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Silence is no answer for Planned Parenthood funding

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda heads from a media availability at Pier 21 in Halifax on Monday, April 26, 2010.

ANDREW VAUGHAN/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian government needs to reinstate financial support - on hold for 11 months - for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, one of the oldest and most highly regarded organizations funding sexual and reproductive health programs.

This organization provides gynecological care, treatment for HIV, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception - and yes, abortion-related counseling - to 31 million women and children in 174 different countries every year. Canada has funded the agency, without apparent controversy, in past years, and has even been a major donor.

As a policy decision, it makes little sense to refuse to respond to an $18-million grant application - made almost a year ago by Planned Parenthood - even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper champions the health of women and children as the centrepiece of next month's G8 meeting. The government appears to be undermining one of its central objectives by placing vital programs in the developing world at risk.

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As a political decision, it is equally dubious. While such a stand may appeal to Mr. Harper's socially conservative supporters, it will only alienate current and prospective Conservative voters who support women's right to have control over their own reproductive health.

Mr. Harper is imposing values on women in the developing world that he is not prepared to impose on Canadian women. This country has had no legislation on abortion for 20 years, when prime minister Brian Mulroney tried and failed to limit abortion after the Supreme Court struck down previous legislation.

If the Prime Minister is opposed to abortion, then he should consider initiating an honest political discussion at home, instead of having the Canadian International Development Agency delay or cancel funding to agencies that are working to save the lives of women and children overseas.

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