Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Maternal and Child Health Initiative is a bunch of hot air.

What a warm and fuzzy sentiment from our federal government: "We care about child and maternal health in developing nations. We're going to make it an initiative!"

As a development student, heavily interested in how monetary investments into the lives of women affect economies, I was super excited to hear about this. Maybe the first time I've ever been super excited about anything the Harper government has announced. Welcome to my own, personal topsy-turvy world!

Things were quickly returned to the natural order of things, however, when one of the first in-depth pieces I read about this initiative suggested that it would not include funding for family planning, contraception or abortion services. I couldn't really believe it! If those three things weren't being included, then what exactly was included in this warm-fuzzy initiative? Well, as of now, it goes something like this:

“clean water, inoculations and better nutrition, as well as the training of health workers to care for women and deliver babies.”

But... that's pretty sparse. This is supposed to save lives? How is this an improvement on what we've already been providing to impoverished nations with regards to maternal and child health? For those of us who study development theory and practice, investment into communities without reproductive health services is just bad policy. When a woman can plan and space her pregnancies (via condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, abortions, et al), she's more likely to live long enough to provide for her children; she's more likely to be able to fully invest time and money into the children she already has; her girl-children are more likely to get an education; she is less likely to contract diseases; she is more likely to be able to contribute to family finances. This is just the short-list of benefits.

Well, here's the rub: Canada, through the CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency/My dream employer), has been funding groups like International Planned Parenthood for well over 30 years. Groups that provide access to - gasp - contraception, family planning and abortion services in developing nations. Since December, that funding has stopped flowing (it hasn't been cancelled or anything yet... the money just stopped). So the reality here is that the Federal government has actually cut funding and services and wrapped it up in a warm-fuzzy name hoping the Canadian public would be proud of such a pro-active development program.

As it turns out, though, Canadians are not as stupid as Harper and his crew hoped for. Cries of malcontent began to ring out nationwide. We knew right away there was no improvement happening here, and people started demanding answers. Some, as to how anyone could believe that maternal health programs with no contraception could even be considered; some, as to why their tax dollars should even fund something like that while we still have (homeless people/children in poverty/welfare moms) right here in our own backyard?! Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff stood up in public and stated that a Maternal and Child Health initiative needed to include access to abortion services, upon noting its absence from this initiative.

My questions went straight to my MP (who, as of the time of publication*, has to yet respond) who had accused the Libs on his Twitter account of bringing up a wedge issue where there was no need for one. I wondered why anyone would consider abortion provision a "wedge issue" in a country where barely 5% of the population thinks it should be banned. To be fair, only half of Canadians think we've got it right by having no restrictions on the procedure at all. Just half, so it's definitely a wedge issue [insert eye-roll here] (Angus Reid Strategies poll, 2008). But beyond just Canadian opinion, I wondered how we could justify interfering with the sovereignty of other nations to make law in regards to abortion access. I might catch some flack for this one, but the fact of the matter is that social services in developing nations aren't often on the high-priority list. When provided grants by IMF or the World Bank, countries are often encouraged (read: forced to, otherwise no money) to cut funding to things like education, health care and other social programs. Without international aid, many of these services simply don't get provided. By removing funding for reproductive health care services, the Federal government is well aware that it means those services probably just won't be provided. I don't like Harper, but he's not stupid: the feds know what kind of impact this will have and are going ahead with it anyway.

Which leads to me to wonder, is all of this - this putting statistically proven methods of reducing Maternal death rates and increasing investment in children on the back burner - is simply a way of pandering to the far-right wing base of the Conservative party? Harper knows Canadians are done talking about this issue. It looks to me like he's "taking it out" on developing nations by proxy. This way, he's not challenging dominant Canadian pro-choice ideology, but still managing to keep the big "C" conservatives happy. It wouldn't be the first time he's done it. I have a very interesting paper I wrote on the political chess-move that "bringing up the gay marriage issue" was back in his first term in office. If this is the case, we're playing political games at the expense of REAL HUMAN lives. Stay classy, Harper.

I guess, at the end of this all, I'm wondering why Harper feels the need to mess with the Status-quo on Maternal and Child Health provisions Canada already supports? It’s fiscally and morally irresponsible and completely ignores the fact that sometimes being a good provider and mother means not dying in childbirth. And you know what helps that problem? Condoms. And spacing pregnancies. And not supporting 12 kids on a miniscule income.

*Tee-hee. How exciting is it that I just got to say that? Okay, I'm done being 14.

Just a note, I'm not willing to entertain comments that contain statements like "women shouldn't use abortion as birth control" because they are factually inaccurate (the majority of women in fact, do not use abortion as birth control) and purposefully inflammatory.

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