Public Health

Canada Has It Both Ways On Global Abortion Funding

A meeting of development ministers representing the G8 countries concluded Wednesday without directly addressing a controversy over Canada's unwillingness to fund abortion as part of aid to improve maternal and child health in the developing world.

"We have agreed on a set of principles that will guide our work and a scope of actions that leave our ability, and the needed flexibility, for each country," Bev Oda, Canada's international cooperation minister, said at a news conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Canadian Press reports.

Although Canada came out recently against abortion funding, Oda's comments suggest the door is open for other G8 countries to follow their own course on aid for maternal and child health, including supporting abortion.

As for the U.S., the G8's apparent flexibility on maternal and child health aid doesn't mean America will be paying for abortions abroad anytime soon, despite the current administration's support.

Within days of his inauguration, President Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy, which prohibited the U.S. from funding international groups that perform or support abortions.

However, other U.S. laws prevent foreign aid from being used directly for abortion. The Helms Amendment, the international counterpart to the Hyde Amendment, "basically says no U.S. foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for abortion as a method of family planning," says Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

For some, legal changes aren't the problem, it's the amount of funding for family planning. In a paper published last December, Allen Moore, a fellow at the Stimson Center, noted the benefits of family planning for broader development goals.

Moore's advice: "It's time for the president to invite political, religious, and other leaders to join a call for universal access to voluntary family planning in a manner that clearly fences off abortion from U.S. funding." He also recommends that the U.S. double spending on family planning.

Schiff is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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