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Abortion not part of maternal-health plan, development minister says

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 28, 2008.

CHRIS WATTIE

The federal government won't add contraception and abortion to a package of initiatives aimed at improving women and children's health despite pleas from the Opposition to include the practices.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Thursday that Ottawa isn't changing its policy on what measures will be part of a major initiative with G8 countries to improve the lot of women and children in the world's poorest countries.

"Canada is not currently going to be changing its approach to improving maternal and infant health," Ms. Oda said in Halifax, where she announced the port city will host a G8 development ministers meeting in April.

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"The Prime Minister has been clear since we became government that there's no intention on regenerating any debate on abortion."

The comments come after Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to include funding for all reproductive health services in his plan to become an international champion of women's and children's health.

Mr. Ignatieff said women "are entitled to the full gamut of reproductive health services and that includes termination of pregnancy and contraception."

Some family planning advocates also say they're concerned that Mr. Harper's plan for maternal health may not include funding of groups that support a woman's right to abortion services and contraceptives.

Mr. Harper is hosting the G8 summit in Muskoka, Ont., in June and has vowed to use the opportunity to launch an initiative to improve the health of women and children.

A spokesman in Ms. Oda's office said the Prime Minister has set out several specific areas that will be the focus of funding, but that family planning measures were never part of that group.

Instead, they include immunization, access to clean water, better nutrition and improved training for health-care workers on the ground who are delivering babies and treating children.

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Ms. Oda said those are measures the Canadian government has already invested in and have been recommended by the international community as the best approaches.

"There are many ways that infant health can be improved and many of those are easily done and they're inexpensive," she said, adding that roughly 500,000 women die during pregnancy or giving birth every year.

Mr. Ignatieff has said he fears the Harper government will follow the lead of the United States, which in the past has cut funding to some aid organizations that promote the use of contraceptives and abortion.

He accused the Prime Minister of allowing ideological differences to get in the way of good health care, while Mr. Harper's office has said the Liberal Leader is merely politicizing the issue.

Ms. Oda announced Thursday that development ministers from the G8 will meet in Halifax from April 26 to 28 to lay the groundwork for proposals to be discussed at the leaders' summit in June.

Canada will host ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K. and the United States.

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