Canada's position against funding abortions abroad is 'hypocritical and unjust,' a medical journal editorial says.

"The Canadian Government does not deprive women living in Canada from access to safe abortions; it is therefore hypocritical and unjust that it tries to do so abroad," the Lancet says in an editorial Saturday.

"Although the country's decision only affects a small number of developing countries where abortion is legal, bans on the procedure, which are detrimental to public health, should be challenged by the G8, not tacitly supported. Canada and the other G8 nations could show real leadership with a final maternal health plan that is based on sound scientific evidence and not prejudice."

The Conservative government has been under attack by some aid groups and opposition parties after revealing last week it won't include abortion funding in its maternal health plan for developing countries next month at the G8 summit. Officials said the focus will be on improving the health of women and children through such things as safe drinking water and vaccination programs.

Critics say the position against funding abortions goes against Canadian practice in recent decades and conflicts with the goals of other countries, including the United States.

The Lancet said the plan's omission of improved access to safe abortion services "is no accident, but a conscious decision by Canada's Conservative Government not to support groups that undertake abortions in developing countries."

"This stance must change," the editorial said, noting 70,000 women die from unsafe abortions worldwide each year.

Listen to evidence, opposition says 

During Friday's question period in the Commons, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett cited the Lancet editorial in her condemnation of the Conservative government's "harmful change in policy."

"When will the Conservatives stop silencing their critics and start listening to them and their call for evidence-based policies?" Bennett asked.

Rona Ambrose, the status of women minister, defended Canada's G8 initiative, citing a statement by World Vision Canada that the abortion debate was clouding the issue while 8.8 million children die every year from causes that would cost pennies to prevent. World Vision, one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations, opposes abortion as a family planning method.

Ambrose said the government wants to save the lives of women and children, Ambrose said.  

"We ask the opposition to stop playing politics with this issue."

The Lancet editorial did praise Canada for making maternal and child health a priority for the G8, but said the government plan is thin on details and also omits emergency obstetric care, an oversight that should also be rectified.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced late in 2009 that Canada, as the host of the upcoming G8 meeting, would champion maternal and child health in developing countries. At a meeting in Halifax last week, the G8 development ministers agreed to back Canada's provisional set of principles to improve the health of women and children in developing nations.

The Lancet editorial listed promises to include:

  • Training and support for frontline health workers.
  • Better nutrition and provision of micronutrients.
  • Treatment and prevention of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and sepsis.
  • Screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
  • Family planning.
  • Immunization.
  • Clean water and sanitation.

Canada hosts the G8 summit next month in Huntsville, Ont.