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Stephen Harper's maternal health disaster

In what is arguably an effort to win over fundamentalist Christian voters, Stephen Harper's G8 maternal and child health initiative, as it currently stands, will result in far more preventable deaths than the overall number of lives saved.

In what Huffington Post contributor Jodi Jacobson called an "absurd move," Harper initially excluded family planning from his G8 initiative. A brief explanation was given by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, telling the House of commons "when we know what we can do by providing clean water, vaccinations, better nutrition, as well as the most effective way is the training of health care workers and improving access for those women, that is what we are going to do."

Oda's remarks came a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told a Commons committee that the Conservative government's maternal health initiative "does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning."

Facing both opposition and international backlash, Harper back-pedalled on the remarks made by his cabinet ministers, telling the House of Commons "[the Conservatives] are "not closing doors against any options including contraception. But we do not want a debate here or elsewhere on abortion."

Any hope of an open debate on the issue was crushed when a motion demanding a "full range of reproductive health services" in the government's G8 initiative was put forward, and ultimately defeated by the Liberals.

Last week, Jennifer Dicthburn of the Canadian Press outlined the "startling statistics about the impact of expanded access to contraception" contained in a report released by Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund. The report concluded, among other things, that "meeting the world's needs for modern birth control would reduce maternal deaths by 70 per cent, family planning would eliminate two-thirds of unintended pregnancies and three-quarters of unsafe abortions...and spending on contraception would ultimately reduce other health costs for women and their babies - an estimated $5.1 billion annually if wealthy nations were aggressively contributing to the cause already."

On the issue of abortion, CNN shed light on a study revealing the barbaric methods women in Kenya are forced to turn to in the face of that country's restrictive abortion laws. The so-called 'backstreet abortions' are crude, makeshift medical procedures using foreign objects such as metal wire and knitting needles to put an end to tens of thousands of unwanted pregnancies. 'Backstreet abortions', which carry a high risk of infection, injury, and death, are often the only option Kenyan women have due to the lack of access to safe abortions. When it comes to maternal mortality rates in Kenya, it's no surprise that one-third of all maternal deaths come as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Harper's actual record on the well being of women and children is questionable at best, and in a scathing piece from The Globe And Mail's Gerald Caplain details precisely why "evidence counts for nothing in faith-based Tory policy."

Harper's lack of credibility on the plight of women and children, combined with his willful ignorance of the scientific evidence backing the importance of contraception and abortion to maternal health, sets the stage for another Bush era 'no condoms for Africa' foreign policy disaster; Conservative political posturing resulting in millions of easily preventable deaths.

This is 'collateral damage' in its cruellest form.

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UPDATE March 30: From the G8 Foreign Ministers conference, Hillary Clinton: Contraception must be part of maternal health plan

UPDATE April 27: Stephen Harper refuses to include abortion in G8 plan

"There will be no debate, Tories say, putting Canada's signature maternal-health initiative at odds with policies of U.S. and Britain."

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