Reproductive health not a concern for minister of health

To the Manitoba PC government, reproduction is still a ‘women’s issue’

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

If you have questions about healthcare in Manitoba, see the minister of health. If you have questions about reproductive health, see the minister for sport, culture and heritage and status of women.

The fact that the word “health” is included when discussing reproductive health should be enough to qualify it as a matter of healthcare, but, instead, here we are. Reproductive healthcare providers must report to the minister responsible for the status of women, a minister who does not control funding for reproductive health. Confusing? That’s not even the half of it.

There’s also the issue of making reproductive health a gendered issue when, by definition, it can’t be. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the United States defines reproductive health as the condition of male and female reproductive systems during all life stages. This means that placing reproductive health under the status of women excludes every other person who does not identify as a woman, such as transgender and intersex folks who already face obstacles due to stigma and lack of sufficient knowledge about their healthcare needs. 

Reproductive healthcare is a right for all Manitobans, which makes needlessly gendering it discriminatory. This discrimination is dangerous, further marginalizing already-vulnerable populations and moving the province further away from equitable healthcare.

Even if this were just a “women’s issue,” the decision holds no water. The status of women secretariat states that one of their objectives is to improve the health status of women, and that they are working to raise awareness of issues affecting women. This is ironic, because keeping reproductive health outside of the minister of health’s responsibility has a direct, negative impact on the health status of women and aims to silence awareness of those issues affecting women. 

Uzoma Asagwara, MLA for Union Station, states in an IGTV video that this decision is due to “the archaic and ideological comfort levels of ministers who don’t want to have conversations about abortion, don’t want to be responsible for providing the resources and the supports needed for good reproductive healthcare in Manitoba.” 

These archaic and ideological comfort levels are also why Canada still doesn’t mandate that women be included in clinical trials, and women weren’t even recommended to be included in those trials until 1997. The current guidelines recommending inclusion of women in clinical trials do not even mention transgender or intersex women.

In the latest report by the status of women on the health of women in Manitoba, reproductive health is not mentioned except in reporting rates of teenage pregnancy. There was also no data available at the time of writing the report for the health of Indigenous women (except with regards to teenage pregnancy), newcomer women, visible-minority women or women with disabilities. Senior women were also underrepresented in the data. Transgender women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are not mentioned in the report, which was written in 2018.

If elected officials are uncomfortable talking about healthcare issues, they should not be appointed to the ministry of health. The fact that Manitoba’s current minister of health is unwilling to acknowledge specific healthcare needs is at best irresponsible and at worst negligent. Manitobans have a right to accessible, equitable healthcare. Our government has a duty to provide it to us.

Hannah Magnusson is a master’s student in the arts department at Athabasca University. Her research focuses on the intersection of storytelling and advocacy, studying how fostering empathy between different perspectives can build a bridge to understanding and action. She lives on Treaty 1 territory on the shore of Lake Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 75, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 27, 2021)

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