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Jane Taber

Liberal attacks PM for ignoring contraception Add to ...

Stephen Harper signed on to the G8 leaders' document in Italy last year calling for improvements to maternal health that specifically included contraception and reproductive health services.

And although he has chosen maternal health as his signature initiative for the upcoming G8 summit in Muskoka, he is not including contraception reproductive health issues.

Two of his senior ministers have said that contraception isn't part of the initiative as the policy is aimed at saving lives. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said today the government is not "re-opening the abortion debate."

Keith Martin, Liberal MP and MD, is angry.

"Harper signed on to an agreement of all the G8 leaders to invest in family planning so he has backtracked on that …," says Mr. Martin.

For the past two years Dr. Martin, who has worked extensively in Africa, has chaired the G8 parliamentary group on health.

Last year in Italy, Mr. Martin's group of international parliamentarians proposed improvements to maternal health as something the G-8 leaders should take on.

Their proposal, however, included contraception and reproductive health. This was presented to the leaders in a plan of action, said Dr. Martin.

The Prime Minister's decision now, says Mr. Martin, "is the most regressive policy decision we have seen in Canada in the effort to reduce HIV AIDS."

"The failure to do this will result in millions of preventable deaths from this disease and will leave a sea of orphans,"

Dr. Martin is not alone in his outrage. The issue has seized Parliament Hill with opposition MPs accusing the Harper Tories of adopting right-wing, Bush-like strategies.

"You can only be partially effective at reducing maternal and child health," he said without also including reproductive health.

"You will miss the least expensive and most effective asset in improving a population's health if one doesn't invest in enabling people to access a full array of family planning options."

Dr. Martin says by "making this very illogical, regressive step to take family planning right off the table when it's the most important of all the things you can do in maternal and child health he is also playing to his Conservative base."

"He's got to give them a bone to chew on or some way to energize the Conservative base and this is a good way to do it because he knows the people outside the country are not going to vote."

Dr. Martin calls this a "tragedy" and "missed opportunity."

The document put together by Dr. Martin's group of international parliamentarians outlined the reasons for investing in maternal health.

"We call on the G8 to allocate dedicated resources to women's and girl's health especially in times of the global economic crisis to ensure the well-being of women and their families since compromises in the area of women's health and sexual and reproductive rights will have severe repercussions on the entire socio-economic situation of the countries involved with the progress made on improving the lives of millions being at stake," says the document.

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