Family planning advocates have cheered the Obama administration's international policies — including its funding of contraceptives and support for access to abortion, a significant shift from former President George W. Bush's stance.
But now it appears that Canada may take on the international role the U.S. used to assume: abortion opponent.
"Canada's contribution to maternal and child health may involve various interventions, including family planning, which includes the use of contraceptive methods," Bev Oda, Canada's international cooperation minister, said as development ministers from the G8 countries prepared to meet in Halifax. "However, Canada's contribution will not include funding abortion," she said, according to the Associated Press.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spelled out the U.S. position last month:
You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.
On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper affirmed the country's commitment to improving the health of mothers and children in the developing world, even without funding abortions. "We have a lot of ways of saving lives," Harper told the Canadian House of Commons, according to the Canadian Press.
Clinton's words enraged Canadians who oppose abortion. "How dare she stick her pro-abortion nose into Canadian politics. Hasn't she done enough damage to the unborn in the U.S.?" Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, told LifeSiteNews.
Now the question turns to what the other countries will do in response to Canada. "They're laying out their position ... and what's missing here is a proactive statement from Obama," says Jodi Jacobson, editor-in-chief of the reproductive health blog RH Reality Check. "Obama needs to follow suit on Clinton" says the advocate who has worked on family planning and reproductive health issues for more than 25 years. "We will never eradicate maternal mortality, unless we address the abortion issue."
But others say that keeping abortion out of the picture is an opportunity to focus on other health issues. Jim Hughes, the president of Campaign Life Coalition, said the initiative "will include safe water and good pregnancy treatment and care before and after the child is born."
Late Tuesday, the Toronto Sun reported that the U.S. and Canada aren't at odds over definitions of family planning, citing comments from Canada's Oda and a U.S. aid official. The rest of the G8 meeting, just getting underway, may bring a clearer answer.
Schiff is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.