In the News 2010
Canwest News Service

Catholic Group Urges Harper to Include Abortion, Contraception in G8 Policy


A group of pro-choice Catholics is urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to include abortion and contraception in his controversial G8 maternal health policy.

The American-based organization Catholics for Choice, which has about 100 members in its Canadian branch, has penned a letter to Harper that says Catholics around the world support access to family planning as a matter of personal choice and that “millions of good Catholics” use contraception.

“We urge the Canadian government to return to its leading role in advocating for family planning, including in the G8 agreement on maternal health,” the letter reads. “In so doing, the government will have the support of Catholics domestically and internationally in your efforts to help reduce maternal mortality.”

Rosemary Ganley, coordinator of Catholics for Choice Canada, signed the letter jointly with the group’s American president. She said members of Catholics for Choice use theological principles of Catholicism – such as primacy of conscience – to guide their views on sexual health and reproduction, rather than the strict rules and teachings of the church.

“We dissent from the formal teachings, as do most Canadian Catholics in practice,” Ganley said.

On its website the group says that the “Catholic hierarchy’s ban on contraception and abortion has a disastrous impact on women’s lives,” especially the lives of poor women.

Ganley said the federal government’s maternal health initiative should not have any limits imposed on it and that the pro-life movement’s views are not the only ones that should be taken into account.

“We would like the government to realize that they need to speak to many Catholic voices and not depend on the hierarchy for sole advice,” she said.

Harper and his lead cabinet ministers on the file have not said explicitly what shape their maternal health policy will take when the G8 countries meet in June. They have said the government hasn’t closed the door on including family planning in any plan to improve maternal and newborn health around the world – nor have they said whether they want reproductive health services to be part of an agreement among the G8 leaders.

Harper and International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda have said repeatedly the government doesn’t want to have a debate about abortion, but it’s not clear if that means the government intends to keep it off the table at the G8 meeting.

One prominent representative of the mainstream church, meanwhile, condemns Catholics for Choice is a “fraudulent organization” that does not represent Catholicism.

“They’re really not Catholics. They use that name falsely,” said Fr. Alphonse De Valk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine. “If you go against the Church on important teachings, and certainly the teachings on both contraception and abortion are very important to the Church, you can no longer call yourself a Catholic.

“The Harper government should do what it set out to do: help women with practical measures – food, nutrition, health care,” he added. “And health care should not include anything that has to deal with either contraception or abortion.

“That’s not caring for women. That’s killing their babies, and to think that that would help women in Africa and Asia is ludicrous.”

The Catholic Civil Rights League has written a letter of its own to the prime minister, also asking that the maternal health initiative be “pro-life in spirit and implementation” and that it focus on measures such as safe drinking water and medicine, not family planning.

Ganley responds that her group is used to being dismissed and that it seeks dialogue with other Catholic organizations but is consistently “demonized” by them.

This article originally appeared in Canwest News Service.

Catholics for Choice