Blame Canada: A donor state faces pressure to fund abortions through foreign aid
“Having told the UN that Canada condemns systemic rape and forced marriage, Foreign Minister John Baird cannot refuse to include abortion services in the projects it is funding for women and girls who are victims of such violence.”
So begins an editorial published by The Spec, a Canadian news source, criticizing Canada’s decision to restrict aid for maternal and child health from going to fund abortions overseas. As a compelling logical argument, it ranks somewhere alongside a child’s furious declaration that his parents don’t love him if they won’t let him stay up past his bedtime. Yet it appears quite measured compared to an opinion piece on the same topic published in Canada’s Globe and Mail, in which Gerald Caplan moans, “It is at times hard not to fear for the future of our species.”
A scan of some of Canada’s other online newspapers offers an interesting object lesson on how perspective is everything. The Leader-Post announced Canada’s aid commitment for of $203 million for maternal and child health in developing countries with the headline: “Harper boosts UN funding for women, children.” When Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women was pressed to justify the restrictions on funding abortion, Bayshore Broadcasting’s headine proclaimed, “MP Defends Funding Cut for Women.”
The MP is Dr. Kellie Leitch, who is a pediatric surgeon in addition to being Canada’s women’s minister. She described Canada’s aid package by saying:
“We have to pick a targeted area, where we’re going to be able to have an impact…As a physician, I’m very confident in saying that we have chosen the right one, that pre- and post-partum care is the place where we’ll have the most meaningful impact to save the lives of children and their mothers.”
To those who see a large package of aid going to an important cause, the glass is half full. To those whose narrow focus on abortion causes them to see this as a funding cut instead of a boost, the glass is half empty. To Mr. Caplan, it would seem that the glass is completely shattered.
As is often the case in arguments over abortion, critics of Canada’s policy focus on the hard cases. While the prohibition on abortion funding is broad, news sources like the Globe and Mail helpfully point out that “the government refuses to consider abortion as an option for pre-partum care in the case of child brides or rape victims.” (One might take note of the fact that abortion cannot by definition be pre-partum anything, as it precludes rather than precedes parturition, or childbirth.)
The Spec editorial goes beyond simply calling Canada cruel for withholding abortion funding and implies that doing so makes Canada complicit in the very act of rape itself:
“Baird cannot stand on the world stage and proclaim female economic empowerment as key to progress in the developing world while maintaining an aid policy that makes Canada complicit in the oppression of women victims.”
You wouldn’t have to oppose abortion on principle to defend Canada’s aid policy. After all, Canada isn’t saying that raped women in foreign countries should be denied abortion, only that their maternal and child health funding won’t be paying for it. As Dr. Leitch said, they are targeting things that are proven to work. If some other donor country — Scandinavian, perhaps — is convinced that increased abortion funding is required, there is nothing stopping them from providing it.
As to the notion that Canada could in some way be complicit in rape or forced marriage, it should be pointed out that abortion has never prevented a rape or saved a girl from forced marriage, nor has it ever caused a rapist to be brought to justice for his crimes. As feminists are fond of pointing out, rape is the sole responsibility of rapists and of those who allow them to act with impunity. It also bears mentioning that abortion has never made a birth safer, nor saved the life of an infant.
Again, quoting The Spec:
“In some developing nations, sexual violence is endemic due to years of war or rule by religiously conservative governments. Being forced to carry a baby to term condemns a woman to a life of poverty, shame and, in the case of forced marriage, servitude.”
Any country in which the act of carrying a child to term automatically condemns a woman to a life of destitution and shame is a country whose human rights problems extend well beyond the “sexual and reproductive” arena. Furthermore, any society in which a woman’s ability to avoid poverty and subjugation depends on her right to abortion is a society in which she has no real rights at all. Abortion does not elevate women from poverty, and it does not address the sort of structural injustices and inequalities that would make motherhood a one-way ticket to penury. At best, it only masks them.
So why does Canada’s decision regarding foreign aid attract such hostility (and, in the case of the ever-maudlin Mr. Caplan, make him “question our common humanity”)? It’s actually quite simple and practical. For decades, feminist activists have failed in their efforts to claim a human right to abortion. Every attempt they have made to push the line further at international institutions has led to friction and gridlock around documents that might otherwise be uncontroversial. Asking for abortion at face value – or even by its known euphemisms – has not been a successful strategy. On the other hand, feminists have had much more success with slipping abortion into other things, as one component among many in a comprehensive package addressing such issues as maternal health and prevention of violence against women. This provides pro-abortion advocates with two important things: first, the ability to deflect attention away from abortion itself, and second, the ability to accuse their opponents of indifference or even hostility toward women dying in childbirth or victims of violence, rape, or forced marriage.
While this strategy has been quite effective in advancing a pro-abortion agenda, it suffers from a major flaw: the goals which feminist groups claim require legal abortion can also succeed without it. One much-publicized example is the case of Chile, which simultaneously became a world leader in the area of maternal health and increased legal protection for life in the womb.
Canada’s government has committed to help save the lives of women and children around the world. Whether for reasons of logic or reasons of conscience, they have not bought into the lie that abortion is an essential component of such an aid package. And as for those who see this as cause for panic, one can only wonder whether they are more concerned that women’s health needs are addressed or that their pro-abortion agenda gets funded at Canada’s expense.