Illustration: Marta Kierkus.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Federal government’s support of the Dutch-led abortion fund might just be lip service

Over the last couple of weeks, countries all over the world have reacted to President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule,” a policy that prevents organizations who support abortion from receiving U.S. funds.

The Netherlands has taken the lead in a nascent global initiative to replace the estimated $600-million gap in funding for organizations supporting abortion services. So far, as many as 20 countries have already come out to back this effort, with Canada tentatively agreeing to support it as well.

But it is not clear yet, even to the Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, whether or not Canada will join the Dutch-led initiative in an official capacity.

In a Jan. 27 interview with the Globe and Mail, Bibeau added that the government had already decided to increase reproductive health funding abroad well before Trump’s executive order.

“Whether we go through the fund or we go directly with one or the other partners, the way is not really the issue.”

Actually, it is part of the issue. Canada’s domestic stance on abortion has always been very liberal. In fact, it is one of the only countries in the world without any criminal laws restricting abortion at all.

However, Canada’s stance on abortion abroad appears to be quite the opposite.

In the past, Canadian funds for reproductive services in developing countries have explicitly excluded abortion services, regardless of whether or not it was against the law in the recipient country.

This is important because Trump’s executive order will have significant ramifications for women’s reproductive rights in developing countries. Unlike any other U.S. president before him, Trump has expanded the ban to prevent organizations from even using non-U.S. funds for the purposes of counseling, abortion referrals, or advocating for abortion services.

With this order, organizations who wish to continue to receive funds must now refrain from even speaking about legal abortion options, and withhold crucial information about the services that women need to make safe and informed choices.

By defunding these organizations, this will also limit funds for the treatment and prevention of malaria and HIV, screening for cervical cancer, or even simply handing out condoms.

Plus, reinstating the gag rule won’t stop abortion, but it will prevent organizations from providing safe medical services. Marie Stopes International estimates that U.S. funding cuts will lead to an additional 21,700 maternal deaths over the next four years. It is also expected to result in 6.5 million more unwanted pregnancies.

While Bibeau recently pledged that the federal government will increase their funding for reproductive rights abroad, readers should interpret these promises with caution, since Canada’s policy has not previously included giving money to support abortion services.

Last March the Liberal government announced $76 million would go towards reproductive health services, with $5 million allocated to a contraceptive supplies program headed by the United Nations Population Fund. However, none of the proposed funds will actually go towards abortion services.

In Bibeau’s words, “We are … supporting in different ways, through different partners, numerous countries to improve their health system. Providing the service of safe abortion, maybe in some countries where it’s legal, it’s part of (reproductive health) and we’re not against it. This is a difference. But we’re not promoting it right now.”

Canada’s silence on this issue speaks volumes. Without taking a firm stance on abortion abroad, the Liberal government is in fact taking a stance—one that goes entirely against what  Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to defend on the campaign trail.

During his campaign, Trudeau publicly voiced his pro-choice stance on abortion and even promised that Liberal MPs would also vote along pro-choice lines.

Back in September of 2014 Trudeau tweeted, “The days when old men get to decide what a woman does with her body are long gone. Times have changed for the better.

On the contrary, it appears that these days are coming back with a vengeance.