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Liberals thwart Rae's reproductive 'options' push

A motion by Liberal MP Bob Rae regarding reproductive health options in the government's maternal and child health initiative was defeated yesterday. Mr. Rae said the Conservatives must clarify whether they intend to cut funding to international groups that fund and facilitate abortion.


Liberal attempts to ignite muffled anti-abortion sentiment on Conservative benches and foster doubts about the social policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have been foiled from within.

A motion by Liberal MP Bob Rae demanding that the government's maternal and child health initiative for the world's poorest regions include "the full range of reproductive health options" was defeated by a vote of 144-138 yesterday when three Liberal MPs - all long-time opponents of abortion - voted against it.

The Tories immediately pounced on the result, saying it shows Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff does not have control of his own caucus.

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There was much talk during the day about the wording of the motion, which did not specifically reference abortion. The New Democrats said that was a capitulation to the dissent within Liberal ranks.

Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who voted against the motion, told that he was caught off-guard by the topic of the motion, which, he said, was not raised at the party caucus meeting.

"I am a pro-life MP," said Mr. Szabo, " and there are many of my colleagues in the Liberal caucus who will protect the unborn in their decisions as parliamentarians, and should matters come before the House, they will continue to act accordingly."

Mr. Rae said the party understands that it is not up to Canada to dictate the reproductive policies of other countries.

But, he told reporters, the Conservative government must make clear whether it intends to cut off funding to those international development groups that fund and facilitate abortion and other forms of contraception.

"What we are trying to achieve," he said, "is to get a broader understanding in Canada, and in Canadian society, that this government has a very clear foot in the neoconservative camp where, frankly, ideology trumps science."

His motion said the Conservative government should refrain from advancing the policies of former U.S. president George W. Bush, who required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding "to refrain from promoting medically sound family planning."

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Mr. Rae pointed out that the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a group that has consistently received money from the government of Canada since the early 1980s, has not had its funding renewed this year. "I don't think that is an accident. I don't think that is happenstance," he told the Commons.

A spokesman for the London-based group said it still holds out hope that the money will come. "Many governments are slow in making decisions like this," Paul Bell said. "We just haven't heard one way or another and there has been no indication yet when we might hear."

For their part, the Conservatives were very careful in speaking to Mr. Rae's motion. Even those Tory MPs who have been the most vocal opponents of abortion told Parliament that they were not about to debate the issue.

Mr. Harper reiterated that message.

"The fact of the matter is, Canadian people want to do what they can, cost effectively, to save the lives of mothers and children," Mr. Harper said when asked by Mr. Ignatieff - who also did not say the word abortion - if the government would fund all family planning options.

"They are not interested in reopening abortion. They are not interested in playing petty politics in the United States."

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Liberal Party polling has previously shown that abortion is an extremely powerful issue, one that is a game changer for many Canadians, especially women.

A Canadian Press/Harris-Decima survey released yesterday indicates 74 per cent of Canadians believe Mr. Harper's plan to champion maternal and child health in developing countries should include government funding for contraception. But respondents were almost evenly split as to whether the initiative should include funding for abortion services, with 48 per cent opposed and 46 per cent in favour.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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