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Surrounded by MPs, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks with the parliamentary press on Tuesday, February 2, 2010. (Adrian Wyld)
Surrounded by MPs, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks with the parliamentary press on Tuesday, February 2, 2010. (Adrian Wyld)

Ottawa Notebook

Include abortion in maternal-health pledge, <br/>Michael Ignatieff tells PM Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff warned Stephen Harper today not to play "ideological games" with women's health, suggesting the Prime Minister's new commitment should extend to abortion programs.

"Let's keep the ideology out of this and move forward," said the Liberal leader at an afternoon press conference.

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Mr. Ignatieff says he supports Mr. Harper's initiative to make maternal health a key plank at this year's G8 summit in Muskoka but cautioned that women must "have a full range of contraceptive options and have control of their fertility."

Surrounded by Liberal women MPs, Mr. Ignatieff noted that former U.S. President George W. Bush banned federal funding to international groups that performed abortions or provided information about abortion as an option.

"We don't want us to go that way," Mr. Ignatieff said. "We want to make sure that women have access to all the contraceptive methods available to control their fertility because we don't want to have women dying because of botched procedures, we don't want to have women dying in misery."

He says he wants to "lay down a marker" now for the Conservatives, acknowledging that he has no firm evidence that Mr. Harper is planning to go the Bush route.

"We are registering concerns because there have been a number of statements … in which other opinions have been expressed by members of the Conservative caucus," he said.

Mr. Ignatieff's comments were followed immediately by a press release quoting Conservative MPs, including several Harper ministers expressing their anti-choice views.

This from Treasury Board President Stockwell Day: "The thinking is, if you can cut a child to pieces or burn them alive with salt solution while they're still in the womb, what's wrong with knocking them around a little when they're outside the womb?" (The Liberals say the remark dates from March, 2000, but Mr. Day's office says it was lifted from a 1988 provincial debate.)

Ontario Tory MP Cheryl Gallant said in a 2004 reference to an abortion clinic: "We saw that young American (in Iraq) have his head literally cut off in front of the cameras, but what's happening down there is absolutely no different!"

(Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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Update Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister's spokesman, responded to Mr. Ignatieff's comments this afternoon, calling them "sad and pathetic" and decrying the use of the issue as a "political football."

In an email to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Soudas said:

This has nothing to do with abortion, gay marriage or capital punishment. This is about saving lives of vulnerable children and mothers in the developing world. Saving lives of mothers and children should not be a political football. Mr. Ignatieff's comments are sad and pathetic. Far too many lives have already been lost for want of relatively simple health care necessities such as clean water, inoculations and better nutrition, as well as trained health workers to care for women and deliver babies. In June, under the Presidency of Canada, G-8 Leaders will be discussing the importance to combat maternal and infant mortality around the world.

Decisions will be made based on one clear objective, saving lives of vulnerable children and mothers in the developing world.

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