March 19, 2010
Bible, not medical texts guide Harper, Written by Antonia Zerbisias, in The Toronto Star, March 19, 2010
Did Prime Minister Stephen Harper put a condom instead of a thinking cap on his head when, two months ago, he announced his now internationally ridiculed policy on "maternal and child health" that he's going to promote at the coming G8 summit?
How else to explain his intransigence on women's access to family planning – as if a mother's ability to have no more babies than she can feed, clothe and protect has nothing to do with either's health?
Has he never heard the expression AIDS orphan? Obstetric fistula? High-risk pregnancy?
And we're not even talking about abortion here. This is about the pill, IUDs, diaphragms – and education. Sure Harper appeared to flip-flop Thursday by saying he's not "closing doors" but so far they've been slammed shut.
For all the statistics Harper has spouted on the 2 million women and children who die every year due to lack of proper care during pregnancy and delivery, has he not looked at a medical book instead of the Good Book?
Because, make no mistake, his dismissal of good maternal health practice is purely ideological, not gynecological.
Consider the support this contraception-free initiative has received from religious groups that are anti-reproductive rights.
For example, both the hardline LifeSiteNews and R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, which back every anti-choice move any Conservative MP makes, no matter how unscientific or misogynistic, are cheering on this "maternal health" policy.
Never mind that doctors and medical groups, not to mention health workers in the field, contradict the HarperCon position.
On Thursday, the Ottawa-based Federation of Medical Women of Canada, was the latest to denounce the government on this issue. "By excluding family planning, there will be even more pressures on already vulnerable health systems, devastating consequences on any attempts to implement maternal health programs, and tragic loss of millions of lives that could otherwise have been saved," its member physicians said in a statement.
They were reacting to what Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday during a meeting of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, in response to questions on the direct correlation between access to contraception and women's deaths.
"This (policy) does not deal in any way, shape, or form with family planning," said Cannon. "Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives."
What's worse is that, as Cannon would later suggest to reporters, he personally is pro-choice.
Then there are International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda and Status Of Women Minister Helena Guergis – neither of who has ever practised birth control, right? – who also parrot the party line.
Said Guergis in the status of women committee Monday, in reply to a question on what she will do for maternal and child health care, both here and abroad: "I will play whatever role it is that the Prime Minister is defining for me in this process, happily, and I'm very proud and honoured to be a part of that process."
Talk about A Handmaid's Tale.
As for Oda, on Wednesday she told the House that the government will be "providing clean water, vaccinations, better nutrition, as well as the most effective way (in) the training of health care workers and improving access for those women, that is what we are going to do."
Sure all that is important, but as one friend cracked on Facebook, "Dead women can't drink clean water."
Besides, research shows that when it comes to health care in impoverished nations, women – as they often are in everything else – are second-class citizens, always at the back of the line.
So, while improving the medical infrastructure will definitely help these societies as a whole, it may not do that much more for mothers and newborns.
Nice try, PM Harper.
But it's obvious: This is just a Trojan horse for your religious beliefs.
Antonia Zerbisias is a Living section columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at thestar.blogs.com.
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