Canada stumps up cash for family planning in developing world, but won't criticize Trump for stepping back

Canada appears unwilling to criticize the U.S. for pulling back from funding family planning in developing countries even as the Trudeau government steps in to fill some of the void left behind by the Trump administration.

'We have different views. This is very clear,' says minister about U.S. stance on abortion

Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of international development and la Francophonie, says that to meet the UN's gender equality goals by 2030 will require as much as $7 trillion in funding. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Canada appears unwilling to criticize the U.S. for pulling back from funding family planning in developing countries, even as the Trudeau government steps in to fill some of the void left behind by the Trump administration.

Speaking from the Family Planning Summit in London, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau acknowledged the need for countries and private donors to offer funding to empower women.

"We definitely need to invest more and to bring new partners around the table to reach the objective of the Family Planning 2020 agenda which is to reach an additional 120 million women to offer them … access to contraception," she said.

Asked why her government was unwilling to criticize the U.S. for its decision to bring back the so-called global gag rule, Bibeau said she was going to focus on what Canada will do, not what others haven't.

The global gag rule is a policy, instituted by successive Republican administrations dating back to the Ronald Reagan era in 1984, under which the U.S. withholds funding from groups that perform abortions or provide advice on how to get one.

The policy is regularly rolled back by successive Democratic presidents, including by former U.S. president Barack Obama in 2009.

"I just don't want to focus on their choices," she said. "I want to focus on our choice. Yes, it's obvious that we do not make the same choices when we talk about family planning and sexual and reproductive rights or climate change. We have different views. This is very clear."

"We're going to continue as a Canadian government and me as a Canadian minister to speak loud and clear to defend the rights of women and to talk about the importance of investing to face climate change," she said.

Losing U.S. funding

The need is great, according to Sandeep Prasad, the executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health, who is in London as a part of the Canadian delegation to the summit.

He said there are 214 million women in developing countries who want access to contraception but currently do not have that access. Prasad said a lack of contraception in developing nations leads to 22 million unsafe abortions and 47,000 maternal deaths each year.

"The Trump global gag rule will only exacerbate this problem," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "We have to bear in mind that the U.S. has been the largest donor, the largest bilateral donor for family planning, spending about $600 million US per year on this alone."

Prasad said that the implementation of the global gag rule puts at risk funding that provides 27 million women with contraception and averts two million unsafe abortions per year.

Both Bibeau and Prasad said they are hoping to encourage other countries, as well as private and corporate donors, to step in and help provide the funding needed to empower women and girls.

Liberals earmark $241.5 million in funding

Bibeau said that to reach the United Nations sustainable development goals for gender equality by 2030 it would require an investment of $5 trillion to $7 trillion.

"This is what we're going to try to do in the coming years and, actually, even here in London with this family planning conference, to bring new partners around the table, to bring new investment from the private sector also," she said.

Back in March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would provide $650 million over three years for reproductive health and rights around the world.

Today Bibeau announced that $241.5 million of that commitment would be earmarked for projects that provide "comprehensive sexuality education, strengthen reproductive health services and invest in family planning and contraceptives," according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

About 65 per cent of the $241.5 million will be used to fund projects in Africa, with other funding being provided to groups that operate in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq among others.

In all, 19 non-governmental organizations working to end gender-based violence and support reproductive health will receive anywhere from $3 million to $20 million.

Catholic bishops react

But not everyone is happy about the new focus for Canada's international aid program.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is questioning Trudeau for spending hundreds of millions more on the issue of empowering women than it does on famine in Africa.

In a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, in response to her June 6 foreign policy speech, Bishop Douglas Crosby, the organization's president, said the Liberal policy is ideologically based.

"In these uncertain times, when Canada's voice and leadership do matter on everything from climate change to global peace, political ideology cannot be allowed to dictate foreign policy and to override common sense and our humanitarian responsibilities to those in need," Crosby wrote.

With files from The Canadian Press