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UN event stresses maternal health care in Africa not abortion

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Canada’s Dr. Robert Walley, founder of MaterCare International, made a passionate plea for better maternal health care for African women March 17 at UN headquarters in New York.

Walley, an obstetrician who first encountered the shocking level of maternal mortality in Nigeria in 1982, told a UN side event sponsored by the Holy See, Africa needs “a Marshall Plan” to save the lives of women who die in childbirth or shortly afterward.

Walley stressed most maternal deaths occur late in the third trimester or during or shortly after birth. International pressure on mothers to use abortion and birth control do not address maternal health needs. “If mother wants to stay alive she has to kill her baby; that’s outrageous!” he said.

In his first trip to Nigeria, he saw four young women die on a single Saturday, all of them of complications that could have been easily handled in a western hospital.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Walley said. He had never “had a mother die under my care” since he had began practising obstetrics in 1973 at a teaching hospital in Canada.

Walley said there are precedents for international mobilization on other health matters, such as that to combat AIDS and the recent outbreak of Ebola.

“Why can’t we do it on maternal mortality?” he asked, noting not one of the Millennium Development Goals or Sustainable Development Goals on fighting maternal mortality has been achieved.

“Where’s the fight from the women’s movement? Mothers are women, too,” he said.

Though the Canadian government has turned down 10 requests for funding for MaterCare, Walley said “there is hope,” noting his organization tries to help one woman at a time. “We can make a difference,” he said.

MaterCare now operates around the world, with ongoing projects in Kenya, Haiti and Ghana, helping to deliver babies safely; training traditional birth attendants to spot complications early so women can be transferred from villages to hospitals; and providing surgery to repair fistulas — tears in the bladder and rectum from obstructed child birth that leave women incontinent and makes them outcasts in their communities.

Walley was part of a panel on Best Practices for Maternal Health Care in Africa, at a side event coinciding with the UN’s 60th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women March 14 - 24 on the theme: “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development.”

The Holy See, Campaign Life Coalition, REAL Women of Canada, and the world’s oldest pro-life organization, the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), co-sponsored the panel moderated by the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations Bishop Bernardito C. Auza. Joining Walley were the founder and president of Culture of Life Africa Obianuju Ekeocha and SPUC international director Maria Madise.

“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,” said Auza. The unique values of motherhood are “insufficiently acknowledged, appreciated and advanced.”

“One of most common forms of discrimination happens in exercise of maternity,” he said, especially among economically disadvantaged women.

Ekeocha said Pope Francis has described imposing abortion and contraception on African societies in the guise of preventing maternal mortality as “ideological colonization”

While Africa is a diverse continent of many differing countries, cultures, and languages, a common thread is “our understanding human life is precious,” Ekeocha said. Motherhood is seen “as a blessing rather than a burden.”

“Legalization of abortion is constantly recommended to us,” she said. “Many African countries are battling to keep the laws they have to protect unborn children.”

The pressure to legalize abortion to reduce maternal mortality “becomes highly controversial because it is diametrically opposed to our shared values,” she said. Adding to the pressure is the fact the countries promoting abortion are significant donors.

Ekeocha warned that when this deceptive approach to maternal health unleashes abortion in Africa, coerced abortions, weakened marriages and families, sexual violence and other problems will increase. The real needs of African women are access to prenatal health care, skilled birth attendants and for care and support after birth, she said. “This is the non-controversial approach Africans expect.”

In response to a question from a member of the Danish Parliament, who said she would like to see women in Africa be free to make choices about their reproduction, Ekeocha said there is no word for abortion in her native tongue, just as there is none in other traditional African cultures.

“If you want to push abortion on Africa, you will have to tell African women that everything their parents told her and everything their grandparents taught them is wrong and that, Madam, is colonization,” she said.

SPUC international director Maria Madise pointed out no international human rights treaty recognizes abortion as a “human right.”

Without the right to life for all members of the human family regardless of status, whether born or unborn, all other rights “become meaningless” she said.

The pushing of legal abortion as “necessary to save women’s lives is truly a disgrace,” she said. “Pregnancy is not a disease; abortion is not the cure.”

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