G8 Countries Launch Global Initiative on Maternal Health without Reference to Abortion

By Terrence McKeegan, J.D. | July 1, 2010

Co-Authored by Nick Dunn

TORONTO, July 2 (C-FAM) The Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial countries held their annual forum here last week and, following the lead of the Canadian government, launched a new global initiative on maternal and child health. The Muskoka Initiative pledges “to accelerate progress” towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) dealing with maternal and child health. While the host government was successful in keeping references to abortion out of the final document, the initiative calls for G8 countries to “commit to promote integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health, rights and services within the broader context of strengthening health systems.”

Since announcing his plan for an initiative to improve maternal health in January, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had insisted that it would contain no funding of abortion, but would include clean water, sanitation, better nutrition, and treatment and prevention of diseases. Beverley Oda, Canada’s International Cooperation Minister, has said that the government would consider the use of family planning methods such as contraception, but reinforced its opposition to abortion funding. 

The initiative has as one of its global targets “universal access to reproductive health by 2015”—a direct allusion to MDG 5b, a controversial target that was never accepted by Member States in the negotiations of the MDGs, but only included in the annex of a report by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General.

The G8 initiative has drawn the support of pro-abortion organizations, such as the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and Planned Parenthood. Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA’s Executive Director, praised the initiative earlier this week, particularly its emphasis on “expanding sexual and reproductive health services.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, calls the Muskoka Initiative “an important step forward,” but noted her frustration with Harper’s opposition to the inclusion of abortion in improving maternal health. “No effective maternal health improvements can occur without comprehensive reproductive health care, including access to safe and legal abortions,” Richards says.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted to Harper’s announcement that there would be an initiative to improve maternal health, saying: “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.” Over 100 women’s rights groups agreed, and last week wrote Harper a letter, urging him to include access to contraception and safe abortion in the initiative.

Abortion advocates usually cite research suggesting that maternal deaths could be cut by up to 70 percent with a greater emphasis on access to “safe” abortion and family planning.  However, this “research” was sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood) and UNFPA, not exactly a neutral source on this issue.

In fact, the newest available research shows that there is no verifiable data to back the claim that abortion improves maternal and child health,  and reveals lower maternal mortality rates in countries with more restrictions on abortions.

G8 pledges to the Muskoka Initiative totaled $5 billion, including $1.3 billion from the United States over two years, while another $2.3 billion came from non-G8 countries and the Gates Foundation.