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Question Period

PM defends excluding abortion from G8 plan Add to ...

Stephen Harper says Canadians do not want to spend their aid dollars on divisive initiatives such as abortion when there are so many other ways to save the lives of women and children.

"The fact of the matter is Canadians want to see their foreign aid money used for things that will help save the lives of women and children in ways that unite the Canadian people rather than divide them," the Prime Minister told the opposition today.

Mr. Harper was unyielding in his resolve not to fund safe access to abortions as part of his government's signature G8 initiative on maternal health. It was the second day in a row the maternal health issue was the focus of the daily Question Period.

Yesterday, the Conservative government announced that funding abortions would not be part of the initiative. Although Mr. Harper had hinted at this previously, he was not definitive until his government laid out its position in advance of the G8 development ministers' meeting in Halifax.

He faced tough questioning from the opposition today, including charges of transplanting conservative ideology abroad and emulating George W. Bush-like, right-wing policies on a woman's right to choose.

And so Mr. Harper, who has repeatedly said that he does not want to reopen the abortion debate, has done just that.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae charged that the Conservative decision means denying safe access to young African girls who are the victims of brutal rape.

"I am trying to understand the government's position," Mr. Rae said. "In Congo, women of 15 and 16 have been raped in the thousands. ... Rape is a tool of abuse and a brutality that is a matter of fact in many parts of the world, including Africa, which this government has abandoned.

"Is it the policy of the government of Canada that those young women will not have access to abortions after they've been raped? Is that the position of the government of Canada?"

Mr. Harper didn't answer directly. Instead, he asserted that there are a "range of initiatives" that G8 countries can fund to help save the lives of women and children around the world. "We're clear what initiatives we are funding and believe me there's more than enough to do in those areas," he said.

Mr. Rae's questions followed those of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who was also struggling to understand Mr. Harper's decision. He argued it was destroying Canada's credibility abroad and was a reversal of a 25-year-old Canadian consensus on the issue.

"You simply cannot promote reproductive health for women unless you respect a women's right to choose and unless you include access to safe and legal abortion," Mr. Ignatieff said. "How is it acceptable to have one policy at home for Canada and another abroad?"

Many medical experts and political leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, say that a maternal health initiative is useless without access to a full range of family planning options, including abortion. Still, the Tories refuse to budge.

"We have a lot of ways of saving the lives of women and mothers and children throughout the world and we will focus our efforts on things that will help other people," Mr. Harper said.

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