A few steps forward, a few steps back

Abortion advocates concerned ahead of federal election

As of Sept. 1, Mifegymiso (also known as “Mife”), a pill that allows people to end a pregnancy within the first 10 weeks, is covered by Manitoba Health and free.

On Oct. 6, Handmaid’s Local 204 & 431 is holding a counterprotest to an anti-abortion rally at the Women’s Hospital at the Health Sciences Centre. When it comes to reproductive rights, Manitoba contains multitudes.

Katrina Suppes is the founder of the Manitoba chapter of Handmaids Local (HL), a national network of people advocating for reproductive rights in response to the rise in anti-abortion rhetoric and legislation in the United States and Canada. Suppes says HL advocates for all people with uteruses as well as people who have been forcibly sterilized or otherwise had their rights to reproduction forcibly taken away.

While Suppes says her group of volunteers are very passionate, anti-abortion groups have a lot more resources than HL.

“They are very, very well organized. These organizations have been sitting in the wings being marginally active for a while, but they’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in the US. Many of the Canadian organizations are linked to the ones in the US. The Campaign Life Coalition, for instance is linked to (40 Days for Life, which is based in Texas). So a lot of that money and that fervor is coming up north.

“And it’s election time. They are trying to influence legislators. It is very apparent. They’re very open and honest about the fact that the anti-choice movement in Canada is trying to affect legislation. They’re not just out there trying to change hearts and minds.”

Suppes says she is glad that Premier Brian Pallister has said he will not open up conversations about abortion rights and is thankful that he has extended coverage of Mifegymiso, but she’s dismayed and frustrated that anti-abortion candidates like Ted Falk, Candice Bergen, Larry Maguire and Kelvin Goertzen continue to be supported.

Erika Lee is a little more pessimistic about the provincial government’s approach to reproductive rights. Lee, a third-year medical student at the University of Manitoba and member of Medical Students for Choice, co-organized the Make Mife Free in MB campaign, which successfully lobbied for Mifegymiso to be covered by Manitoba Health.

“Overall, there’s been this trend that’s anti-choice and anti-reproductive and (anti-sexual) rights,” she says. “Especially because the newly elected government was so resistant to being on board with our plan, and because of all the cuts that they’ve made in the past (to the Mature Women’s Centre and the University of Manitoba’s midwifery program), it’s hard to imagine that they would go back and reinstate funding into those programs.

“I have some hope for strong community groups and likeminded organizations like Medical Students for Choice and the Women’s Health Clinic, (which) have been really passionately advocating for reinstatement of funds for all these programs, but it definitely is difficult to achieve that (environment of support) when the government is not on board to begin with.”

After the approval of funding to cover Mife in June and the gradual rollout in September, Lee says they are hoping to see a plan put in place to make sure Mife is accessible in all pharmacies, rural communities, along with education for the public and health professionals. She also hopes they extend prescribing providers to pharmacists and nurse practitioners in addition to physicians.

Published in Volume 74, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 3, 2019)

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