The government is boosting funding for what it deems “neglected” areas of maternal, child and reproductive health and rights starting this year.
And if the Liberals are re-elected in the fall, the pledge would see sexual and reproductive health account for roughly half of federal funding in the maternal, child and reproductive health sphere under planned investment increases up until 2023.
Speaking to reporters from the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will increase funding for a range of health initiatives to support women and girls, including nutrition programs, maternal health care, and safe and legal abortion, to $1.4 billion annually in 2023.
Total investments are currently worth $1.1 billion, with $400 million of that specifically focusing on sexual health and reproductive rights.
That latter amount will increase to reach $700 million by 2023, with the increase in funding going largely to services like contraception and post-abortion care, as well as other areas of sexual and reproductive health that have seen funding cut or neglected by policies such as the U.S.’s global gag rule, which bars American international aid from going to organizations that either provide services or provide information related to abortion care.
The Tuesday announcement pledges to keep the investment at that level until 2030, which would be dependent on the Liberals remaining in government.
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Access to abortion is facing growing threats from lawmakers seeking to restrict and criminalize the medical procedure, most notably in the U.S. where nine states have recently passed legislation banning abortion in almost all cases.
Trudeau has criticized that as “backsliding” and said last week during a meeting with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence that he was concerned about the restrictions.
But even in Canada, where there are no laws restricting abortion, dozens of women are sent to the U.S. every year for abortions they cannot get here because of concerns like long wait times, lack of physician training and a lack of doctors and hospitals willing to perform abortions past 20 weeks of gestation.
Trudeau previously raised concerns about lack of access to abortion with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the country’s prime minister, in 2017 prior to that country’s referendum on repealing its constitutional ban on abortion last year.
During the Liberal’s time in office, Health Canada has also twice revised its guidelines for physicians and medical staff prescribing the abortion pill to reduce barriers to access, although that decision is made based on medical evidence and not political direction.
“Around the world, women are fighting for the right to go to school. Women are dying from diseases that we can fight to eliminate,” he said on Monday night during a speech ahead of the conference.
“And again, today, the fundamental right for a woman to choose what she wants to do with her body is being thrown into question.”
Officials could not provide a year-by-year breakdown of the funding increases when asked but said the boost will be “gradual” and will start immediately.
“Canada is putting its weight behind the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls and other marginalized groups at a time of push-back against these issues around the world,” says Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, one of the groups that advocated for the boost.
“We are a country willing to invest in some of the most neglected and stigmatized issues in this area, taking an approach that is meaningfully rooted in evidence and human rights,” he added. “The commitment is about rights, not politics.”
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said Trudeau should have increased the funding earlier if he wanted to show he views healthcare for women and girls as a priority.
“If Justin Trudeau truly cared about this issue, he wouldn’t have waited four years to make this announcement,” she said.
”But now with an election only months away, he’s desperately announcing funding that won’t be available until 2023.”
Officials say the funding increases will actually start this year but won’t reach their full promised amount until 2023.