Manitoba Government Guilty of Gender Discrimination and Endangering Health

For immediate release

Manitoba’s anti-choice government has removed reproductive health from the health minister’s portfolio, and transferred it to a minister with no authority over healthcare delivery or funding. This is discriminatory on the basis of gender and dangerous to the health of women and gender non-conforming people.

Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister recently shuffled his cabinet and appointed Heather Stefanson as the new health minister, taking over the role from Cameron Friesen, who in turn inherited it from Kelvin Goertzen. Despite the cabinet shuffle, the new health minister has inherited both Friesen’s and Goertzen’s repudiation of reproductive healthcare. Instead, the minister responsible for the status of women, Cathy Cox, has been assigned to answer questions about abortion, even though the health minister is responsible for healthcare delivery and funding.

The PC government’s decision is not surprising, considering Pallister’s cabinet consists almost entirely of anti-choice MLAs. According to Campaign Life Coalition, 27 out of 36 PC MLAs hold “pro-life” views.

A few examples: Deputy Premier Kelvin Goertzen spoke at an anti-abortion rally in Steinbach in May 2018. During his tenure as health minister, Cameron Friesen (now Justice minister and attorney general) shirked his responsibility by refusing to answer any questions related to abortion. MLA Ralph Eichler participated in an interview with anti-choice group Campaign Life Coalition, stating he does not support government funding of abortion. MLA James Teitsma was a speaker at the 2019 Winnipeg March for Life, and a member of a right-wing group seeking to “bring a Christian Biblical perspective to politics.”

In 2018, the PC government defeated a bill introduced by NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine to create buffer zones around facilities that offer abortion services; she re-introduced the bill in 2020. These zones would protect patients and staff from anti-choice harassment. Premier Pallister – who is a financial advisor, not a lawyer – has stated that such laws would be an infringement on people’s right to protest. In fact, buffer zones to protect abortion services were upheld as constitutional back in 2008.

The PC government’s characterization of reproductive healthcare as a women’s issue is exclusionary to transgender and non-binary individuals and only adds to the stigma they face in accessing reproductive healthcare.

Abortion is healthcare and has been deemed a medically necessary service by all provinces and territories under the Canada Health Act – including Manitoba. So even while the health minister funds reproductive healthcare in Manitoba, those who seek to increase access to abortion services are redirected to the status of women minister, who has no authority over healthcare delivery or funding. This means that Manitoba intends to do nothing at all to ensure reproductive healthcare for its citizens, thereby putting their health in danger through deliberate neglect and stigmatization.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said:

“Despite a change in Ministerial Leadership in the Department of Health, with the newly appointed Heather Stefanson, Pallister continues to centre his archaic anti-choice position over the rights and healthcare of Manitobans by having reproductive health under the purview of Status of Women.

“Let’s be clear, this is about doing everything within his power to stand in the way of citizen’s rights to access abortion and police the bodies of those who would choose abortion. Pallister fails to understand and appreciate the full spectrum of what reproductive health is.

“Partitioning reproductive health from the Department of Health intrinsically creates a disconnect from department staff and dollars, effectively eroding the very infrastructure of reproductive health in Manitoba. This should be of concern for everyone because it’s simply bad for all of us.”

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada demands that the Manitoba government require health minister Heather Stefanson to do her job by taking responsibility for all healthcare, and ensuring that all Manitobans can access high-quality reproductive healthcare in their own communities, including abortion.


Joyce ArthurExecutive Director / Directrice générale, ARCC-CDAC, Vancouverjoyce@arcc-cdac.ca604-351-0867
Carolyn EganOntario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, 416-806-7985
Tasia AlexopoulosARCC-CDAC, New 
Christopher Kaposy, PhDEthicist, Memorial University / Éthicien, Université Memorial, St. Johns NL / T.-N.christopher.kaposy@med.mun.ca709-864-3375 (w / bur.)
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