A not so private matter
By John Williamson
The assertion about "abortion being a private matter between a woman and her doctor" has been made a lot last week, mostly by proponents of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down Canada's abortion law 20 years ago. It's a clever jingle, but not entirely true. At least not as far as taxpayers are concerned.
Canada spends generously on things like senior pensions, education and health care. Despite the obvious public support for core spending, Canadian voters remain less willing to fund programs they believe are not providing positive outcomes or helping people in a constructive way.
The most obvious example of this is welfare. With the backing of taxpayers, governments provide a basic minimum amount, recognizing overly rich payments encourage dependence and disincentives to work. One province even offered one-way bus tickets to neighbouring provinces for people unwilling to work. Another was more progressive and enacted a workfare program. It requires recipients to participate in mandatory work activities to ensure the social safety net does not become a comfortable hammock.
While few Canadians are clamouring for legislative restrictions on abortion, it is doubtful those same voters would support government promoting it. Hence, the pro-abortion lobby employs language that implies the state has little to do with it. They say it's about the freedom to choose, an individual's choice and the state has no business interfering in a private decision. It's a position that satisfies small-government libertarians as well as those claiming to be both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Yet, government is more involved in promoting abortion than Canadians realize.
We're familiar with provincial funding of abortion (with the exception of New Brunswick). Of course, it's not terribly expensive -- it is estimated $50-million a year is spent on the medical procedure from a $100-billion public health budget. Ultimately, it is for provincial legislatures to decide whether or not to fund it under Medicare.
But what might Canadians say about the federal government offering unemployment benefits to women who have an abortion? It is worth asking because Ottawa's employment insurance (EI) program does just that.
According to EI guidelines, when a pregnancy is terminated within the first 19 weeks it is considered an illness and benefits can be collected. Ottawa does not distinguish between a miscarriage and an abortion. If an abortion occurs in the 20th week or later benefits are paid out under the EI maternity program despite there being no mother or child. According to the federal government, the "birth mother" need only sign "a statement declaring the expected due or actual date of birth." Illness and maternity benefits are paid for up to three and a half months.
Government support doesn't end there. Last year, the federal government's Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) quietly approved funding to the United Kingdom-based International Planned Parenthood Federation. This special interest organization will collect $18-million over four years from Canadian taxpayers to promote its agenda.
Planned Parenthood acts as a political pressure group. On January 22, the Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. "abortion-rights advocate Planned Parenthood is launching a major effort to elect pro-abortion-rights candidates to Congress and the White House in November." It will "spend $10-million to persuade voters to elect abortion-rights candidates in the 2008 election." The Canadian government should not be sending tax dollars to advocacy groups that engage in political activism in Canada or elsewhere.
Early in the Conservative government's mandate brave attempts were made to limit this type of careless spending. The ideologically charged Court Challenges Program was cancelled as was the ill-conceived prison tattoo program. Ottawa should move to undo its spending policies that either encourage or reward having an abortion. It should certainly not pay out EI illness or maternity benefits when there is no child.
John Williamson is federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.