of pro-abortion witnesses

On May 10, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women met to discuss maternal and child health. This was in accordance with its April 12 motion to study the issue “following the government’s announcement to make maternal and child health a priority at the G8 in June that Canada will be hosting.” The meeting was the third meeting regarding this motion. Five witnesses “specializing in maternal and sexual health” gave opening statements and were questioned by Members of Parliament.

The witnesses, Jolanta Scott-Parker, executive director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health , the Canadian affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Pierre La Ramée from the IPPF, Ainsley Jenicek of the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances, Bridget Lynch, president of the International Confederation of Midwives, and Lorraine Fontaine from Regroupement Naissance-Renaissance, all expressed their support for abortion during the hearing.

Scott-Parker recommended funding contraception and abortion in the health plan to minimize maternal deaths. Jenicek stressed that abortion is inseparable from maternal and child care because it ensures the survival of the mother and lets her opt out of pregnancy if contraceptives fail.

Lynch discussed the need for more midwives abroad. She also admitted that “midwives provide family planning, and in some countries are attending first trimester abortions.” Fontaine spoke about “the humanization on childbirth and the perinatal period,” though she later attested that the “attack on abortion is an attack on women’s reproductive health.”

Liberal MP Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre), the chair of the party’s women’s caucus, asked the witnesses about Canada’s leadership role in the G8 in light of “their limited response to women’s productive rights,” implying that a country cannot be a leader without advocating and funding abortion abroad.

Bloc Quebecois MP Johanne Deschamps (Laurentides-Labelle) asked why it is that abortion is “a fundamental right” in Canada, but is not promoted abroad.

Lynch said the discussion is devolving into one about abortion as opposed to maternal health: “There are women who don’t have access to basic maternal, newborn, and sexual reproductive health care, and in Canada we risk having this discussion turn completely to one of abortion.”

Conservative Lois Brown (Newmarket-Aurora) pointed out that abortion is illegal in many developing countries. “Canada must respect the sovereignty of those nations, and if other discussions must go on, that’s for another debate.” Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, who introduced a motion to require abortion and contraception be part of the government’s signature maternal health program at the G8 summit, has been arguing that the federal government does not care about women being raped in the Congo because it will not pay for abortions in that country, yet abortion is illegal in the Congo and many other African countries that would be the focus of Stephen Harper’s maternal health program.

Conservative MP Alice Wong (Richmond) said that the maternal health plan should be focused on “the actual needs of the mothers and the children” rather than abortion. To this, Lynch expressed her support for abortion funding: “I am horrifically embarrassed by what my country is saying …we (Canadian women) disagree with this aspect of this Canadian proposal.”

MPs Irene Mathyssen (NDP, London-Fanshawe), Michelle Simson (Lib., Scarborough Southwest), and Nicole Demers (BQ, Laval) advocated that Canada provide abortion to developing countries. Simson said that failing to fund abortion in places where it is legal is a “form of political interference from our country by trying to impose our values in some of these developing countries.”

Liberal MP Marc Garneau (Westmount-Ville-Marie) questioned why the government had not yet renewed funding for the IPPF and suggested this was due to Canada’s G8 plan. “It’s an important question, because if (the IPPF) had received it, it would indicate that the government supported International Planned Parenthood abroad and had not changed its position. That would, of course, be at odds with the discourse they are holding in the House of Commons at the moment, about not wanting to talk about it or deal with it.”

In response, Conservative MP Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges – Markham) pointed out that local Planned Parenthood facilities in the developing world are still funded by CIDA, but that the IPPF is not entitled to funding all the time.

Deschamps, after asking for a list of women’s groups whose government funding had been cut, said, “all groups that have been defending human rights for a number of years have seen their funding cut off or reduced …When I hear the government speak for Canada, I do not feel included in its policies … It is as if they pulled the rug from under my feet. This is not a menu from which you can pick and choose.”

The final hearing into this issue on May 12 gathered representatives from organizations dealing with child health. None of the guests explicitly opposed the inclusion of abortion and contraception in the Canadian maternal health plan.