Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion but, as other members have said, I wholeheartedly wish that we did not need to debate it at all.
The government does not understand the issue of infant and maternal health in the slightest. In fact, the Conservative ministers have been directly contradicting each other on this issue all over the place. It suggests to me that they are trying very hard to fudge something that they are worried will upset the base that they represent. They believe very much that reproductive technology is taboo.
I was absolutely shocked when I learned that the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated, “This does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning. Indeed the purpose of this is to be able to save lives”.
Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs not understand that the very thing he is denying women in developing countries is the thing that will in fact kill those women? He had to have known that by the government doing and saying that, it was literally condemning certain numbers of women to death. That sounds horrible and harsh but that is reality. That is what Mr. Bush did in America.
The purpose is to save lives but the government's plan will not save any lives. Instead, it will condemn women to death. No maternal health policy can be effective without proper family planning and the ability to space out pregnancies. Everybody in the developing world and everybody in our country knows that. As the former minister of CIDA, I have seen that in the countries I have visited and it is a fact.
However, the current CIDA minister then said, “We have chosen to focus the world’s lenses on saving the lives of mothers and children,” but not birth control. Does the minister really think she is doing her job? How can a development minister of Canada say that she is saving lives by denying contraception and birth control when she knows full well, if she bothered to visit any other developing countries and looked at any of the programs, that she is doing exactly the opposite? As a former minister of CIDA, I suggest that the minister resign from her job because she is not looking out for the people she is supposed to be representing and protecting in this country.
We all acknowledge that promoting infant and maternal health is an admirable one but when ideology trumps health policy and politics trump common sense, the Conservative government only accomplishes relegating Canada to the backbench on international development and causes us a great deal of embarrassment, which is totally unacceptable.
We need to look at some of the facts. Improving the lives of women and children in the developing world requires more than immunization, access to clean water, better nutrition and improved training for health care workers. All options must be made available to promote educated family planning and gender equality. All of these things are needed, but we need that and more.
The reality is that 80% of maternal deaths are caused directly by complications during pregnancy, delivery and after delivery. The four major killers are bleeding, infections, unsafe abortions and obstructed labour. Contraceptive services in developing countries could avert 52 million unintended pregnancies. I am not talking about one or two. This is huge. They could save 1.5 million lives and prevent 505,000 children from losing their mothers.
Investment in family planning could slash maternal deaths by 70% and cut newborn deaths by nearly half. Children without mothers are three times as likely to die before their fifth birthday. They often enrol in school late and leave school early. Spacing between pregnancies is important for the health of mothers. Two hundred and fifteen million women who would like to delay or avoid childbearing do not have access to modern contraception, 20 million have unsafe abortions every year, and 8.5 million need hospital care for complications but it is not available for 3 million of them.
The government is concerned that we are talking about abortion. Everybody wants to stay away from that word, but by denying birth control, it is forcing women to either abort or to die, and many of them do die, including their children afterward. That is the reality. I saw it on the ground, I have lived with it and I have seen the data.
We are dealing with that reality and for the government to ignore that reality because of its own personal ideological beliefs is totally unacceptable in this country. We have signed agreements at the international level with respect to women that commit us to doing exactly what the government is denying it is going to be doing.
Women who cannot access reproductive health services are more likely to obtain unsafe abortions and more likely to die as a result of pregnancy, childbirth or unsafe abortions. Ninety per cent of maternal deaths are preventable with better nutrition, but also by spacing out pregnancies.
The main reasons for infant and maternal deaths are the poor quality of care, with unsafe, outdated equipment, and the lack of midwives and trained professionals. I have travelled to many of these countries and have met with the midwives and have seen just one or two of them responsible for thousands of women, with very little medical equipment available. Yes, we need to provide more medical assistance and better nutrition and better health supports and to ensure there is not just one midwife for thousands of women, absolutely, but we also need to provide contraceptive and birth control assistance, because those mothers do not choose.
What I have been told sometimes by people is that the women should abstain. It does not work. Women in these countries do not have the option of abstaining, just as young women in some parts of Africa do not have the option of abstaining and end up with AIDS, which is a whole other issue that we are not even talking about.
Of course, contraception also helps in preventing deaths in the other direction. It helps women who are already malnourished, who are already anemic in many ways because they are very poor, and who are not able to withstand pregnancies that close together and end up dying in childbirth. That is why birth control has to be part of the program. It is unconscionable for the government to even consider denying and eliminating that. To me, it is nothing but pandering to a certain political level in this country and it is totally unacceptable from a government that purports to lead a modern, progressive nation in this world, which I consider Canada to be.
Regarding the cost of care, women bear the brunt of the fees for health care. Their reproductive roles mean they have the greatest need for health care. Even in places where health care is free, they still have to get to the facility and sometimes must pay for the equipment and supplies needed, which they do not have money for.
We made a commitment to the fifth millennium development goal to reduce maternal mortality by 75% before 2015, and if the government thinks it is going to accomplish that without birth control and contraception, then it is wrong. Even abortion, which is not something that anybody advocates for, is still part of the program and should be allowed. Those women have a right to choose and a right to survive. It is not for us to impose our situation on them.
Canada has provided long-lasting support for contraception and reproductive health services through CIDA. The government's ideology is getting in the way of good health care and gender equality, both here in Canada and abroad, where the government is now pushing its ideology. As members know, it has eliminated equality for women in this country, shut down offices that serve women in this country, and now is trying to impose its ideology on women abroad.
I could go on for a long time on this issue, but what is most important to me is this. If the Minister of International Cooperation and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister of this country know, and I believe wholeheartedly that they do, that without contraception and birth control being part of the program it will in fact condemn 500,000 to one million poor women in the developing countries to death, and are still prepared to put forward this kind of policy and have only backed off slightly after being pushed by the House and the media, it is unconscionable. It irresponsible and it is not Canadian. As leaders of this country, I expect better from them. I expect them to represent the values of this country and to support us abroad.