Health cuts concern women
By Donna MacMullin
"It's a regressive policy. It will take us back 30 years of advocacy for women's rights."
These are the words of Joan Grant Cummings, president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, in response to recent provincial government proposals to cut health-care funding to municipalities.
Cummings is part of a coalition of women's groups which fear the proposal, which would cut $19 million in provincial funding, may jeopardize birth control, abortion and sexual health services.
The coalition, which includes members of the National Action Committee, the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics and Students for Choice and Planned Parenthood Ontario, held a press conference Tuesday at Toronto's University of Trinity College, to express their opposition to the cuts.
Ontario's Health Ministry currently pays 100 per cent of the cost of birth control centres across the province. "It is a major thing for women's groups involved in the birth control and abortion movement," Cummings said, adding municipalities would not consent to allocate this funding considering all they are downloaded due to provincial cuts in other areas.
Carolyn Egan, Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics spokeswoman, fears the long-term effects of the cuts. "Studies show educational and reproductive programming is effective in decreasing the amount of unplanned pregnancies. This type of community programming is cost-effective," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to cut this community care because now there will definitely be an increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions."
Cummings echoed these concerns and was discouraged by the Ministry's refusal to meet with the group for discussion. "Women will be forced to go back to the coat-hanger days if there are no clinics available for abortions they will find a way."
Dave Ross, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the province is looking to remove duplication and waste of unnecessary services and there are three hospitals in Toronto already recommended for closure as part of hospital restructuring in the province.
"But most of the [family planning] services are protected by legislation in law," he said. "Those programs must be provided."
She said this argument is a smoke screen. "We already don't have enough women's centres and the ones which do exist are overloaded and underfunded."
Cummings said the only alternative is to mount a major public awareness campaign on these issues, before the cuts which are planned for the 1997/98 fiscal year are felt by centres across the province.