Wilful ignorance


Recently, Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost penned an open letter that criticized his own government’s decision to provide funding for certain international activities of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The funding, which amounts to six-million over three years, is already conservative; it is earmarked for programs in only five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan, and Tanzania – in which abortion is primarily illegal, with some exceptions to save the pregnant woman’s life or health.

In an incomprehensible twist of logic, Trost’s criticism assumes that, somehow, funding sexual and reproductive health initiatives in these countries is tantamount to funding abortion. In a recent CBC Radio interview, Trost claimed the funding will help to “export and subsidize abortion abroad”. He provided no explanation of how this “subsidization” will occur in contexts where abortion is, for all intents and purposes, illegal.

But this type of nonsensical generalization is not uncommon for Trost. In a recent CBC Radio interview, the MP claimed to speak for his constituents in the Saskatoon-Humboldt riding when he condemns abortion. At the same time, he acknowledged that most Canadians do not hold such extreme anti-abortion views as his own.

Trost’s views on Planned Parenthood are just as convoluted. In his obsessively narrow focus on the abortion issue, Trost ignores the multitude of other services the organization provides, such as resources pertaining to birth control, sexual education, healthy relationships, and sexually-transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS. Like many other anti-abortion activists, he wants to eliminate abortion everywhere, yet also opposes domestic services like a funded national childcare system, which would help support the wellbeing of the unplanned babies that Trost wants women to give birth to.

Yet another ideological contradiction exists in Trost’s claim that he supports a philosophy of “liberty, property, and life”. Setting aside Trost’s superficial and uneducated appropriation of classic liberal discourse, this statement needs to be carefully unpacked with attention to his fuddled worldview. First of all, Trost supports “liberty”, but for who? Certainly not for women trapped in abusive or asymmetrical relationships where they lack the power, confidence, or resources to insist on condoms or birth control. Incidentally, this is a problem on which Planned Parenthood focuses part of its efforts. Secondly, “life” is apparently a priority for Trost, but precisely whose lives matter to him? Apparently not the 70,000 women worldwide who die every year because they resort to desperate and unsafe abortion strategies like inserting bicycle spokes into their uteruses.

Trost is not alone in these views. Fellow MPs Maurice Vellacott and Leon Benoit have also spoken out against the IPPF funding. Just as Trost awkwardly appropriates liberal values like “liberty” and “life” for his purposes, Vellacott accuses IPPF of supporting eugenics. In a letter published on his website, he cited widely-known, public knowledge about Planned Parenthood’s history, namely that its founder, Margaret Sanger, promoted eugenics. This was a common – although still very troubling and problematic – perspective during the early 20th century. Because IPPF offers sexual and reproductive health services to all women – including poor and racialized women – Vellacott accused the organization of having a “true agenda” rooted in eugenics.

While Vellacott focuses on the red herring of Planned Parenthood’s historical link to eugenics – a link that, incidentally, is shared by other institutions such as the government of Alberta – approximately 1 in 23 Tanzanian women are dying during childbirth. While Vellacott focuses on scandal through the lens of history, IPPF currently promotes access to birth control and maternal health information in countries like Tanzania, helping women and girls gain control of their bodies and their health.

Trost, along with his colleagues Maurice Vellacott and Leon Benoit, seems to have forgotten a key point: making abortion illegal does not stop abortion. It simply makes abortion more dangerous. And it is this point that should alert us to the large red herring that Trost has dangled in front of us. By creating a, “Hey, over here!” diversion in the form of an open letter, we may forget to challenge the strict limitations placed on Canadian funding to Planned Parenthood. We may find ourselves tiptoeing around the fact that, by refusing to fund safe abortion services abroad, the Canadian government refuses to help prevent the deaths of thousands of women every year.

Although the government should be commended for renewing IPPF’s funding in the first place – albeit after the proposal gathered dust for a year on a cabinet member’s desk – it must be simultaneously challenged for failing to include abortion as a central health service in the most recent G8 maternal health plan.

In the bigger picture, it’s time for us to acknowledge what Canadian medicine and law has already accepted and moved beyond: abortion is a necessary health service, just like any other. Over 90,000 Canadian women use it every year in safe and sanitary conditions. Despite having one of the most liberalized approaches to abortion in the world, Canada has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world.

Brad Trost claims to be interested in preserving “life”. When will women’s lives begin to count?

Amber Fletcher

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