Canada is to champion maternal health in poorer countries in its capacity as host of an upcoming G8 meeting in June. However it announced Monday it would not fund foreign abortions, putting it at odds with G8 partners.
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said the government would consider funding "family planning" measures such as "the use of contraceptive methods."
"However, Canada's contribution will not include funding abortion," she added.
Opposition parties accused the government of reversing what has been Canada's position on maternal health in poor countries for nearly 30 years.
"They just reopened the abortion debate," Liberal MP Bob Rae told reporters outside the House of Commons. "We are saying to the countries that are the poorest: 'We won't apply the law that we have in Canada.'"
Health and women's groups also said Canada's omission of abortion is at odds with the Group of Eight industrialized nations' goals established at previous summits.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month spoke out for financing foreign abortions when asked by reporters at a G8 foreign ministers meeting in Gatineau, Quebec.
The G8 initiative to "improve the health of women and children in the world's poorest regions" was announced in January by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"As its contribution to this G8 initiative, Canada will look to mobilize G8 governments and non-governmental organizations as well as private foundations," Harper said in an opinion letter in the Toronto Star.
Oda said Monday she would discuss with her G8 counterparts measures such as training and support for health workers, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, immunization, and providing better nutrition, proper medication, clean water and sanitation in developing countries.
"Within the scope of this G8 initiative, countries will be able to identify their own priorities," Oda added.