When Donald Trump first took office, one of the more immediate actions from the White House was the reinstatement of the “Mexico City” policy, which forbade the use of federal funds to organizations that promote abortion abroad. Our neighbor to the north took a different direction last week, perhaps in part to address the US change in policy. In a major shift from the policies of his predecessor Stephen Harper, prime minister Justin Trudeau earmarked foreign aid to developing nations for expansion of legalized abortion:
In a sharp reorientation of Canada’s foreign-aid strategy, the Trudeau government plans to spend $650-million on sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide – a move that could see Canada paying for a battle against anti-abortion laws in dozens of countries.
The three-year plan, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday as he marked International Women’s Day, would finance a range of global programs, including contraception, reproductive health, legal abortion, sexuality education and advocacy work. …
The Liberal government’s plan to finance contraception and abortion programs internationally is in sharp contrast to the policy of the previous Conservative government. While the Conservatives created a multibillion-dollar foreign-aid program for maternal and child health, less than 2 per cent of its budget was allocated for contraception services and it refused to pay for any abortion-related services.
The wonder here might not be in the policy shift, but that a restriction in Canada on funding abortion anywhere existed at all. Canada may have the most radically pro-abortion environment in the world; no legal restrictions on abortion exist at all. An abortion can take place at any time until the baby has passed through the birth canal, at least legally. The only restrictions are on access and funding, and those vary by province, and on circumstance. Harper had to take a significant political risk to maintain those bans for as long as he did.
Now, however, Trudeau has begun an effort not just to fund abortions overseas, but to spend aid money on twisting arms in poor countries to adopt the Canadian system of abortion on demand at any time and for any reason. That prompted a scolding from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which accused Trudeau of hijacking foreign aid to impose “Western cultural imperialism”:
In a biting letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the president of the Canadian bishops’ conference called the government’s new overseas abortion policy “a reprehensible example of Western cultural imperialism.”
In a separate letter to Trudeau, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto expressed “deep concern and disappointment” and called it “arrogant for powerful, wealthy nations to dictate what priorities developing countries should embrace.”
Cardinal Collins and Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, Ontario, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, were responding to a March 8 announcement that the government would “invest” $650 million (US$483 million) over three years to provide abortion and other services in the developing world.
In addition to funding abortions and other sexual health initiatives, Canadian money will now be earmarked to support foreign advocacy organizations working to make abortion legal in nations that currently ban the practice.
The brief letter from Bishop Douglas Crosby uses few words, and minces none. Crosby accuses Trudeau of negating Canada’s outreach to refugees as an exploitation for his own triumphalism:
Such a policy is a reprehensible example of Western cultural imperialism and an attempt to impose misplaced but so-called Canadian “values” on other nations and people. It exploits women when they are most in need of care and support, and tragically subverts true prenatal health care. It negates our country’s laudable efforts to welcome refugees and offer protection to the world’s homeless, when the youngest of human lives will instead be exterminated and the most vulnerable of human beings discarded as unwanted human tissue.
Your policy and vision, contrary to the fundamental ethic of protecting the most vulnerable and assisting the weakest, are in conflict with the principles instinctively shared by the majority of the world’s population and consistently upheld by the Catholic Church: to defend and protect human life from conception to natural death.
Cardinal Collins added that the money could have been used for much more necessary care:
Cardinal Collins wrote: “It is praiseworthy to offer international aid; it is arrogant for powerful, wealthy nations to dictate what priorities developing countries should embrace.
“Money spent on promoting abortion and contraception could be spent on vaccinating millions of women and girls against malaria or other diseases,” the cardinal said.
Sharp words indeed. It’s not the first accusation along these lines from the Catholic Church to Western nations that tie foreign aid to abortion, either. During the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October 2014, this complaint became a common theme, especially from the bishops of Africa. “We don’t want condoms and contraceptives,” Bishop Ignatius Kaigama declared at one press briefing, “we want food and health care.” Later, he expanded on the condescension and offensiveness of cultural imperialism:
Reporters followed up with Kaigama on the status of LGBT people in Africa with the authorities and the Catholic Church and the issues of marriage and polygamy, which Kaigama emphasized was a real problem in his country. “Many people laugh when you mention it,” Kaigama told us afterward, “but for me, it’s a real issue.” What happens when polygamists convert to the Catholic Church? What happens to the other wives, some of whom have children and no other means of support? Kaigama wants direction from his brethren on crafting a pastoral approach that takes into account those issues.
And on aid from NGOs and other nations, Kaigama says there shouldn’t be social-policy strings attached. Kaigama also accused birth-control activists of neglect and exploitation. “When you give somebody a pill, you should be there,” he said, “to see that the pill is helpful to the end. “When you give the pill, she takes it, it aborts the child, and then [results in] complications — it’s more of a problem than what was intended to resolve.”
Some in the US see the Mexico City policy as another form of cultural imperialism, but Bishop Kaigama put this issue in proper perspective. By restricting the use of aid dollars to actual aid, it respects the culture of those communities it seeks to help, rather than make food and water conditional on adopting Western progressivism on abortion. Kudos to the Canadian bishops for calling attention to Trudeau’s radical hijacking of aid to impose abortion on others.