Canadians object to PM refusing funds for safer abortion in G8 plan

OTTAWA — Stephen Harper’s much-vaunted maternal health initiative that was meant to galvanize next month’s G8 summit is now causing some queasiness — among Canadians and internationally.

OTTAWA — Stephen Harper’s much-vaunted maternal health initiative that was meant to galvanize next month’s G8 summit is now causing some queasiness — among Canadians and internationally.

A new poll suggests that a majority of Canadians opposes the Prime Minister’s refusal to fund safer abortions in developing countries, even as international concern grows about the state of his G8 maternal health initiative.

The Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll found that 58 per cent of respondents oppose Harper’s exclusion of abortion funding in his drive to improve maternal and child health in poor countries.

That’s up from about 46 per cent in March, when a similar question about aid for abortion access was asked. The increase suggests people are taking their time to think through the complex pros and cons before making up their minds, said Megan Tam, vice-president at Harris-Decima.

“It appears that the general sentiment of most Canadians is to have a maternal health policy that includes funding for abortion,” she said.

The poll of 1000 people was conducted by telephone between May 6 and May 9. It has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The survey found that opposition to the government’s stand was about the same for both men and women, but was stronger in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia than other regions of the country.

Only 30 per cent of respondents said they would support the government’s decision, down from about 48 per cent in March.

Harper has made maternal and child health his key focus for the G8 summit he is hosting in Ontario’s cottage country six weeks from now — a priority that was warmly received around the world, since there is widespread consensus that the health of poor kids and their moms deserves more attention.

But the initiative quickly got side-tracked in a domestic debate about whether Canada should be funding abortion.

Harper did not give a clear answer until the end of April, when he said Ottawa would not contribute to abortion-related aid projects, but that other G8 countries are free to do so.

The debate has dominated Canadian discussion on the G8 for weeks, culuminating in a huge pro-life rally on Parliament Hill last week, where Conservative MPs and thousands of protesters congratulated Harper on his stand.

As Canadians wrestle with the abortion issue, international aid experts are worried that the momentum to raise much-needed G8 funding for mothers and children is flagging.