During the recent election campaign, Manitoba’s NDP Premier, Howard Pawley, sent out letters boasting of the work his government has done to raise the provincial abortion rate – 38 per cent in one year.

Premier Pawley noted that “a great deal of work was required after four years of neglect and opposition” by the previous Conservative government.  He reported that increased funding had been provided by the NDP for “reproductive health promotion programmes” and that the “Facts of Life” toll-free telephone service had been fully funded by the NDP government.

“Besides information,” the Premier wrote, “greater access to therapeutic abortions now exists in Manitoba.  That means fewer women must find the funds to travel to the United States if they choose to undergo a therapeutic abortion for unwanted pregnancy.”

“In fact, between 1983 and 1984, there was a 38 per cent increase in the number of therapeutic abortions performed in Manitoba hospitals. But the NDP still believes that access to birth control information and help in planning pregnancies is key to assuring reproductive health.”

Mr. Pawley did not explain how this increase in abortion, despite the increased funding for “health promotion programmes,” reflects his party’s belief that access to birth control decreases the abortion rate.

Feminist groups did not view the NDP record in the same light.  In the June issue of Herizons, a feminist magazine published in Manitoba, writer Penni Mitchell says,

“…it is the [NDP] track record of the last four and one half years that has had a critical impact on the women of Manitoba.  Many feminists are still stinging from the government’s abandonment of their party’s position on reproductive choice when Henry Morgentaler came to town three years ago to set up a free standing abortion clinic.  Influential men like Health Minister Larry Desjardins, and Premier Pawley are two notable stumbling blocks to the attainment of adequate abortion services in the province.  And while access to abortions has increased in Winnipeg since Morgentaler’s arrival (the clinic does referrals only since it was raided twice in the first year), women still face unnecessary delays, meddlesome therapeutic abortion committees and an appalling number face the added cost of traveling out of province to obtain an abortion.”

The NDP government was re-elected, although with a reduced majority.  The only Liberal elected was provincial leader, Sharon Carstairs.  Ms. Carstairs won the approval of Herizons.

“Carstairs was also the only politician during the election to come right to the point about what pay equity will mean for workers in the workforce.  She went on record as saying that privileged men would have to sit on large pay raises for a while until underpaid women get their share of pay.  Carstairs also boldly stated that she would consider introducing a private members bill to amend the Human Rights Act to include protection for gay and lesbians against discrimination.”