Decades before she led Canada's most populated province, Kathleen Wynne would sit around the dining room table of her childhood home discussing women's rights with her parents and three younger sisters. Her father, a progressive family doctor, led conversations in their suburban Toronto home about who had the right to determine how a woman treated her body. It was the '60s, and as second-wave feminists were dragging abortion rights into the spotlight, Wynne's father was bringing them up for discussion at the dinner table.
"The whole notion that women shouldn’t have control over their own destinies was really a foreign concept in [our] house," Wynne, 64, tells Bustle.
So it was only natural that the issues Wynne's family talked about while she was growing up became causes she championed in her groundbreaking political career. In 2013, Wynne took office as Ontario's first female and first openly LGBTQ premier (the head of the province's government). Since then, she's worked to make sure that women in Ontario feel safe when they access reproductive health services. Her work includes providing free access to the abortion pill and keeping protesters a safe distance away from abortion clinics.
"It was very important to me when I got into elected office that I support women and support people... who are trying to provide support for people who are making difficult choices," Wynne says. She sees that in many ways, women are still grappling with the same issues she and her father discussed around the dinner table all those years ago.
Canada first decriminalized abortion in 1969, four years before the monumental Roe v. Wade decision in the United States. The procedure wasn't immediately available to all Canadian women, though. A panel of doctors had to determine that an abortion was necessary for the woman’s health in order for her to end her pregnancy legally. A 1988 decision by Canada's Supreme Court struck down that earlier law, allowing women to legally obtain abortions without first having to prove their health is in danger.
Canada's public health agency cleared the way for doctors to prescribe the abortion pill in 2015, and the province announced last year that its budget would cover the cost of the medication for any patient that needs it. Without insurance coverage, Mifegymiso costs between $300 and $450 in Canada (roughly $240 to $355 USD). Other provinces also made the pill free around the same time, and currently women in six of Canada's 10 provinces don't have to worry about paying for the treatment.
"I support women and support people... who are trying to provide support for people who are making difficult choices."
Wynne also included the abortion pill in the province's expanded health insurance plan, which began covering prescription drugs for anyone under the age of 25 on Jan. 1. While Wynne says she didn't face much pushback from lawmakers against including coverage for the abortion pill in the expanded insurance plan, the plan didn't initially cover the medication for millennials.
The abortion pill may be prescribed in Canada up to nine weeks into a pregnancy, but women still face some hurdles trying to obtain it. The Toronto Star reports that few Ontario doctors have taken the required six-hour course that allows them to prescribe the abortion pill. This means many women are still hard-pressed to find a place to actually get a medication abortion, even if their insurance covers it. Wynne tells Bustle she hopes the updated insurance policy will push more doctors to become certified.
"Whether we’re talking about access to abortion, or whether we’re talking about consent, these are things that we have not as a society sorted out completely," she says. "So I think it’s important for government to play a role in putting in place the supports to at least have the conversations."
While Wynne first took "strong positions in favor of choice" in the '60s, many of the same struggles of that era are still playing out today. Her commitment to improving the lives of Ontario women in 2018 centers around supporting sexual assault survivors, an issue that often goes hand in hand with reproductive rights. After traveling to local college campuses earlier this month, Wynne says she's concerned that the sexual assault policies at many of those schools don't include enough input from students. She also wants to improve transitional housing options for women leaving violent situations.
Making it clear that Wynne's battle for women's health and safety is far from over, the last page of Ontario's action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment reads, "To be continued." "As more women come forward and talk about their experiences of sexual assault and violence," Wynne says, "we know there's more work we need to do."
Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect how Ontario covers the abortion pill for women of all ages.