NDP, Tories clash in house over birth control
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Reproductive rights advocates are seeking to make free access to birth control a provincial election issue, while the party currently in power had no comment Monday.
“We call on all parties in Manitoba to commit to no-cost contraception before the election scheduled for Oct. 3,” said Paige Mason, Winnipeg-based president of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
The group issued a news release Monday applauding the provincial NDP campaign promise to provide free birth control to Manitobans.
“Universal access ensures that people can choose whether or when to have children, meaning they have greater autonomy and agency over their bodies and futures,” said Mason, who also advocates for Birth Control Access of Manitoba.
“Free contraception empowers people with the ability to choose a contraceptive that is tailored to their lives and circumstances.”
In the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, the Opposition NDP called on the Progressive Conservative government to reverse course in cuts made to women’s health services (such as closure of the Mature Women’s Centre, cuts to lactation services and inadequately staffing for the sexual assault nurse examiner program) and offer Manitobans free contraceptives.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said her government is “very, very concerned about women’s health — that’s why we’ve made it a priority.”
She cited $257 million spent on the Women’s Hospital redevelopment in Winnipeg, with $34.3 million in ongoing operating funds for enhanced care and $15 million for digital mammography services, but made no mention of birth control in the house.
“Money should never be a barrier in exercising control over one’s body and the decisions we make on whether or not we have children,” NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said during question period.
“It’s progressive and it’s simply common sense in 2023,” she said. “Will this premier support Manitobans and provide free birth control today?”
Rather than Tory Premier Heather Stefanson answering the question, Families Minister Rochelle Squires stood and responded.
“On this side of the house, we think that one of the most fundamental things that we can do to support women is to help them keep their children,” Squires said.
“That is something that when the NDP were in government, they failed to do,” the MLA for Riel told the house.
“They failed to provide the supports to women to keep their families together and that resulted in the apprehension of over 7,000 children (by Child and Family Services),” Squires said. “They apprehended a newborn baby a day.
“That is not standing up for women; that is tearing families apart. That is something this government has worked every day to fix the record and fix the tragedy left by the former NDP administration.”
The Tories formed government in 2016.
Outside the chamber Monday, neither Squires nor the health minister were made available to answer questions.
Gordon’s press secretary issued a statement, saying the NDP “has not been honest” and the cost of birth control is already covered for many Manitobans.
“Almost all provinces in the country, including Manitoba, cover birth control products through pharmacare or a similar program,” it said.
“In Manitoba, birth control products are already provided at no cost for those enrolled in Employment and Income Assistance. In addition, there are other programs funded by the province that provide birth control at no cost through clinics, such as Mount Carmel and Youville (Community Health Resource Centre).”
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said longer-term birth control options are not free.
“Whether it’s an IUD (intrauterine device) or Depo-Provera (an intramuscular injection administered every 13 weeks), the province will pay for the cost to perform the procedure but not the contraceptive itself,” said Lamont.
“It makes no sense when you’re talking about vulnerable women who want safe, long-term birth control but can’t necessarily afford it,” the MLA for St. Boniface said. “It’s an outrage that it’s not being paid for right now.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.