Let’s not play politics with people’s lives

Once again the federal Liberal leader has shown his lack of interest in working with Canada’s governing party in his arrogant insistence that abortion be part of the maternal aid that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pushing the G8 to provide as a priority to Third World women.

Once again the federal Liberal leader has shown his lack of interest in working with Canada’s governing party in his arrogant insistence that abortion be part of the maternal aid that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pushing the G8 to provide as a priority to Third World women.

This only illustrates Ignatieff’s ignorance of the problem, while needlessly politicizing a very worthy effort by our prime minister.

In the 1980s, my husband and I were doing research for ACCESS-TV’s educational show Babies Best Chance.

Our job was to go out and pre-interview various professionals in the reproductive field to understand the changes and challenges in new reproductive technologies.

Our first encounter was with a paediatrician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary. He was a young, tall, friendly fellow who opened by explaining he had just returned from India on a health mission to disadvantaged nations. He hung his head in shame as he recounted the challenges of maternal welfare there.

“We struggled to find new, sterile razor blades to cut the umbilical cords of birthing mothers,” he said. “We hoped there would be a spool of thread that we could use to tie off the cord. It’s kind of embarrassing to think about when we return to this facility where just the price of one ultrasound unit here would pay for thousands of safer deliveries there.”

This is the kind of help Prime Minister Harper is offering Third World Women. Basic sanitation. Clean water. Better nutrition. Nominal but very helpful surgical procedures that can be performed in minimally sterile surgical conditions.

Women are “designed” to give birth, virtually unaided. A Yemenite friend recounts that his mother worked the fields picking herbs – felt the urge at noon – went home and birthed him and returned to work. However, that’s not always the case.

In most Third World countries, women who have trouble giving birth, end up tearing tissue down below during the effort of labour – leaving them incontinent and in terrible pain, or eternally suffering from infection. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has written several moving editorials about these issues affecting women in the Third World.

A simple operation at or near the time of birth can fix that. Without it, the woman may die – or become like a leper (some are actually forced out of the community).

Harper is trying to bring a modicum of health and dignity to these women. Ignatieff is trying to take it away by bringing up controversial issues like abortion which are virtually irrelevant in a Third World context.

Likewise contraception is a nice idea, but fantastically expensive, there is no reasonable distribution network and the exorbitant funds for pills or condoms could be better used for food, wells or water filters.

I recall further conversations with our Baby’s Best Chance interviewees. Some excitedly addressed the new reproductive technologies like ultrasound or chorionic villi testing. We were keen to know how these technologies could give baby a better chance.

But as it turned out, they all just gave the parents early information of possible defects – and if one was found – then baby didn’t have a chance at all.

That’s what Michael Ignatieff is doing to hundreds of thousands of babies and their mothers by obsfucating the issue.

Consideration, co-operation and most of all, compassion – something the steely eyed Harper now appears to have in spades.

Meanwhile self-aggrandizing Ignatieff can only see this initiative as a political posturing opportunity.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.

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