Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced hundreds of millions of dollars in new foreign-aid spending for sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health on Tuesday, helping to fill a global funding gap left by the United States’ rescinding of international abortion spending.
Mr. Trudeau said Canada must push back against attacks on women’s rights, particularly abortion rights, at home and abroad. Canada will fund this effort by gradually increasing its international funding for women and girls’ health and rights to $1.4-billion annually in 2023 and maintaining that yearly amount until 2030. Half of that yearly spending will be dedicated to sexual and reproductive needs. That is up from $1.1-billion spent right now, $400-million of which is spent on sexual and reproductive needs.
“There are politicians here in Canada who have called our government’s investments ‘exporting an ideological agenda.’ Well, we couldn’t disagree more,” Mr. Trudeau told Women Deliver, an international conference that brings together world leaders, advocates and academics from more than 165 countries.
“This should not be a political issue. These divisions are playing out globally with devastating consequences and women deserve better.”
The opposition Conservatives have accused Mr. Trudeau of “importing” the American abortion debate to Canada by questioning party Leader Andrew Scheer’s position on the matter after the recent passage of anti-abortion laws in the United States. Mr. Scheer has said he will not reopen the abortion debate should he become prime minister after this fall’s federal election.
Mr. Trudeau underlined his government’s support for a woman’s right to choose Tuesday, saying sexual and reproductive needs are central to women and girls’ health and rights.
“With $700-million of the annual investment dedicated to the sexual and reproductive health rights, we’re focusing on the most neglected areas of this field,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The funding will support the full spectrum of women and children’s health and rights, from contraceptives and legal abortion services to vaccines and nutrition.
The sexual and reproductive health and rights sector took a hit in 2017 when U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated a rule prohibiting U.S. government financial support for international organizations that provide abortions or give abortion advice, leaving a $600-million global funding gap.
Shortly after the reinstatement of the U.S. ban, the federal government announced $650-million over three years for sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide. The announcement came in addition to $3.5-billion over five years allocated by the previous Conservative government for maternal, newborn and child health.
With both sets of Canadian funding set to expire in 2020, dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) urged the federal government to set aside $1.4-billion a year until 2030 to support international women and children’s health and rights.
“We’re celebrating what is a very collaborative advocacy victory and ... the single biggest commitment to global SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] ever made,” said Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
International Development Minister Maryam Monsef said the funding initiative was proposed to government long before the U.S. ban came into effect.
“That said, we have seen every time there is progress in advancing women’s rights and gender equality, there is push back,” Ms. Monsef said Tuesday. “What this investment does is protect progress made to the best of our abilities, provide support to those places where needs are greatest and listen to what the movement has been saying for decades upon decades.”
Deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt, who attended Women Deliver, accused Mr. Trudeau of waiting until months before the fall election to unveil funding that won’t be fully available for years.
“If Justin Trudeau truly cared about this issue, he wouldn’t have waited four years to make this announcement,” Ms. Raitt said. “But now with an election only months away, he’s desperately announcing funding that won’t be available until 2023.”
Julia Anderson, acting executive director of Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, said NGOs have been “running away from women’s health” since the reinstatement of the U.S. ban, over fears they would lose much-needed U.S. funding. She said Canada’s commitment to fund groups that support abortion will allow them to resume their fight for women’s health and rights.
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation welcomed the announcement, but said Canada should also increase its overall development-aid spending. Recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show Canada’s official development aid declined to 0.26 per cent of gross national income in 2017, well below the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent.