Pro-life groups say they will keep a hopeful but watchful eye on the prime minister's upcoming summit on maternal, newborn and child health May 28-30 in Toronto.
"We are looking at it hopefully, but recognizing it for what it is," said Campaign Life Coalition Ottawa lobbyist Johanne Brownrigg, who questioned the timing, considering the upcoming 2015 federal election.
The summit, which will convene global leaders and Canadian experts, will take place almost four years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the so-called Muskoka Initiative aimed at saving the lives of mothers and children under five in the developing world.
Harper's initiative coincided with his hosting G-8 leaders in 2010 and resulted in a commitment of US$7.3 billion in new funding over five years from G-8 and non-G-8 countries, according to a government news release.
"According to the World Health Organization and World Bank estimates, the funds leveraged by Canada's Muskoka Initiative will save the lives of 1.3 million children and 64,000 mothers," the release said.
"This summit sounds like a good opportunity to review the progress that has already been made in the vital area of maternal, newborn and child health, and to plan for greater progress in the years ahead," said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry.
When announcing the initiative, Harper promised the federal government would not include funding for abortion overseas in the new money, a pledge that won praise from pro-life circles. But the commendations were short-lived.
If Harper had "followed through entirely" on his promise, "we would have been extremely thrilled," said Brownrigg.
She noted then-CIDA Minister Bev Oda subsequently awarded the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) $6 million despite Harper's promise.
Though ostensibly that money was not for abortion services, the grant raised concerns because it freed up funds for the well-known agenda of promoting abortion in the developing world, she said. "We were not fooled."
"We have seen maternal and child mortality cut in half in some of the world's most troubled and poverty-stricken countries," said LifeCanada executive director Natalie Hudson Sonnen.
Like Brownrigg, Sonnen criticized CIDA's agenda, which she said is "to promote abortion and contraception, the world over. It is the new colonialism."
Sonnen also criticized the $40 million CIDA awarded to the United Nations Population Front (UNFPA), describing both the UNFPA and IPPF as "organizations notorious for providing abortions."
MaterCare International, devoted entirely to obstetrical care in Africa, has applied for government funding 12 times and been denied each time.
Sonnen said the IPPF and UNFPA are "most certainly" using Canadian tax dollars to provide contraceptives to women in developing nations. "They also use the funding to lobby governments both at the local and regional levels for 'sexual and reproductive rights,' the euphemism for abortion."
Brownrigg said Campaign Life has not received an invitation to attend the summit but would likely send a delegation if it is welcome to attend.
"It's an excellent opportunity for Matercare to be involved," she said. "It's not necessarily a prolife group but it's the organization that demonstrates the purest form of maternal care."