Maternal health group denied funding over Catholic beliefs

Maternal health group denied funding over Catholic beliefs

A nurse in a local clinic in Huambo Province, Angola, checks a patient and her baby / Credit: USAID, Alison Bird
A nurse in a local clinic in Huambo Province, Angola, checks a patient and her baby / Credit: USAID, Alison Bird

.- A Catholic maternal health group has been denied Canadian government funding for the eleventh time in nearly a decade, while organizations such as Planned Parenthood receive millions from the country.

“We were told that we would never get funding simply because we wouldn't provide reproductive health—that we were 'too Catholic' and too close to the Pope,” Dr. Robert Walley, president of Matercare International, told CNA.

Walley's organization, a group of worldwide Catholic gynecologists and obstetricians, works to reduce the over 330,000 preventable maternal deaths that occur each year in developing countries.

The news was confirmed on Oct. 3 that the group was excluded yet again from funding by the Canadian International Development Agency. This time, it happened in the context of Canada's 2010 Muskoka initiative aimed at providing global maternal health care, immunization and nutrition.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced the 28 projects that will split the $82 million in funding between now and 2016. Groups awarded the money include Planned Parenthood—which received $6 million—the United Nations Population Fund and the Canadian Red Cross.

A few Christian organizations such as the Presbyterian World Service and Development, World Vision, and the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada were also given a share.

“Every one of those groups are very large, very wealthy—it means that smaller agencies like us are being frozen out,” Walley said.

He explained that the Canadian development agency “decided some years ago to eliminate smaller NGO's and especially those with certain faith-based backgrounds.”

MaterCare International, which has been operating since 1985, had requested $2.2 million in funding to open a hospital near its thriving clinic in Isiolo, Kenya. “We've done all of this work,” Walley said, “it's existing, it's standing there.”

Adding insult to injury, Walley—a prominent physician who was appointed by Pope John Paul II to serve on the Pontifical Council for Health—was asked for his input on the Muskoka initiative as it was being organized.

“I was invited to the Prime Minister of Canada's office to brief and advise about this initiative” before being denied funding, he recalled. “It's insulting, really.”

Walley also said that MaterCare being refused money based on its Catholic stance against abortion and contraception is a complete non-issue and should have no influence in the agency's decision.

“Abortion and birth control are irrelevant to solving the problem of maternal mortality,” he underscored.

“All the deaths occur during the last three months of pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and one week after—so what on earth is a birth control pill or a condom going to do?”

Stressing the urgency of the issue, Walley explained that maternal mortality is “the number one health problem among women of the child bearing age in the world.” A close second is the devastating and socially ostracizing condition of fistulas, which can occur during birth and only be fixed by an operation.

Walley said that in the West, only around 1 in 10,000 women are at risk of death during childbirth, “but in parts of Africa it's 1 in 7.” To ignore the problem or to obstruct others in their attempt to solve it “is a form of violence to women.”

In response, MaterCare International has called for a new “Marshall Plan” for mothers that would see increased investment in health care for mothers and unborn babies in the developing world. The original Marshall Plan saw billions of U.S. dollars used to rebuild Western Europe after the Second World War, in order to combat the “tyranny” of communism, Walley said.

“What we now need—because we've got a tyranny of the culture of death and we're the only ones who are opposing it—is a Marshall Plan for mothers.”

“Motherhood should be of profound significance to us as a Church,” he emphasized. Not only did “Our Lady, Mary, Mother of God, say 'yes'” but “none of us would be here if we didn't have a mother.”

The Marshall Plan for mothers has already received backing by leaders such as Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who gave his support for the effort at a global conference of Catholic health care professionals in Rome Sept. 2.

Rep. Smith argued that abortion advocates are willing to kill off faith-based health care in the developing world, despite the fact that such agencies provide up to 70 percent of all health provision in many of these countries.