Earlier this month during a G8* meeting of foreign ministers in Gatineau, Quebec, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, David Miliband, said that any international effort to boost maternal health must include family planning and access to safe abortion.
This meeting was in preparation for the G8 Summit taking place in June where a new initiative to improve maternal health will be launched.
Canada’s Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon, said the program for maternal and child health will be Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “signature initiative,” but that the government has “closed the door on the abortion part.” Canada has made it clear that the initiative will not focus on unsafe abortions in developing countries or support access to family planning and contraception. The government argues it does not want a valuable initiative to improve the lives of women and children in the developing world to be damaged by a contentious debate over abortion.
During her visit to Ottawa, Secretary Clinton said, “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health, and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.” (Read full transcript below.)
The Center prepared letters for both Secretary Clinton and President Barack Obama asking that the United States take a strong position on the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially access to family planning, including contraception, to be a central component of the initiative.
The Fight to End Maternal Mortality
Every year, more than half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth. That’s one woman or girl who dies every minute. For every woman who dies during pregnancy, an estimated 30 more suffer from infections, injuries or disabilities. Add to that millions of people who have no access to contraception—exposing countless numbers to disease and driving already struggling families further into poverty. Most of these deaths and injuries are preventable and government inaction to stop them violates women’s most fundamental human rights.
The Center has long been a leader in the effort to end maternal mortality. In 2007, in alliance with five other groups, the Center launched the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights. The Center also filed the first maternal mortality case to be brought before the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has authored numerous reports documenting the human rights violations and barriers that women face when trying to access maternal health care services.
The Center has been working tirelessly on various fronts to prompt global action to save women’s lives. One of the Center’s latest efforts was promoting a landmark resolution, “Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Human Rights,” that was adopted at the 11th session of the Human Rights Council. This is a groundbreaking step towards ensuring every woman’s basic human right to a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth. The next step is for governments to implement the resolution and take urgent action to prevent women from dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth.
* The Group of Eight (G8) is a forum created by France in 1975 that today includes the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada , and Russia. Each calendar year, the responsibility of hosting the G8 rotates through the member states. The holder of the presidency sets the agenda, hosts the summit for that year, and determines which ministerial meetings will take place.
QUESTION: (Speaking in French.) So allow me to repeat in English, as I’d like especially Ms. Clinton to answer this question. As you know, Canada wants to make maternal health a priority of the G-8, and you probably are aware of—there’s a debate in Canada as to whether or not family planning, contraception, and even abortion is part of this initiative. So you’re probably aware, coming from the United States, that this has been a debate in your country. So —
MODERATOR: We’ll keep it to one question per (inaudible). Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, so I want – same question. So I want to know, do you think that abortion and contraception should be part of this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to speak for what Canada decides, but I will say that I’ve worked in this area for many years. And if we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.
Obviously, the extraordinary rate of maternal deaths that still occur in our world in countries where women do not have access to family planning remains a great tragedy. I’ve also been very involved in promoting family planning and contraception as a way to prevent abortion. If you are concerned about abortion, then women should have access to family planning.
And finally, I do not think governments should be involved in making these decisions. It is perfectly legitimate for people to hold their own personal views based on conscience, religion, or any other basis. But I’ve always believed that the government should not intervene in decisions of such intimacy. And we can see through history what happens when governments do. When governments have a policy of one child, as China has had, and where that policy is implemented by forced abortions, that is abhorrent. And when governments like the communist government in Romania had policies promoting five children per women, which denied women the opportunity to plan their own families, the result was a tragic problem with children being given up and being put into orphanages.
So this is an issue of great concern to me and to my government, and we are promoting a global health initiative that will emphasize maternal and child health, and we are promoting a greater access to contraception—both male and female contraception – and we are also looking for ways to make women’s choices so that they can avoid abortion—more realistic by providing support for them.