The head of the Canadian bishops’ conference has criticised Canada’s foreign minister for saying that abortion rights are a cornerstone of the nation’s foreign policy.

In a speech to the Canadian House of Commons, foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland equated women’s rights with a right to abortion and sexual reproductive rights and claimed that these rights “are at the core of Canadian foreign policy”.

In a letter to the foreign minister, Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed “profound concern” over the speech, denouncing it as “erroneous, confusing and misguided”.

Bishop Crosby disagreed that abortion was “at the core” of Canada’s foreign policy, which has focused on “international peace, just order, free trade, foreign aid and global stability”.

“While the Catholic bishops of Canada share your concern for advancing the respect and dignity of women – an issue to which the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholics give great importance – we feel the need to point out, with all due respect, that your statement above is erroneous, confusing and misguided,” he wrote.

The bishop said that many important women’s issues were being “passed over in silence”.

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