Doug Ford's government in Ontario is making dozens of cuts to health care, but I am especially concerned about those that affect reproductive health care and the LGBTQ+ community. Cuts are rarely the way to an inclusive, fair system.
I understand the monetary rationale behind stopping free prescriptions for children with parents who have private coverage. Yet, this is terrible for young women and transgender people. If a young person wishes to go on the pill but does not want their parents to know (due to fear of punishment), they cannot do that now if their parents have private coverage. While a doctor's appointment is confidential, a prescription for birth control would be run through the parents' plan. If a young person must ask their parents to pay for their contraceptive (whether they fear mistreatment or not), they are less likely to get any. Chances are this young person will have had only the rudimentary sex education the Ford government believes necessary, meaning they are likely to misuse other forms of contraception. From a completely monetary standpoint, which Ford clearly prefers, this is ridiculous. A young person unable to exercise contraception, due to misinformation or lack of education, increases health-care costs in the long run. Providing free prescriptions for the pill or IUDs would save the money Ford is so worried about.
Likewise, the dismissal of the improved, highly researched sex-ed curriculum in exchange for the archaic sex-ed I grew up with is troubling. I learned two things from my public school sex-ed:
1. "Abstinence is the only fail-safe method of birth control" and
2. How to label where the vas deferens is on a diagram.
I learned nothing about LGBTQ+ rights and sexualities, gender, consent, or bullying. The Ontario Liberals' sex-ed would have instilled at least a surface-level acceptance of non-binary, transgender, and non-cis/non-hetero sexualities.
Not by coincidence, Ford has cut mental health by over $330 million a year. This disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ people. When you cut funding from mental health, you are cutting off the lifelines of those who are the most vulnerable to PTSD, suicide, depression, anxiety, and abuse.
Removing most of the LGBTQ+ aspects from sex-ed and cutting mental health is Ford's way of saying that health rights are only for his people -- the ones he chooses to spend time with instead of attending the Pride parade.
Another aspect of reproductive rights is a person's right to give birth with whom and where they choose. The absolute slaughter of the funding to the Ontario College of Midwives last year struck very close to my heart. In 2017 I had a baby using a midwife. I chose midwifery after a less-than-satisfactory treatment of a miscarriage by an OB-GYN. I elected to have my baby at home. Had I gone to the hospital, the cost to the province would have been $5,000 to $8,000 (even without a C-section). Instead, I saved the health-care system thousands of dollars. Given the fabulous care my midwives provided (including an emergency episiotomy), I was absolutely horrified to hear the government cut the funding that helps keep training up to date. If Ford truly wished to save money, he would encourage people to use midwives, increase their funding, and be supportive of home birth (for those who can safely do it). In truth, Ford couldn't care less about women's health, only short-term savings.
Ford has also cut out-of-country health insurance beginning in October. The program currently covers out-of-country inpatient services up to $400 per day for a higher level of care, such as intensive care, as well up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient and doctor services. This is by far the most insidious of Ford's cuts; it's a test-run for privatized health care. It is also contrary to the Canada Health Act, which states that Canadians deserve continuing coverage when they are not at home. Some families can only afford to travel once a year and some people must travel for emergencies. The rich won't bat an eye at paying for travel insurance, so this is a direct attack on middle- and low-income people.
There is some good news. Toronto, with an online petition, fought back against Ford's planned $1 billion in cuts to Toronto Public Health over the next 10 years. This would have created a marked decrease in disease prevention, water quality, immunization, prenatal support, overdosing, food safety, and nutrition. Petitions are becoming powerful tools, as they are very easy to launch and grow, using sites such as Change.org and social media. If you are concerned about something the government is doing, launching a petition is always helpful, even if it simply raises awareness among those in power that what they have done is not popular.
Another example of the power of fighting back are the proposed cuts to the autism program. Hundreds of parents, therapists, and union members protested outside Queen's Park in March and many more called their MPPs to complain about the proposed age- and income-based system. Due to the outcry and complaints from professionals in the field, the Ford government was forced to backpedal.
We need to remember that our elected officials work for us. They are not experts. Often, they are simply the ones with the monetary backing and in possession of the unscrupulous ability to break election promises to voters.
As one of the two-thirds of Ontarians who think Ford is doing an awful job as premier, I can only hope that he is stymied by the criticism. Yes, getting rid of our debt is important, but what's more important to me is that my daughter grows up with better reproductive rights, education, and health care than I did.
Tina S. Beier is a freelance writer and volunteer blog coordinator with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. She lives in Ontario and champions the causes of women's rights, animal welfare, and the environment.
Viewpoint: Reproductive Justice is a blog by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Image: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr
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