BIRTH CONTROL BECOMES LEGAL
Birth control is decriminalized in Canada’s Criminal Code. In theory, the legislation gives Canadians the right to prevent pregnancy without engaging in illegal behaviour. In practice, abortion care is not equally accessible across the country. Although abortion is not illegal, access to services is restricted, requiring approval from a panel of community physicians.
INFORMATION IS EMPOWERING
Canada’s abortion caravan captures headlines as 17 women drive a van from Vancouver to Ottawa, rallying for support for reproductive justice, stopping in Winnipeg along the way. In the van a black coffin is filled with coat hangers; each one representing someone who died from an unsafe abortion. On Parliament Hill, 40 women shut down the House of Commons, chaining themselves in the galley in a demand to recognize women’s right to control their own bodies.
In Winnipeg, medical students and volunteer physicians organize to help local youth and people passing through the city with medical, transportation, and substance-use issues. They offer services through a drop-in centre called Committee Representing Youth Problems Today (CRYPT).
CRYPT GROWS INTO KLINIC
CRYPT receives project funding from the Manitoba Health Services Commission grant to provide basic medical and counselling services, including a 24-hour crisis line. Named Klinic, the program operated out of 667 Notre Dame Avenue under the Winnipeg General Hospital Outpatient Department
DEFUNDED BUT DETERMINED
The Klinic program is defunded but receives interim funding. From their new location at 567 Broadway, staff negotiates to establish permanent funding. In the fall of 1972, Executive Directors of the newly established Klinic Health Centre at Winnipeg General Outpatient Department were approached by community members laying out the groundwork for a proposed service to make birth control information more available to the public.
With the support of Klinic, the board of PIS puts forward the vision of a unique health clinic to provide pro-choice, women-centered medical care, health education, counselling, and advocacy. With a three-year, federal government community development grant, individual donations and community support, WHC opens its doors on May 4, 1981 at 555 Broadway with a staff of three and many volunteers.
teen drop-in gets its start
WHC establishes the Birth Control & Unplanned Pregnancy Volunteer Counsellor training program to train volunteers to provide peer-based support and reproductive and sexual health information.
Police raid Dr. Morgentaler’s Winnipeg clinic twice, charging him with seven offenses.
CANADA DECRIMINALIZES ABORTION
In this historic decision, the Supreme Court of Canada determines that abortion care is health care; the medical procedure to terminate pregnancy gains the same legal status as other surgical procedures. In practice, access to safe abortion care continues to vary across Canadian communities.
MOTHERHOOD STRESS COUNSELLING PROGRAM
Throughout history, motherhood has also been one of. key points for denying women’s rights and equality, and for discriminating. against them. WHC launches a new peer-counselling program, offering women-centred information and support to guide mothers of new babies through the early adjustments to parenting.
GOES TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA
In response to an government-mandated order for treatment of a pregnant Indigenous woman who struggled with substance use. WHC joins a coalition that gets intervenor status in the “G-Case” and appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada to argue against forced detention and treatment for pregnant women.
The same year, Women’s Health Clinic receives the Commonwealth Secretariat Award for Excellence in Women’s Health Practice.
MIDWIFERY BECOMES LEGAL IN MANITOBA
On June 1, The Manitoba Legislature proclaims the Midwifery Act, regulating the practice of midwifery, and establishing midwives as primary health care providers. After decades of community and public health advocacy in support of traditional birth practices, legalized midwifery services become available in Manitoba. WHC incorporates midwifery services into its medical program.
WHC expands its drop-in Teen Clinic to provide school-based services at Institut collégial Vincent Massey Collegiate in Winnipeg.
JANE’S CLINIC ADVANCES ABORTION CARE
Morgentaler’s private clinic in Winnipeg closes and women in the community organize to purchase the clinic. Renamed Jane’s Clinic, the facility now operates as a community owned, not-for-profit clinic to provide aspiration abortion services.
When the Province of Manitoba agrees to cover community-based abortion services, in addition to hospital-based services, the abortion services of Jane’s Clinic amalgamates with the spectrum of medical services at Women’s Health Clinic.
INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES HAVE ALWAYS HAD MIDWIVES
These traditional skills have survived colonialism. In September, University College of the North begins to offer a Baccalaureate Program in Aboriginal Midwifery, with the goal to provide midwifery services in Northern and remote communities in Manitoba.
WHC hosts Celebrate Choice, an evening of community advocates and speakers, acknowledging 25 years of reproductive choice in Canada.
CHALLENGING ABORTION STIGMA
WHC hosts community event Pro-Choice for Voice: sharing abortion experiences through spoken word.
SHIFTING SEXUAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES
WHC begins offering Sexual Health Information Facilitator Training (SHiFT), professional development for service providers across Manitoba, focusing on gender- and culturally-diverse audiences.
THE ABORTION PILL COMES TO CANADA
Mifegymiso (medication abortion pill) becomes available in Canada after decades of reproductive choice lobbying. However, costs are not covered equally throughout Canadian provinces and territories, limiting access to the medication.
WHC hosts Doula training at the Birth Centre with the Indigenous Doula Collective.
WHC begins to offer medication abortion services as part of its spectrum of reproductive care.
WHC develops Pregnancy and Infant Loss: A Guide to Coping with Loss, resources for individuals/families and service providers.
Klinic partners with University of Manitoba to provide sexual assault services on campus.
WHC co-organizes panel discussion Rights from the Start: Sexual and Reproductive Health in a National Pharmacare Strategy.
UNIVERSAL COVERAGE / UNEQUAL ACCESS
The Province of Manitoba begins to provide universal coverage for Mifegymiso. However, access to the medication remains uneven across many communities due to geographic challenges in care provider training.
PIVOTING WITH THE PANDEMIC
Controlling our own reproductive health is a basic human right (World Health Organization). The global Covid-19 pandemic prompts responsive collaboration among Manitoba’s health care providers to ensure timely access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion care.
WHC expands access to medication abortion outside of Winnipeg, working with the Northern Regional Health Authority and individual nursing stations to train providers and make medication abortion available in more Manitoba communities.
RECONCILIATION AND A NEW NAME
WHC establishes its Dragonfly Support Program, offering counselling, resources, and volunteer training to support Manitobans experiencing pregnancy and infant loss.
In an Indigenous naming ceremony, the Birth Centre receives the gift of a new Spirit name: Ode’imin (ooh-day-min). The name is the Ojibwa word for strawberry, meaning “this is where new life comes from.”
The story of reproductive justice -past, present, and future in Manitoba belongs to many people and organizations. At the core of our advocacy work is our commitment to ensuring that diverse voices – too often absent from histories – are heard.
While Women’s Health Clinic is an important part of this story, we see ourselves as the stewards of it, and not the subject. We invite you to contribute to this growing history – we would love to hear from you to enrich this story that belongs to all Manitobans.
Please contact us at WHC@womenshealthclinic.org
Thank you to Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History, Manitoba Museum for assistance