Former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin talks to about abortion and maternal health. He starts off well enough clarifying a matter that many people do not understand: abortions in the developing world are not done in safe conditions because few are performed in hospitals or by doctors. In that sense, it is like any surgery that is performed in unhygienic conditions with few modern technologies and medicines, even when done by trained medical professionals. However, whereas pro-lifers would suggest that it is precisely because of the absence of that health care infrastructure, foreign aid directed to maternal health should focus on cost-effective, manageable interventions such as vaccinations, clean water, nutrition, and safe deliveries.

Considering the lack of medical infrastructure and trained medical professionals, increasing funding for abortion is effectively increasing funding for unsafe abortions. Many will be relatively safer, but they will still be unsafe.

To repeat the points we make here often, providing proper nutrition during pregnancy and after childbirth, ensuring there is clean drinking water during and after pregnancy and safe water for cleaning the mother and child after the delivery, making safe deliveries possible, and giving newborns vaccinations, will all make abortion less “necessary” even by the pro-abortion definition of that phrase. When these interventions are available, women will not “need” abortion to lower their risk of premature death because the things that kill mothers will be less of an issue. And, to repeat the point, having hospitals dot the landscape is not necessary to provide these goods and services.

Abortion is a distraction to what is really needed to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s initiative will not build the hospitals that Paul Martin envisions, so why not focus on what can be delivered.