OTTAWA — On the eve of the giant annual anti-abortion protest on Parliament Hill, the Justin Trudeau government has quietly removed a restriction that prevented federal foreign aid dollars being used for abortion services in other countries.
The government of Stephen Harper committed billions in Canadian funds for its global maternal, child and newborn health, a commitment that helped leverage billions more from international state and corporate donors.
But it stopped short of allowing government funds to provide abortion services in foreign countries.
The Trudeau government, though, will lift those restrictions.
“Canada is committed to universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights,” said Louis Belanger, communications director to International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. “We are also committed to a better and more comprehensive approach to supporting the health of women in developing countries. We believe that programming decisions on these matters should be driven by evidence and outcomes, not ideology.
The Harper commitment to global maternal and child health was $3.5 billion from 2015 to 2020. The Trudeau government will keep that commitment and has allocated $750 million for it in the current fiscal year.
Officials were unable to say, though, how much federal aid will be spent subsidizing overseas abortion services.
And as for other conditions of Canadian funding for overseas abortion service, Canada is ready to leave the details to funding recipients.
“The inclusion or exclusion of specific health services is under the purview of recipient countries. Many governments allow abortion on request or for a variety of reasons including safeguarding the woman’s health,” Belanger said in an e-mailed statement.
“Canada provides support to strengthen national and local health care systems in line with the legal frameworks and health priorities of recipient countries themselves.”
The decision to remove Harper’s restriction on funding of overseas abortions is hardly surprising since Trudeau required all candidates who ran under his banner last fall to support a woman’s right to choose.
The move is sure to be a topic of discussion Thursday on Parliament Hill for the thousands of protesters who will gather for their annual rally to roll back or eliminate abortion access rights in Canada. In any given year, between 6,000 and 12,000 attend the rally.
Both abortion rights activists and abortion opponents have been urging governments for nearly 30 years to introduce a law to clarify abortion rules in Canada.
Trudeau has given no indication he plans to introduce any law protecting or strengthening abortion access rights but has insisted he will instruct his MPs to vote against any measure which could be construed as leading to a restriction of those rights.