Womens Health

Canadian Senator: "Shut the F--- Up" About Abortion

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If there's one thing that reproductive rights advocates here in the U.S. have lived to regret, it was not making enough noise when Stupak-Pitts entered the healthcare debate.  We were told to be quiet, to not rock the boat, and to recognize that sometimes sacrifices have to be made in order to ensure that healthcare becomes an option for everyone.  And, if that sacrifice was our bodily autonomy, so be it.

Sound familiar, Canada?

The G8 Summit is getting closer, and maternal health will be the focus of the event.  But thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's declaration that abortion will not be discussed as an option, battle lines are becoming more definite as the deadline draws near.  And tempers are starting to flare.

The Liberals are seeking an apology from Ottawa after a Conservative senator told international development advocates Monday to "shut the f--- up" on the issue of making abortion part of Canada's foreign maternal-health strategy.

During a meeting on Parliament Hill, Senator Nancy Ruth argued it would be best to leave the subject alone or risk having it become an election issue.

"We've got five weeks or whatever till the G8 starts, shut the f--- up on this issue. Let it roll out," she told a group of aid experts who came out to discuss the government's direction on foreign-aid funding in light of its recent decision not to support abortion programs in developing nations.

"It's just if you push it, there will be more backlash. This is now a political football. It's not about women's health in this country," she added. "Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortions. Leave it there. Don't make it an election issue."

By all accounts meant to be friendly – albeit blunt – advice, the longtime women's rights advocate and trained United Church minister's comments came as a shock to many in the room.

They certainly came as a surprise to Liberal status of women critic Anita Neville, who was among the 80 or so international-development advocates at the meeting.

"I think women have been told too often to be quiet, be good and then you'll get what you want," Neville said after question period, adding there was a "hush in the room" after Ruth let the F-bomb slip.

"I guess my argument is when have women ever made progress and got what they want by keeping quiet."

So why should the pro-choice community shut up?   According to Ruth, more fighting will just lead to Harper becoming more anti-abortion in his stance.

What, because just not allowing in funding for abortions isn't really that bad?

Sadly, yes.  One source says Ruth believes that by antagonizing Harper, reproductive health activists might lose family planning assistance like contraception all together, too.

Her comments were a suggestion of strategy, not a threat. She was arguing that if the activists let the abortion issue alone, there is a better chance the maternal-health plan will include programs for family planning and contraception.

“Let it roll out. I hope I’m not proven wrong, but I have every confidence that it will include family planning and so on … and I hope I’m right,” she said.

In fact, the further the G8 planning progresses, the more of a disappointment it seems to become, eventually rendering it all show, no substance -- at least when it comes to true maternal health.

The Canadian G8 initiative to improve maternal and children's health has thus far been a disappointment.

From the initial lack of clarity on what such an initiative might mean, to the announcement that Ottawa would be reducing its foreign aid budget significantly over the next five years, to the controversy over abortion, the plan has quite rightly failed to create the positive momentum that the Conservative government was hoping for.

And while some might suggest that the apparent consensus reached by the G8 development ministers recently in Halifax is a step in the right direction, a closer look at the results of that meeting suggests otherwise.

Based on the comments coming out of Halifax, the debate over whether access to abortion is a necessary part of any program that aims to improve maternal and children's health in developing countries seems to be over. Each donor country, the ministers announced, could pursue the Canadian initiative in its own way. More details are expected in Toronto in June.

And while the apparent resolution is attractive politically, it does little to ensure aid effectiveness, the true goal of any credible development assistance program. In fact, the ministers' agreement might even hold the development agenda back.

So, is Canada losing its interest in promoting maternal health in light of the endless debate on the G8 plan?  Some are speculating they could be.

bout 500,000 women die due to childbirth and pregnancy-related complications across the globe each year. But the distressing figures are not being taken that seriously by the Canadian government, a fact substantiated by Canada’s attitude in not yet responding to an invitation to attend a global conference on the subject in Washington.

The three-day conference, beginning June 7, is being organized just weeks before the G8 gathering where ironically Canada has expressed a desire to champion the issue of maternal, reproductive and child health.

At the Washington meeting, being organized by the advocacy group Women Deliver, more than 3,500 maternal health policy-makers, experts and leaders are expected to put their heads together for pregnancy-related deaths. The focus would be on developing political, economic, social and technological solutions to help reduce the death rates of women and children in the developing world.

Notably, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals also include reducing by two-thirds the number of child deaths under five years of age and bringing down by 75% the casualties of women during childbirth.

Mini Roundup: While most Florida Legislators were debating the ultrasound bill, one senator was doing his own form of "getting more information" on the female reproductive system.  Remember, these are the people who are making decisions about our bodily autonomy.

Rather splendidly, as cameras catch Bennett in flagrante delicto, fellow Senator Dan Gelber can be heard to protest: "I'm against this bill, because it disrespects too many women in the state of Florida."

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