When asked about support for contraceptives and family planning in an interview last week, Ms. Oda said: "In order to maintain our focus, again our focus is on maternal and child health and mortality rates.
"We want to make sure that mothers, pregnant women, are healthy and can have safe births, and that the birthing process is made safer because if you look at the number of births during the actual birthing process, that's where a number of maternal deaths happen," she added.
"We also want to make sure when babies are born, they are born as healthy as possible so that they can live through their early age, up to the age of five, with as strong and good health as possible."
Oda's unwavering inability to concede on contraception has been repeated by Status of Women Minister Helena Guergis and just the other day by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
It's been a political firestorm, which got diverted by the abortion debate -- which took the focus off contraception, a necessary component of any maternal healthcare program.
Extraordinary events in Canada over the last couple of days with the potential to embarrass mightily the G8, meeting in Ontario in late June. The host government's "legacy initiative" is on maternal and child health. The entire GB is expected to sign up to a package intended to save the lives of women and their dependent young children. But - and prepare to rub your eyes now - Stephen Harper and his ministers appear to want to exclude family planning from it. And it's not even just unsafe abortion (which kills thousands every year) that appears to be in their minds.
“We are not closing doors against any options including contraception. But we do not want a debate here or elsewhere on abortion.”
So why did you allow your ministers to say what they did for as long and as often as they did?
Here is today's column, in toto, with some added linkage.
Did Prime Minister Stephen Harper put a condom instead of a thinking cap on his head when, two months ago, he announced his now internationally ridiculed policy on "maternal and child health" that he's going to promote at the coming G8 summit?
How else to explain his intransigence on women's access to family planning – as if a mother's ability to have no more babies than she can feed, clothe and protect has nothing to do with either's health?
Has he never heard the expression AIDS orphan? Obstetric fistula? High-risk pregnancy?
And we're not even talking about abortion here. This is about the pill, IUDs, diaphragms – and education.
For all the statistics Harper has spouted on the 2 million women and children who die every year due to lack of proper care during pregnancy and delivery, has he not looked at a medical book instead of the Good Book?
Because, make no mistake, his dismissal of good maternal health practice is purely ideological, not gynecological.
Consider the support this contraception-free initiative has received from religious groups that are anti-reproductive rights.
For example, both the hardline LifeSiteNews and R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, which back every anti-choice move any Conservative MP makes, no matter how unscientific or misogynistic, are cheering on this "maternal health" policy.
Never mind that doctors and medical groups, not to mention health workers in the field, contradict the HarperCon position.
On Thursday, the Ottawa-based Federation of Medical Women of Canada, was the latest to denounce the government on this issue. "By excluding family planning, there will be even more pressures on already vulnerable health systems, devastating consequences on any attempts to implement maternal health programs, and tragic loss of millions of lives that could otherwise have been saved," its member physicians said in a statement.
They were reacting to what Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday during a meeting of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, in response to questions on the direct correlation between access to contraception and women's deaths.
"This (policy) does not deal in any way, shape, or form with family planning," said Cannon. "Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives."
What's worse is that, as Cannon would later suggest to reporters, he personally is pro-choice.
Then there are International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda and Status Of Women Minister Helena Guergis – neither of who has ever practised birth control, right? – who also parrot the party line.
Said Guergis in the status of women committee Monday, in reply to a question on what she will do for maternal and child health care, both here and abroad: "I will play whatever role it is that the Prime Minister is defining for me in this process, happily, and I'm very proud and honoured to be a part of that process."
Talk about A Handmaid's Tale.
As for Oda, on Wednesday she told the House that the government will be "providing clean water, vaccinations, better nutrition, as well as the most effective way (in) the training of health care workers and improving access for those women, that is what we are going to do."
Sure all that is important, but as one friend cracked on Facebook, "Dead women can't drink clean water."
Besides, research shows that when it comes to health care in impoverished nations, women – as they often are in everything else – are second-class citizens, always at the back of the line.
So, while improving the medical infrastructure will definitely help these societies as a whole, it may not do that much more for mothers and newborns.
Nice try, PM Harper.
One, today Maclean's Paul Wells exhaustively unpacked Stephen Harper's right-ho politics. It is a must-read.
Two, it's been suggested to me by Facebook friend Alexandra Mandelis that the only family planning the HarperCons might support are condoms and the good ole rhythm method.
Now taking bets on how long before the HarperCons issue a statement saying that because they are not interesting in reopening the abortion debate, the only family planning devices their "signature" initaitive will include are all those that can't cause "very early abortions" - also called "abortifacients" by the anti-choice. "Abortifacient" methods include the Pill, emergency contraception, the patch and the IUD - all hormonal methods.
Alexandra is probably correct in her prediction
Consider the Pill, which prevents ovulation. True, every once in a huge while, mostly because a woman forgets to take her daily dose, an egg can slip by and get fertilized. The Pill would prevent that zygote from implantation, BTW.) But the risk of that is insignificant. Still, that doesn't stop the Pill Kills posse from shrieking that the Pill evil and kills babies.
Funny how they are more concerned about theoretical single-celled embryos than starving orphans who lost their mothers because their exhausted and undernourished bodies couldn't pump out that 10th baby.