Justin Trudeau announces $650 million for global abortion, contraception
The Liberal government used March 8, International Women’s Day, to announce it would use $650 million in Canadian taxpayer money to fund so-called sexual and reproductive health services in the developing world, including abortion and abortion lobbying.
In January, President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy that prohibits U.S. foreign aid money from going to any organization that carries out or supports abortion in the developing world. Groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International criticized the move, calling it the global gag rule because they say the threat to withdraw aid money to organizations that support abortion silences them. After Trump reinstated the policy, more than 50 governments and non-government organizations announced their intention to help fill the gap left by more than US$600 million that is being withheld. At a She Decides conference on March 2, Canada committed $20 million to that fund, which collected about $200 million in commitment from the governments of the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.
The larger commitment came just a week later, and includes the $20 million for the She Decides initiative.
According to a backgrounder from Global Affairs Canada, the goal of the March 8 funding announcement “is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, and protect and promote the health and rights of women and girls,” because doing so, it claims, will give “them the opportunity to develop their full potential and contribute to the development of their communities.”
The funding will support “comprehensive sexuality education” for boys and girls, “reproductive health services” including contraception, “safe and legal abortion services and post-abortion care,” “preventing and managing” AIDS/HIV, “preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence” such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation, “training health care professionals in the provision of sexual and reproductive health-care services and family planning,” “advocacy of women’s, youth, Indigenous, and LGBTI civil society groups,” “addressing social norms that limit women’s and adolescents’ control over their bodies,” and “removing judicial and legal barriers to the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau trumpeted the new money as a doubling in foreign aid for these purposes. Trudeau told an audience marking International Women’s Day, “like men, women should be able to choose; to choose when they want to start a family, how big their family should be, and who they want to start that family with.” He added, “our ambitions cannot be bound by our borders,” insisting that “women and girls around the world are counting on countries like Canada to help lead the way.”
Bibeau went on the political talk-shows to discuss the new policy. On CTV’s “Power Play” she said the “money is for sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “abortion where it is legal,” but also said Canada will “work with local groups and major organizations and Canadian NGOs,” to promote abortion where it is not legal. She said, “the best way to use money is to empower women” and “that starts with having control over our own body.”
She told CBC’s Rosie Barton on “Power & Politics,” that there is “global consensus” that empowering women will improve development and peace. She also said the new spending and departmental priorities will “put women and girls at the heart of the new policy” — and women’s empowerment must be taken into account for every project under consideration. Bibeau insisted the policy is “based on science” and consultations with experts.
Barton asked the minister “if the world is slipping in the opposite direction of Canada” in terms of women’s reproductive rights, “will we step up to help more if we need to, to prevent the world from slipping back.” Bibeau said the government would and that Canadian “leadership is important.”
Bibeau denied that Trump bringing back the Mexico City Policy influenced Ottawa’s position. She told CTV’s Don Martin, it “seems like a reaction” to Trump “but it is not” because it was part of mandate letter she received from the Prime Minister when she was appointed to cabinet and is a result of consultations from 2016. She told Barton, Canadian policy is “based on our priorities.”
Campaign Life Coalition condemned the funding. “We are horrified by our government’s decision to spend more than half a billion dollars on spreading abortion across the world,” said CLC’s Johanne Brownrigg in a press release. “Our nation, under Trudeau, has now become one of the world’s top exporters of abortion and sterilization. I guess Trudeau’s admiration for China’s dictatorship and horrific family planning programs are now shaping Canada’s foreign policy.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops chastised the government. In a statement, Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the CCBC, said, “Such a policy is a reprehensible example of Western cultural imperialism and an attempt to impose misplaced but so-called Canadian ‘values’ on other nations and people. It exploits women when they are most in need of care and support, and tragically subverts true prenatal health care.”
Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins issued a separate statement saying foreign aid funding for abortion was an example of arrogance in “dictat(ing) what priorities developing countries should embrace.” He said the money could be better used providing vaccinations or building schools.
Conservative leadership contenders Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux criticized the government’s announcement. Trost said the Conservative should press for the continuation of the Harper government’s maternal health initiative. The project, launched in 2010 and renewed in 2015 with a five-year commitment, funds nutrition and medicine and maternal and newborn care for expectant women and new mothers. A component of the program funds contraception but Harper opposed funding abortion because it was divisive. The program was hailed by the United Nations as an international success.
Trudeau campaigned for prime minister vowing to fund overseas abortions. The new funding does not take away money from the maternal health initiative — for now — but it is not new foreign aid money; it will be taken out of the existing foreign aid budget.
In 2016, Canada’s international assistance spending totals about $5 billion. The development community says that governments should give 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income to official development aid, but Canada’s contribution now stands at 0.26 per cent. The Canadian Council for International Cooperation welcomed the abortion funding priority but condemned the government for not living up to its rhetoric in investing in international development and called on the government to increase funding for tackling global poverty.
Two days after the announcement, the United Nations issued a report saying the world faced the gravest humanitarian crisis since 1945 with 20 million people facing starvation and malnutrition in just four countries: Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan. It said that in Yemen, where there is a civil war, a child dies every ten minutes from a preventable disease. In South Sudan, 100,000 face starvation and one million on the brink of starvation. In Somalia, 3 million face imminent starvation while in Nigeria, locked in a conflict with the the Islamist group Boko Haram, 75,000 children are at risk of starving to death, while another 7 million people are food insecure.
UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said, “we need US$4.4 billion by July” to avert widespread starvation deaths. The UN defines famine as when more than 30 per cent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are more than two deaths a day per 10,000 people.
Amidst the famine crisis, the Trudeau government announced it would give the UN agencies and non-government organizations $119 million to provide food, clean water, and sanitation facilities. The dollar total is less than one-fifth of what the Liberal government committed to sexual and reproductive health services.