The Globe and Mail reports on a Nanos poll that shows that Canadians think that the vast majority of Canadians think foreign aid recipients should receive greater (9.4%) or the same  (67.7%) “access to safe abortions” as Canadians. There are so many problems with this poll.

First, the wording on a couple of levels. Of course respondents will say that others should receive the “same” abortion access as Canadians because to say otherwise would violate our equality instincts. As Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett says in the Globe story: “I believe the number-one Canadian value is fairness and I think Canadians have trouble with people in the developing world not having the same access.” Furthermore, the word “safe access” automatically biases the question in favour of abortion.

Second, the question is asked without context. There is a difference between wanting foreign aid recipients to have the same, “safe access” to abortion and wanting foreign aid dollars to pay for abortion as part of a maternal health program. That is what is missing from this whole debate: is abortion part of maternal health? Opposition to the government’s plans seem to think abortion is always a good thing to make available, but that isn’t the issue. Abortion as a component of maternal health is the key issue here. What response would this question — a question that takes context seriously — elicit: “Should your taxpayer dollars go to fund abortion as part of maternal and infant health program for the developing world?” I would suggest the numbers would be more evenly split.

Third, what does it say about the nearly one in ten respondents who said that abortion access should be greater in the developing world? There could be an underlying racism and eugenics at play.

To back to Bennett’s point about fairness, doesn’t that apply to more than abortion? What about access to proper nutrition, clean water, and trained birth attendants? Every dollar that goes to funding abortion does not go to nutrition, clean water and safe deliveries. Even if governments increase the total funding to accommodate abortion, that is money not going to these other priorities. So perhaps a better question would be: “Should money that could go to nutrition, clearn water and safe deliveries be used to pay for abortion in the developing world?”