Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Short-Comings of G8's Maternal and Child Health Campaign

The 2010 G8 summit held on June 25th-26th in Ontario, Canada has raised concerns among the pro-choice community. The G8, which stands for Group of 8, is a political organization designed to effect change among the world's most powerful industrialized nations. The countries that comprise the G8 are Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. More than a dozen civil society networks brought various petitions urging G8 leaders to take action regarding maternal and child health, to honor the pledge to help developing countries adapt to climate change as well as to agree on a concrete plan to sustain HIV/AIDS treatment programs.

Prior to this year’s summit, conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched a new international campaign for maternal and child health. Canada is committing $1.1 billion Canadian dollars in new spending over five years for maternal and child health programs in poor countries. As part of the campaign, Harper called for increased funding and resources from governments, non-governmental organizations, and private foundations for a series of mediations focusing mainly on nutrition, vaccines, and clean water. In a world where the value of investing in maternal health is often overlooked, the potential benefits of this campaign are invaluable. However, Harper's failure to mention the topics of abortion care or contraception in the policy is disconcerting. With 13% of maternal deaths each year caused by illegal and unsafe abortions, which equates to about 70,000 women, it is counter-intuitive to exclude the topic of abortion from a campaign concerning maternal health.

In a review of the G8 meeting, RH Reality Check includes a statement from Dorothy Ngoma, Executive Director of the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi, which discusses the importance of addressing maternal health as well as the G8's failure to meet prior commitments:

“It is immoral that 350,000 or more women are dying each year during pregnancy and childbirth. The question, Ngoma said, is 'why have the world leaders in the G8 failed to protect women’s lives?' She continued, 'Who is going to protect these women? World leaders promised to cut maternal deaths by 75% by 2015, but we don’t seem to be making much progress.'”

Harper also received a strong rebuke from Secretary Hillary Clinton, who was quoted in an article from The Nation saying:

"You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion."

In response to public criticism, Harper has agreed to add family planning to his initiative, but remains unwilling to compromise on abortion. If the ultimate aim of Harper's campaign is to save the lives of women and children, it is imperative that the administration recognize that these health goals will not and cannot be achieved without the willingness to directly fund safe abortion services. Access to contraception as well as safe and legal abortion services are both necessary components of a truly comprehensive and effective approach to achieving maternal and child well-being.

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