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International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda takes part in a G8 meeting on maternal health in Halifax on April 26, 2010. (The Canadian Press)
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda takes part in a G8 meeting on maternal health in Halifax on April 26, 2010. (The Canadian Press)

Top medical journal chides Harper on abortion funding Add to ...

A top British medical journal is chiding the Harper government for refusing to put abortion funding on Canada's G8 agenda.

An editorial in The Lancet says it's "hypocritical and unjust" that Canada get in the way of abortions abroad when Canadian women can have them at home.

"This stance must change," the journal says.

"Seventy thousand women die from unsafe abortions worldwide every year. The Canadian government does not deprive women living in Canada from access to safe abortions; it is therefore hypocritical and unjust that it tries to do so abroad."

The governing Conservatives ignited a heated debate by refusing to include abortion funding in a maternal-health plan at next month's G8 summit.

That drew rebukes from opposition MPs and aid groups, who accused the Tories of pandering to a socially conservative agenda at the expense of the poorest of pregnant women.

International Development Minister Bev Oda defended the government's funding decisions Thursday in the House of Commons.

"This is not about ideology. This is not about entitlement. This is about how we best use taxpayers' dollars so that we can make a difference in developing countries," Oda said.

"We are helping women in developing countries so that they can better feed their children, keep them healthy and make sure they have a safe and productive life."

Tory Senator Nancy Ruth fanned the flames this week by telling aid groups to "shut the fuck up" about abortion funding, or risk a government backlash.

Canada hosts the G8 summit next month in Huntsville, Ont., and has championed the plan to bring basic health services to the poorest of pregnant women and children, mostly in Africa.

The Lancet lauds Canada's decision to make maternal and child health a priority at the G8 summit. But the journal takes exception to the "conscious decision" to omit abortion funding from that plan.

"Although the country's decision only affects a small number of developing countries where abortion is legal, bans on the procedure, which are detrimental to public health, should be challenged by the G8, not tacitly supported," the editorial says.

"Canada and the other G8 nations could show real leadership with a final maternal health plan that is based on sound scientific evidence and not prejudice."

Canada's position on abortion funding is at odds with other countries', chiefly the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said access to safe and legal abortions should be part of the G8 health initiative.

"You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions," Clinton said at a March meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Ottawa.

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