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G8 countries will have leeway on abortion, leaked draft suggests

A pregnant Angolan mother is seen with one of her five children on the southern edge of Luanda in August, 2009.


G8 leaders will agree to an initiative on maternal health that stresses that women in poor countries need access to better sexual and reproductive health-care services, including family planning, but make no specific mention of abortion, according to a draft of the final communiqué for their summit later this month.

That leaves G8 countries free to decide whether their reproductive health-care programs will fund abortions - as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, host of the Muskoka summit, has insisted that Canadian maternal-health programs will leave out abortion funding.

The draft obtained by The Globe and Mail, dated May 31, shows some key elements of the "Muskoka initiative" on maternal health yet to be agreed, notably the sums pledged by each country. Canada has offered $1-billion over five years if other nations make comparable contributions.

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The draft notes hundreds of thousands of women lose their lives each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. "Much of this could be prevented with better access to strengthened health systems, and sexual and reproductive health care and services, including voluntary family planning," it states.

The fact that there is no specific mention of abortion is no surprise - other G8 nations signalled they would not underline the differences.

Experts argue safe abortion services to reduce deaths from complications should be part of reproductive health programs, and several other G8 countries intend to fund such programs without restrictions.

Mr. Harper's government has faced fire at home for refusing to allow its funding to go to abortion services -- although it backtracked on initial suggestion it would leave out family planning.

An annex to the draft outlining the maternal health initiative says it includes other elements: medical attendants for childbirth; preventing infectious diseases and transmission of HIV from mother to child; vaccines, nutrition and clean water.

The May 31 draft does not indicate any specific commitments of funds to those individual areas, however. International aid organizations had called for the G8 to make explicit commitments of sums to a global vaccines fund, or on funding an increase in the health-care workers in Africa. It indicates that a key is funding poor countries own national health plans "that are locally supported."

The document also indicates the G8 will back goals to reduce child and maternal death -- helping save a number of lives of children under five, for example -- but that G8 countries haven't yet decided on what they will be.

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On other are of aid, the draft G8 statement refers only briefly to a key past commitment: their 2005 pledge to double aid to Africa, saying "leaders undertook to explore how to accelerate progress in the implementation of their respective commitments in Africa."

Sources said there will also be a longer examination of that progress in a G8 accountability report pushed by the Canadian hosts -- although there is some resistance from countries like Italy, Germany, and France, which have lagged far behind their pledge.

The draft communiqué also shows that G8 leaders are to express support for continued talks on climate change, but have not yet agreed on how strongly they will commit to a post-2012 climate-change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

It states that technologies to capture and store carbon -- which Mr. Harper's government has argued can eventually be a solution to the high emissions from Alberta's oil sands "can play an important role in transitioning to a low-carbon economy."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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