Niki Ashton: What About Maternal Health?

Niki Ashton, an NDP Member of Parliament, recently introduced a bill affirming “a woman’s right to choose abortion”.  She extends her vision of ‘choice’ to the entire international community, asking Canada to focus international aid on contraception and abortion, all in the name of equality and human rights.

Here in Canada we are faced with the full spectrum of pills, patches, shots, and implants, on top of unrestricted access to abortion.  Estrogen-progestin birth control pills are a Class 1 carcinogen and increase the risk of breast, liver, and cervical cancer.  Serious, sometimes fatal, side-effects such as blood clots have led to class-action suits against the makers of Yaz/Yasmin birth control pills, NuvaRing, and the Mirena IUD.  Each of these can act as abortifacients.  ‘Reproductive freedom’ is not exactly free when you’re paying such a high price.

The Gates Foundation’s plan to spend a cool $5 billion foisting these same products on developing nations prompted a response from Obianuju Ekeocha, a Nigerian woman with concerns about the impact of contraception:

“Where Europe and America have their well-oiled health care system, a woman in Africa with a contraception-induced blood clot does not have access to 911 or an ambulance or a paramedic. No, she dies.”

Complications from abortion can also require serious medical intervention.  Many developing countries lack the simple medical framework needed to help with childbirth, let alone complications such as infection and incomplete abortion.

We should pay attention to Ms. Ekeocha’s words: “Listen to the heart-felt cry of an African woman and mercifully channel your funds to pay for what we REALLY need.”

In Nigeria, as in many other developing countries, maternal mortality is high due to preventable complications of childbirth such as hemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labor, and pre-eclampsia.  There is a great need for skilled birth attendants and basic medical care.  In Uganda, only half of rural women have access to a skilled birth attendant.  Yet USAID spends twice as much on ‘family planning’ as they do on maternal health in that country.

The Philippines has a maternal mortality rate ten times that of Canada’s.  In some areas, as few as 24% of births are supervised by a skilled birth attendant.  Contraception has not helped them: it is used at the same rate as Japan, which has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, yet the Philippines’ maternal mortality remains high.  Still, in 2012, USAID spent over $16 million on ‘family planning and reproductive health’ for the Philippines, and just over $3 million on maternal and child health.

USAID Philippines spending

When we offer abortion and contraception instead of basic health care, we are making reproductive decisions on behalf of women.  We are telling them that we can’t help them improve their health care system, but we’ll pay for them to stop having children, or end the lives of their unborn children.  How pro-choice does the NDP look now?

This is not the first time reproductive decisions have been made on behalf of poor and marginalized groups.  Funding from the UNFPA and USAID goes into unmistakably coercive contraception, sterilization, and abortion programs in countries such as China, Kazakhstan, and India.  As recently as the 90s, Peru was home to a nightmarish UN- and US-funded population control project that led to thousands of forced sterilizations.  Indigenous Peruvian women were told that unless they agreed to the procedure, their children would be denied medical care or food assistance.

Pushing contraceptives and abortion on women who simply want simple medical care in childbirth is not the answer.


This article was written by Hanna Barlow, Program Manager of Guelph & Area Right to Life.  It appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of the Guelph & Area RTL newsletter.  To receive the quarterly newsletter, read more about how to become a member.



Unacceptable Risk: Canada and the RU-486 Abortion Pill

pillsOn November 25th an article entitled “Medical abortion in Canada: behind the times” was printed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and a cover story was carried in national newspapers entitled “Canadians should have access to abortion pill RU-486, leading medical journal argues.”

In my experience, RU-486 is the ‘chemical coat hanger abortion’ of the 90’s.  It has bubbled under the surface and now, once again, proponents desire it in Canada. In an amazing research book entitled “RU486 – Misconceptions, Myths and Moralswritten by three pro-abortion feminists in 1992, they declared: “[RU-486] constitutes a new form of medical violence that endangers women’s lives and violates their right to be free from bodily harm.”

In an open letter to MPs in Australia in 2005, Renata Klein, one of the book’s authors, stated:

Then, as now, some of you will be astonished that as an internationally recognised feminist and academic who has worked on reproductive issues for 25 years and strongly supports a woman’s right to safe legal abortion, I will side with what are seen as conservative and anti-abortion views.

However, then, as now, I cannot support the view that chemical abortion is seen (a) as good reproductive choice for women, and (b) as a safe alternative to already available abortion by aspiration. I write to you because I am appalled by the misinformation given to the public by supporters of RU-486, who continue to claim chemical abortion is safe, and who portray it as a simple procedure; take three RU486 pills and –bingo! You are no longer pregnant.

In the article entitled “Canadians should have access to abortion pill RU-486, leading medical journal argues,” we are told that RU486 is the “gold standard” and “essential medication”. Shockingly, we are informed that cancer and ulcer drugs are currently used “off-label” by physicians to cause abortion and this is “second rate”  and “cumbersome” but seemingly fine for Canadian women!

RU-486 will take us down one more level – a drug which has been specifically designed to starve a child, followed by the administration of another drug, Cytotec to induce labour and expel the dead or dying child. Four visits at minimum to the facility, then the wait for your chemical miscarriage, at home alone, work or play, plus another internal examination – and by the way, bring what’s left of the child with you. Doesn’t this all sound very liberating?

The columnist noted that one woman had died of a bacterial infection during 90’s clinical trials held in Canada. She did not mention that the doctor leading the research admitted that they did not inform women of a letter from the manufacturers of Cytotec, the second drug used, that it was dangerous for women to use it “off-label”.

The columnist noted that other women across the world have died but that “investigations could find no explanation for the cluster of what are normally rare infections, she [Sheila Dunn, CMAJ article author] said, adding that there had been none in recent years.

I imagine neither of these women had time to check the FDA website and particularly the Mifepristone US Post-marketing Adverse Events Summary through 04/30/2011, which noted that of the 2207 adverse events listed, 612 women were hospitalized, 339 experienced blood loss that required transfusions, 256 had infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, pelvic infections with sepsis, with 48 being severe, hospitalized for 2-3 days. 58 women had ectopic pregnancies; the RU-486 regimen is contraindicated for women with ectopic pregnancies! Several of the women (7 of 14) who died in the US “died from sepsis (severe illness caused by infection of the bloodstream) after medical abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol…Sepsis is a known risk related to any type of abortion”. (See FDA Mifepristone information page.)

It also points out that 7 women were infected with Clostridium sordelli that did not present “the usual symptoms.” There was no fever! The side effects of these infections are abdominal pain or discomfort, weakness, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.  However, all of these are expected side effects of chemical abortion.

If Clostridium sordelli presents with no fever, this is extremely significant and dangerous for women: how will they or the facility recognize the infection? 17-year-old Holly Patterson and others might still be alive if their abortion facility had done so.

Guest Post by Jakki Jeffs, Executive Director of Alliance for Life Ontario and President of Guelph & Area Right to Life