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Melinda Gates speaks at the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit in Toronto, Thursday, May 29, 2014.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Reproductive rights are an important part of global efforts to improve maternal and child health in low-income countries, Melinda Gates says.

Speaking at a conference on maternal and child health in Toronto on Thursday, Ms. Gates said that when women can choose how to space their pregnancies, they and their babies will both be healthier. Ms. Gates co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, billionaire businessman Bill Gates.

Last week, Ms. Gates called for more international funding to help save the lives of newborns during their first 28 days. She said relatively inexpensive interventions can make a significant difference in reducing the number of children who die every year around the world.

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Newborn health is also part of a larger continuum, Ms. Gates said, that includes reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. "If women can plan their families, they are more likely to space their pregnancies. If women can space their pregnancies, they are more likely to be healthy and so are their babies," she said.

Some non-governmental organizations and opposition MPs have said they want to see Canada devote more resources and emphasis to family planning as part of the maternal and child health initiative. Canada has committed about $2.85-billion in funding to help moms and kids in developing countries between 2010 and 2015.

There have also been calls for Canada to reverse its decision not to fund safe abortion services in developing countries. (Ms. Gates did not reference abortion, and the Gates Foundation, like Canada, does not fund safe abortion services in developing countries).

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