The Centre de santé des femmes de Montréal (Montréal Women’s Health Centre) is a non-profit, independent, community organisation. The Centre stems from the feminist movement of the 1970s as women express their dissatisfaction with the traditional health system and call into question the medical establishment, the increasing over-medicalization they face, and the sexism that prevails in procedures and practices.
The Centre de santé des femmes de Montréal : 40 years of history
In 1975, International Women’s Year, the Centre opens its doors to women residing in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. It is one of the first of its kind in Québec. From that moment on, the Centre’s goal is to ensure that women take charge of their physical and mental health.
In 1981, the Centre widens its services to all women, women’s groups, support workers, and researchers in women’s health. The first illegal abortions are carried out by a female doctor in the Women’s Health Centre’s new space. The Centre strives to offer free abortion services on demand that are easily accessible outside of a hospital setting (Mémoire d’une bataille inachevée, la lutte pour l’avortement au Québec 1970-1992, p. 204, Louise Desmarais, éditions Trait d’union)
Since then, the Centre aims to bring women together around a collective social mission on health. It seeks to be a hub where women can gather, interact, share information, network, and form partnerships. Its actions are organised within five distinct themes:
- references, referrals and care services;
- educational and training activities;
- abortion services;
- research and information sharing;
- political representations.
The 90s are characterised by structural changes in the health care system and the creation of Régies régionales, Regional Boards. The Centre goes before this Regional Board on several occasions in order to share its concerns.
In 1997, the Centre launches a postcard campaign, “Free and easy access to abortion services: a political decision, an informed choice”, demonstrating how challenging it is to shoulder the entirety of the costs involved in offering abortion services.
The early 2000s
After 25 years of struggles demanding recognition of abortion services, our voices are finally heard as the government opens funding to support abortion services in Québec, namely for the Centre de santé des femmes de Montréal.
In 2003, the Centre receives recurring funding from the Regional Board for abortion services offered during the first trimester. Despite the fact that the funding is insufficient to cover all costs, the Centre is finally able to offer abortion services free of charge to over 1000 women per year, all the while continuing its struggle for a complete and total financial recognition from the newly named Agence de développement de Montréal Centre, Montréal Development Agency.
In 2005, funding resources are still insufficient to meet our needs. Certain expenses are not covered, and we have to put a lot of energy in fundraising so that we can continue all our activities.
In 2006, a class action lawsuit is filed against the Québec government. These legal proceedings demonstrate just how the public health system is incapable of answering the demand of abortion services in Québec. Furthermore, the Québec government is violating its own laws by paying only a portion of the costs of abortions carried out in private clinics, as well as at the Centre. Abortion is a medical service that must be covered by the public system, regardless of where it is offered.
The Québec government is sentenced to pay $13 million to all women who had paid for an abortion between May 2, 1999 and February 22, 2006.
We’d have to wait until January 2008 before the government guarantees complete cost-free access for abortion services for all women, regardless of where the procedure is performed.
This represents an important victory for all women in Québec.
The Centre’s objectives are to support women in their reclaiming of their own gynecological health, defend and promote the right to free abortion on demand, represent women and demand that their rights and agency are respected by economic and policy decision-makers as well as the health system.
Through its practice, the Centre values collective actions, in other words, we foster interactions between women to help break down their isolation. This allows us to collectively take into account the oppressive situations that women face, either physically, psychologically, socially or economically.
The Centre raises questions about the kind of relationships women experience with professionals within the health system. The Centre’s practice and approach allow women to explore new facets of their health and discover solutions that are less medicalised.
When it comes to practice, political struggles or research projects, the Centre collaborates with various levels of traditional and alternative health sectors as well as the community sector. The Centre is affiliated with several health organisations, coalitions, and networks that work in family planning, abortion accessibility and rights, etc.
These collaborations and partnerships allow the Centre to explore new aspects of physical and mental health. What is gathered from these learnings informs the Centre’s services, practice, research, and publications.