Canada spending $650-million on reproductive rights, including fighting global anti-abortion laws
In a sharp reorientation of Canada’s foreign-aid strategy, the Trudeau government plans to spend $650-million on sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide – a move that could see Canada paying for a battle against anti-abortion laws in dozens of countries.
The three-year plan, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday as he marked International Women’s Day, would finance a range of global programs, including contraception, reproductive health, legal abortion, sexuality education and advocacy work.
Abortion is illegal or severely restricted by law in an estimated 125 countries worldwide, mostly in Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East. But under the new plan, Canada could pay for advocacy groups to challenge those laws.
One of the activities that Canada will finance, according to a background document, is “removing judicial and legal barriers to the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
A federal official confirmed that these barriers include the anti-abortion laws in many countries.
“Advocacy is included in our initiative, so yes, we will support local groups and international groups who advocate for women’s rights, including abortion,” International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told The Globe and Mail in an interview on Wednesday.
The campaign could be an uphill battle. In regions such as Africa, most governments are socially conservative and heavily influenced by Christian and Muslim groups that are strongly anti-abortion. Abortion is fully legal in only a small handful of countries, such as South Africa.
While helping to fight anti-abortion laws, the new federal strategy would also try to reduce the estimated 22 million unsafe abortions annually – a leading cause of death among women in the developing world, who often turn to dangerous backstreet providers because they have no access to legal abortion.
The new federal strategy would aim to “reduce the number of unsafe abortions, through education, contraception, family planning,” Ms. Bibeau said. “All of this strategy is to empower women and protect them. They put their lives at risk when they go to clandestine abortions.”
At a news conference, Mr. Trudeau was asked about the countries where abortion is illegal. He voiced his concern about the risk of death. “For far too many women and girls, unsafe abortions and lack of choices in reproductive health mean that they either are at risk and at risk of death, or else simply cannot contribute and cannot achieve their potential,” he told reporters.